Bahrain shuts only independent daily

MANAMA: – Bahrain’s government has suspended the publication of the independent newspaper Al-Wasat.

The official Bahrain News Agency said in a brief statement issued Thursday night that the suspension is “due to its violation of the law and repeated dissemination of information that affects national unity and the Kingdom’s relationship with other countries.”

Brian Dooley of the Washington-based group Human Rights First called the paper’s suspended publication, “another seriously alarming, if predictable, move from the Bahraini government in silencing all opposition voices and crushing dissent.”

Al-Wasat is a widely respected newspaper in the Mideast region edited by Mansoor Al-Jamri, 53, who received a CPJ International Press Freedom Award in 2011.

Meanwhile, Bahrain’s Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expressed deep concern over the government’s temporary suspension of the country’s only independent newspaper.

On Thursday, the BCHR’s president Nabeel Rajab described the al-Wasat newspaper’s closure as an attack against freedom of expression.

Rajab, a prominent rights defender who was recently released from jail for health reasons, also said the recent restrictions would move the country towards a dark future.

Following a warning on August 3, the Bahraini Information Affairs Authority (IAA) said that it had temporarily closed the newspaper “due to [the newspaper’s] violation of the law and repeated dissemination of information that affects national unity and the Kingdom’s relationship with other countries.” 

The IAA added that the paper would remain closed until further notice.

The BCHR has demanded Manama immediately cancel the suspension of al-Wasat and allow it to continue its publications. It has also called on the Bahraini government to stop its targeting of journalists and writers.

The rights group further said Manama should halt its use of the judiciary system as a tool to crack down on journalists.

The Executive Director of Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), Husain Abdulla, also criticized the move by Manama, saying it was “an attempt to shut down the only free media in the country.”

Al-Wasat says its journalists and staff members have been harassed by the government in the past.

In June, a case was filed by a Bahraini MP against the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Mansoor Aljamri and one of its writers, Hani al-Fardan, over an article regarding foreign-backed militants operating in Syria. A hearing is expected on the case in September.

Al Wasat was established in 2002. The newspaper was established after the early reforms adopted by King Hamad bin Isa.

Al Wasat is one of the most popular newspapers in Bahrain and is generally regarded as one of the only dailies that do not take a loyalist stand to the Bahraini government.

The paper was forced to shut down temporarily in 2011, in the aftermath of widespread unrest and pro-democracy protests. In April 2011, the paper’s co-founder, Karim Fakhrawy, was tortured to death in custody.

The paper was ranked as the top newspaper in terms of circulation and impact in the kingdom of Bahrain by the Pan-Arab Research Center in its survey in 2012.

The paper was ranked of the top of index of credibility by the “Media Credibility Index” issued by Next Century Foundation in London on 5 May 2012. 

The paper’s online version was the 15th most visited website for 2010 in the MENA region.

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