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Press Report: Activists in Bahrain have become Unable to Express their Views, They Exercise Self-Censorship due to Repression

2022-03-30 - 5:37 p

Bahrain Mirror: The Bahrain Press Association (BPA) said in a report that dissidents, civil society activists in Bahrain and those prevented by the political isolation law from engaging in civil or political activity have become unable to express their stances and comment on internal affairs, except through equivocal words and indirectly.

The report detailed what the authorities have been doing since 2011. The public prosecution relies on charges such as "obstructing peace and threatening security," "inciting hatred against the kingdom's constitutional order," "insulting a sect," "insulting the Interior Ministry," "insulting the judiciary" and others charges in targeting civil society activists, dissidents and journalists in Bahrain. These legal and judicial prosecutions have contributed to the decline in freedom of opinion, expression and the press within the country.

The report says that some of these legal texts passed through the current House of Representatives, which opposition groups accuse of being dependent on the government and unable to represent the voice of a wide range of citizens, and demand that it have full powers. These texts have been used in particular, against opponents and critics based on loose and general definitions that facilitate targeting and retaliation.

The report cites what the authorities are doing in Bahrain, as they have suppressed peaceful expression via the Internet and social media outlets, and prosecuted critics, as human rights watch has documented, creating a state of fear and a decline in opposition voices within the country, in addition to a case of self-monitoring of journalists and civil society organizations operating within Bahrain, in particular to avoid arrest, investigation, closure, withdrawal of licenses and restrictions.

"Using an array of tools of repression, including harassment, arbitrary detention and torture, the government of Bahrain has managed to crush a formerly thriving civil society and reduced it to a few lone voices who still dare to speak out," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Thus, journalists found themselves confronted with prohibition, restrictions or self-monitoring of what they write and say, whether through their work in traditional or modern media outlets or their personal social media accounts. Civil society activists were sentenced to 5 years in prison for criticizing the war in Yemen, while others were sentenced to jail for tweeting about allegations of torture in prison.

While the authorities shut down the country's only independent newspaper, Al-Wasat, in 2017, only one voice remained inside the country, the voice of authority, through five daily newspapers partly owned by ruling family members, official radio and television stations, which all publish and convey one single voice. Journalists working in these institutions adhere to the political editorial line in return for remaining in their jobs.

On the other hand, journalists who lost their journalistic work due to dismissals, workplace closures or political affiliations have created a space through the wider space, the Internet, by creating news accounts that follow local, regional and international news. These platforms monitor events and make money from the revenues of the commercials published by the account. But the fact that these accounts remain as a source of income for these journalists depends on their adherence to the limits set by the authority, making many of these accounts similar to limited local news groups through WhatsApp or a replica of local newspapers.

Throughout the years following 2011, reporters were the only means of covering the news happening on the ground in Bahrain, however, this was reduced to its lowest level when the majority of reporters for international news agencies had their licenses withdrawn between 2016 and 2017.  Licenses to work as a correspondent with international agencies were granted and withheld not on a professional basis.

Nonetheless, those who remained holding licenses to work as reporters move within an invisible line of self-censorship, starting with the choice of topics they cover, the terms they use, the guests who give the opportunity to talk and issue statements on what happened and what is happening, in order to avoid the risk of having their licenses withdrawn and the loss of work and livelihood as happened with their colleagues. 

Applying for a visa to enter Bahrain for journalistic work has become complicated for foreign journalists, who sometimes have to get around it due to its difficulty, complexity and authority's control over the details of the topics they cover and the people they meet. Sometimes the authorities even pursued journalists to know their movements inside the country. 

This is also applied to dissidents and civil society activists whose societies and organizations have been closed, or those prevented by the Political Isolation Act from engaging in civil or political activity, who have become unable to express their stances and comment on internal affairs except through equivocal words and indirectly.

More than one journalist and activist living in imposed or optional exile also expressed fear of targeting and retaliating against their families inside Bahrain if they sharply criticize the Bahraini authorities, or shed light on topics which the authorities deem a red line. This happened to the British-based human rights activist Ahmed Al-Wadaei, whose mother, brother and cousin were imprisoned, on charges described as retaliatory. The scenario was almost repeated with activist Yousif Omran after the arrest of his father and sister, but they were later released.

Briefly, this self-censorship has contributed to the reduction of spaces of expression and freedom of the press, for which the authorities in Bahrain are directly responsible, as the authorities have worked through legal restrictions and prohibitions to intimidate those who still have an opinion to express and those who still carry a pen or microphone to practice their work in press, especially that a number of bloggers, journalists and photographers remain behind bars for exercising freedom of peaceful expression or journalism with prison sentences reaching up to life imprisonment in some cases.

That's why, the small kingdom has, deservedly, secured its position among the last 12 countries out of 180 in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index issued by Reporters Without Borders.

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