7 August 2015 – Shortly before midnight yesterday, Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority (IAA) announced the temporary suspension Al Wasat newspaper, Bahrain’s only semi-independent newspaper on Thursday, “until further notice.” Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) condemn the government’s latest attack on free speech in the country, and demand that the government re-instate Al Wasat immediately.
According to the short government statement, issued at 11:39 PM in Bahrain, the suspension is due to a violation of the law and repeated articles which “affect” national unity and Bahrain’s relations with other countries. Bahrain’s Foreign Minister later indicated over Twitter that the government had suspended al-Wasat in relation to its coverage of a recent bombing in Saudi Arabia. The suspension comes after the IAA reaffirmed that they will “take the necessary legal measures to prevent the publication of false or misleading information” this past Monday.
Al Wasat was founded in 2002 as part of King Hamad’s reconciliation program following his reformation of the government into a constitutional monarchy. The paper had a reputation for being the most independent source of journalism within the country.
“The government’s suspension of Al Wasat represents a complete rejection of the reconciliation that the government itself started thirteen years ago,” said Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of ADHRB. “By closing one of the only institutions in the country willing to criticize the State, Bahrain’s government yet again demonstrates that it prefers to operate not in an environment of accountability, but in a vacuum of impunity.”
Al Wasat has been targeted by government persecution before. During the March 2011 assault on Bahrain’s Arab Spring protest movement, government security forces arrested Kareem Fakrawi, the co-founder of the paper. Fakrawi ultimately died in government custody; an examination of his body revealed evidence that he had been tortured to death.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD, stated, “Bahrain is repeating its crackdown tactics from four years ago. There was no justice for the murder of Kareem Fakrawi in 2011, and there is no justice in the closure of his legacy today.”
ADHRB and BIRD condemn the suspension of Al Wasat and strongly urge the Government of Bahrain to end the suspension immediately and respect press freedom in Bahrain. We further call on the international community, including the United States and the United Kingdom, to pressure the government to enact wide-sweeping reforms that would guarantee observation of the freedom and independence of the press in the future.