President of the International Federation of Journalist, Jim Boumelha - exclusive interview

2012-01-19 - 4:04 p

Bahrain Mirror exclusive: "The most worrying issue is the safety of journalists and what has been happening since the events of March" the President of the International Federation of Journalists Jim Boumelha said about Bahrain revolution and the state of Bahraini journalists during this revolution.
Death of a newspaper founder, and a blogger & Director of the e-forum under torture in Bahraini detainee, and the arrest and torture of journalists most notably the case of journalist Nazeeha Saeed, France 24 correspondent and Monte Carlo Doulya, the sports journalist Faisal Hyatt, in addition to sacked tens of others.
President of the International Federation of Journalists in an exclusive interview with "Bahrain mirror" spoke about the Union's position from what is happening to the journalists in Bahrain and its role in their defense:

-    What was IFJ position of what happens to the journalists in Bahrain?

The most worrying issue is the safety of journalists and what has been happening since the events of March. The record of killed journalists (Kareem Fakhrawi and Zakarya Al Asheeri) as well as the scores of arrests, tortures and other violations at the hands of Bahraini authorities is well documented and pretty grim. On top of this there was incontrovertible evidence of mass sackings of journalists among the thousands of workers who have been dismissed. This has led the whole of the international labour movement to react in support of Bahraini workers. The ITUC wrote to the king of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain saying “The Bahraini authorities seem to be intent on destroying the country’s trade union movement, as a central part of a campaign of revenge against those who took part in peaceful demonstrations and strike actions in protest at the killing and maiming of innocent people by Bahrain’s security forces with the support of foreign troops. The ITUC, our Global Unions partners and national affiliates across the world will be intensifying our action to convince the country’s rulers to stop repression and start genuine dialogue with the national trade union centre GFBTU.”

Bahraini authorities’ only reaction was permanent denial and mounted a public relations campaign to throw doubt on these claims. Unfortunately for them, the Baissouni report, drafted by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, confirmed what international human rights organisations had been saying for many months -- that thousands of people were detained, many tortured in custody, some until they died and that thousands more have been dismissed from their jobs or university places because of perceived association with the protests.

The report referred specifically to journalists and the media in general acknowledging violations and crimes against media professionals and journalists, the role played by state-run media and attempts by the authorities to control media content, and finally the partisan state of the criminal justice system.  In light of the information received, the Commission concluded that “During February and March 2011, the authorities attempted to restrict the freedom of expression and opinion of Bahraini journalists, photographers, bloggers and media personnel. This crackdown led to dismissals from employment, censorship of articles, arrests and detention of journalists, and in some cases mistreatment in custody.”

Although the IFJ was not in a position to establish the veracity of every case, we gave credibility, just like the Commission did, to the allegations made by journalists and we joined the campaign organised by the international labour movement in solidarity with the General Federation of Bahraini Trade Unions for the reinstatement of the workers who were sacked from their jobs, including the journalists. The IFJ and is affiliates also put a great effort in giving humanitarian support to the journalists and their families who fled Bahrain.

- Is IFJ in contact with Bahrain journalists society regarding what is happening there? did you manage to something together regarding what’s the journalists facing there?

We have obviously been in contact, since the start of the attacks against journalists, with our member union, the Bahraini Journalists’ Association. We were concerned that the Association seemed to be spending more energy questioning the claims of journalists rather than defending their rights.  Most important, we could not understand why they promoted documents supplied by the Bahraini authorities which failed to convince anybody.

Despite a major difference in approach, we engaged in a dialogue while reminding the Association of the importance of being independent of all ideological, political, governmental and religious bodies, and showing their attachment to the most important principles of trade unionism which is to defend the jobs of journalists and seek justice whenever their rights are trampled.

We expect the Association to seriously consider all the testimonies of violations and torture made by Bahraini journalists taken by international human rights organisations as prime facie cases which should be properly investigated and not just echo the excuses of the authorities. The Association should support an independent investigation into the murder of the two journalists and campaign for their killers to be brought to justice.

We believe that the Association has a major responsibility to act in the most appropriate and ethical manner, and in full respect of the principle of political independence and our overall mandate. We hope that as a trade union, the Association should be campaigning for journalists who have been sacked to be reinstated and for the political trials against journalists to be halted.

- Is IFJ going to take any actions to protect journalists in Bahrain and other Arab countries?

We have already taken immediate action (i) to give humanitarian support for journalists in need and their family, (ii) to protest at all levels the violations of the right of journalists and the violent actions against them – be it jail, torture, or censorship and loss of jobs, (iii) to join the international labour movement in support of all the Bahraini workers who are suffering as a result of the crackdown.

We will continue to react to the needs of journalists in exile and urge our member unions to support them integrate in the countries of their choice. Their current ordeal is temporary and we are ready to intervene if, at some stage, they may wish to solicit our mediation in any negotiation over their return to Bahrain.

It remains to be seen how the Bahraini authorities will implement the recommendations of the Baissouni report. King Hamad promised to respond positively to the recommendations in the report by setting various working groups and implementation mechanisms. However not many people believe it will bring real reforms. A committee announced by the Ministry of the Interior to investigate the torture faced by journalist Nazeeha Saeed is nowhere near even starting its work.

There is also plenty of work to be done to deal with the on-going trials against media professionals being held by various courts, including a military tribunal, and to review all the sentences already handed down.

As for the rest of the Arab world, the IFJ and its member unions are committed to ensure the safety of journalists during their coverage of the popular uprisings and conflicts in the region, many of whom were subjected to killings, abductions, detention, and intimidation.

We now provide regular safety training for journalists in the region and put the onus on governments to provide them with protection while doing their work and to accept their responsibilities under international law by investigating crimes against journalists and bring the perpetrators to justice.

We will be establishing an Arab Media Victims Support Group formed by family members of killed journalists in the region. The group will support families of journalists killed in line of duty as well as lobbying governments in the region to carry out their responsibilities in bringing the killers of journalists to justice.

- Are you planning to visit Bahrain to have a close look on the situation of media and journalists there?

We have been hoping to visit Bahrain not necessarily as a fact-finding mission as there is already plenty of documented evidence about what’s happening to journalists. We want first to engage with the Association to convince them to be squarely behind the journalists.

There is serious concrete work to be done. Take Law No. 47 which is used by the authorities to thwart press freedom, it will be great if we can together build up a campaign for its repeal. We also need to build urgently the defence of journalists on trial and lobby for the charges to be dropped.

The IFJ would wish to meet representatives of the government of Bahrain to enquire how they envisage the implementation of the Baissouni report and they are fulfilling their obligation under international laws and standards including the Universal Humanitarian Laws – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Convention including the Additional Protocol I; UN resolution 29 which oblige states to prevent, investigate and punish crimes against journalists; UN Security Council resolution 1738. All of these and many more are a set of universal standards for all people and all nations, including Bahrain.

We would also like to know what will the government of Bahrain do about the findings in the report about the partisan nature of the judiciary following the fines against Al Wasat or the lack of due process of law in the conviction of Abduljaleel Al Sangice, Ali Abdulemam and Hasan Ma'atooq.

Will they investigate properly the case of the two killed journalists and the allegations of torture? Will they order the reinstatement of sacked journalists? Will they give guarantee to the safe return of exiled journalists?

- Are you in contact with Bahrain Press Association?

We have read with interest the BPA’s most recent report documenting 135 violations against media professionals. This is an impressive work done by journalists in exile to raise awareness about the treatment of Bahraini journalists and their struggle for press freedom. If you add on the earlier report they released following the crackdown in March, the information the BPA provided on the ordeal of Bahraini journalists achieved a powerful impact on journalists and public opinion the world over. They must be congratulated for their determination to expose what is going on and defend journalists.

The IFJ has been active in defending the right of exiled journalists to organise themselves and defend their interests in countries where they live. We have also urged our member unions to help them wherever they are.

We want them to be well equipped to defend and support themselves and their families. I made sure that those journalists who sought asylum in the UK are properly supported by our member union the National Union of Journalists.

At the same time, the IFJ will not support any fragmentation of the Bahraini journalists. We made it clear to the BPA that we will support the work they will undertake to consolidate their efforts in settling in their new environment, but we will not support any attempt to divide their movement. On this we are clear. Our wish is that they rise above any sectarian divide and strive within a united movement. This is not a utopian endeavour. Many of our unions exist and function in similar situations where they have to confront the challenges of extremists and fanatics encouraging sectarianism and discord.

There are no magical or simple solutions and certainly launching a rival organisation is not a solution. We should all agree that discrimination within media is unacceptable and should be eliminated, and that populist and dangerous ideas scrutinised. We should all work together to ensure the best standard for reporting so that Bahraini citizens get the information they need without bias or prejudice.

The aim for the journalists’ community should be to stay united in one single organisation where all journalists agree to reject violence and instead build effective and profound structures for dialogue to encourage actions at national level in order to bridge the gulf of misunderstanding, insist on restating democratic values, and for journalists to be allowed to work freely without interference. This in our view is the way forward.


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