Bahrain Mirror- Exclusive: The British Guardian newspaper said that leading press freedom groups have sent a letter to foreign secretary Boris Johnson raising concerns about the human rights record of Bahrain's ambassador to the UK, urging Johnson to take up the matter with the ambassador, Fawaz bin Mohammad Al Khalifa, a member of Bahrain's royal family who was formerly president of Bahrain's information affairs authority.
The letter argues that while Fawwaz was chief of the IAA presidency during the Arab Spring period, he used his power to restrict press freedom. At the same time, the Bahraini government "systematically cracked down on political and civil freedoms."
For its part, the Bahraini embassy issued a statement in which it said that the letter sent by the press freedom groups was "littered with clear fabrications, inaccuracies and innuendo." It stated: "The claim that Sheikh Fawaz bin Mohamed Al Khalifa, as the president of the IAA, was involved in abusing a journalist is ludicrous."
The embassy's response continued: "What is clear, however, is that the IAA never attempted to ‘crack down' on media freedoms. Indeed, Bahrain's government is committed to a diverse and vibrant media sector in which all parts of society can make their voice heard, even in the face of the current international challenges, and efforts by certain regional actors to stoke sectarian tensions."
"The kingdom of Bahrain's choice of a person with a key role in repressing freedom of speech as their ambassador to the United Kingdom reflects Bahrain's unchanged, poor attitudes towards freedom of speech and human rights more generally," the letter read.
The Guardian indicated that when Fawaz presented his ambassadorial credentials to the Queen in December 2015 he spoke of the shared commitment of the two governments in fighting the global scourge of terrorism, however "His continued public attempts to mislead on the cases of journalists like Ms. Saeed are indications that neither he, nor the country he represents, share the key British values of the right to free speech and individual liberty."
The Guardian quoted Sayed Ahmed Al-Wadaei, BIRD's director of advocacy, "The role of this ambassador in actively repressing free journalists and media... must be investigated... If the UK is serious about supporting free press globally, they must address this with their ally, Bahrain."
The letter cites Bahrain's fall in RSB's press freedom index ranking during Fawaz's IAA presidency. In 2009, the year before he took over, it was 119th. By the time he left, in 2012, it was 165th.
It highlights the case of Nazeeha Saeed, a Bahraini journalist who was prosecuted for "illegal reporting" after her licence renewal was refused and sheds light on the suspension of Al-Wasat in April 2011 and the authority's involvement in the detention of an Iraqi journalist who was beaten and deported.
According to Sputnik website, Sheikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa released a statement last month in support of legal action against Bahraini journalist Nazeeha Saeed. However, the newsletter stated that "It is not innocuous that Sheikh Fawaz, as ambassador to the United Kingdom, had the embassy publish this statement in support of the IAA and we see this statement as a reflection of Bahrain's antipathy towards a free press, and as Sheikh Fawaz's direct role in antagonising the press," the letter reads.
The Bahraini embassy denied in its statement Fawaz's relation in Nazeeha Saeed case and indicated "the case of Nazeeha Saeed - which appears to have resulted from her own failure to renew the appropriate credentials as a foreign correspondent - is very recent, and well after the time that the ambassador was at the IAA."
It is to mention that Nazeeha Saeed can't leave Bahrain because she is subject to a travel ban. For 12 years, she worked as a foreign correspondent for French news agencies, plus France24 and Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya.
According to the letter, Fawaz also led a smear campaign against Al-Wasat newspaper and permitted television programs vilifying famous protesters.
Reporters Without Borders (RSB), Index on Censorship and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) signed the letter.