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BCHR concerned about "immense and rapid deterioration" in freedom of expression

(BCHR/IFEX) - 22 September 2010 - The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses deep concern about the immense and rapid deterioration in public freedom in Bahrain, specifically in freedom of opinion and freedom of expression. In the past few days, licences of print publications were withdrawn from two political organizations, more websites have been blocked, Sheikh AbdulJalil Almuqdad, who holds anti-government views, has been prevented from giving sermons, the citizenship of Sheikh Najati and his family has been revoked because of his political positions and two groups that share national news using Blackberry devices and the Internet have been stopped. Most of these violations happened in the past 24 hours in a fierce attack aimed at silencing those who oppose government policies.

On 19 September, the Public Information Department withdrew the licence for "The Democrat", the monthly publication of the Waad society, and the licence for "Al-Wefaq", the weekly publication of the Al-Wefaq Society, the largest political society in Bahrain. The justification given was that "these publications work on misleading public opinion, insulting people and defaming them, and the publication of many false topics that aim at discrimination, sectarianism and incitement of the public, as well as containing inflammatory titles and topics that do not serve the public interest of the kingdom."

The same department previously called upon and threatened those in charge of the publications of four political societies, among them Waad and Alwefaq, attempting to put pressure on them to report only on news pertaining to their organizations, and to stop publishing news related to the political and human rights situation in the country. At the same time, a warning has been directed at the Islamic Society about their publication and it is expected that their licence will be withdrawn soon. The department also previously closed the Alwafeq and Islamic Society websites.

These violations of freedom of publication and expression which target political societies are taking place because the societies are continually exposing violations of the rights of citizens committed by the authorities and attacks on activists under the pretext of waging a war on terror. The publications have also been exposing crimes of corruption, discrimination and political naturalization to change the demographic makeup in the country.

The withdrawal of publication licences has come at the same time that these societies were to begin their election campaigns for their candidates. This represents an attempt to weaken these candidates, making it more difficult for them to reach their constituents, while strengthening their competitors, the government candidates.

It is worth noting that the law on the organization of the press, which the actions of Department of Public Information were based on, is one of the laws that restrict public liberties and conflicts with the relevant international standards. There have been continuous demands from many international human rights organizations to amend or abolish this law.

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