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Al-Arabiya Faces UK Ban for Interview with Tortured Bahraini Hassan Mushaima, Middle East Eye

2017-04-26 - 3:53 p

Bahrain Mirror: Saudi-owned television channel Al-Arabiya could face closure in the UK after it committed a "serious" breach of British broadcast rules in broadcasting an interview with an imprisoned Bahraini torture survivor and prominent opposition figure Hassan Mushaima, reported the Middle East Eye (MEE).
This comes after independent regulator Ofcom found that Al-Arabiya infringed on the privacy of imprisoned opposition leader Hassan Mushaima, when it broadcast footage of him obtained during his arbitrary detention in Bahrain.

The future of Al-Arabiya News in the UK hangs in the balance, stressed MEE.

The MEE article further highlighted that the regulator is now considering what form of sanction to take against Al-Arabiya News. It could range from a major fine and the threat of suspending its licence to a less-damaging on-air apology, after a complaint was made on behalf of Mushaima by a US-based rights group.

The case follows a similar decision by Ofcom in 2012 which saw Iranian state broadcaster Press TV stripped of its UK broadcast licence.

Mushaima, who has been designated a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, is the co-founder of Bahrain's largest opposition political group, the now-dissolved al-Wefaq. He is also the head of the political opposition Haq movement, defected from Al-Wefaq. He was arrested in 2011 during the pro-democracy February 14 uprising and sentenced to life imprisonment by a military court on charges stemming from his leading role in the anti-government protests.

On 27 February last year, Al-Arabiya News broadcast a segment about 2011 pro-democracy protests in Bahrain, including what appeared to be an interview conducted with Mushaima. Mushaima claimed that the interview took place while he was under threat of torture, a claim that was accepted by Ofcom in its judgment on Monday. He also said that statements he had made calling for Bahrain to become an "Islamic Republic the Iranian Way" were made under duress and after he had been tortured.

"We've upheld a complaint against Al Arabiya News for unfair treatment and unwarranted infringement of privacy. These are very serious breaches for which we will be considering a statutory sanction," an Ofcom spokesperson told Middle East Eye.

The MEE article read that the prison interview, the exact timing of which in 2011 or 2012 is disputed, came in the wake of Mushaima's initial arrest when he was subject to torture, according to the findings of an independent Bahrain report.

The article added that in its judgment, Ofcom found that the imprisoned opposition leader's confession was wrongly presented as wilful testimony and breached Mushaima's right to privacy.

Ofcom also found that Al-Arabiya News also failed to make clear that Mushaima has consistently maintained his innocence and that there were well-documented allegations of torture against the Bahraini authorities, including the finding of the BICI and the UN Special Procedures. Additionally, Al-Arabiya News failed to provide any opportunity for Mushaima to freely respond to the allegations made against him.

MEE further pointed out that in its defence, Al-Arabiya News had argued that the interview was conducted in 2012 by a freelance journalist granted access to Mushaima by Bahraini authorities. It argued that the BICI finding that Mushaima was a victim of torture relate solely to the events of 2011 and that as such Mushaima's torture was not relevant in 2012.

Nonetheless, Ofcom dismissed Al-Arabiya's argument and found that: "Given the high-profile and well-publicised nature of these events, it is Ofcom's view that Al Arabiya News was aware, or ought to have been aware, at least by the date of the broadcast, that the statements being made by Mr Mashaima [sic] in the footage filmed in early 2012 may not have accurately or fairly represented his account of events."

MEE reported that his son Ali Mushaima, said in a statement that "there was nothing more painful to my heart than knowing the torture that my father went through in his imprisonment. Al Arabiya's deplorable programme shows my father at his most vulnerable and it deeply distressed our whole family."

Husain Abdulla, executive director of Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) and Hassan Mushaima's representative in the complaint, said: "While more prisoners of conscience are tortured in Bahrain's prisons every day, Al Arabiya - a mouthpiece for the Saudi government - has been free to reinforce a false narrative conflating legitimate pro-democracy activism with terrorism. Until now. We welcome Ofcom's sound judgement in this case and expect a sanction to match the violations committed."

The Middle East Eye article also mentioned that Mushaima, who is 69 years old, is currently in remission for lymphoma cancer, and is currently serving a life term in Bahrain's infamous Jau prison, where rights groups say prisoners are subjected to torture and arbitrary deprivation of medical care.

Arabic Version


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