Bahrain: Journalists on trial face prison time

New York, July 1, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed by the prosecution of Mansour al-Jamri and Hussein Khalaf, editor and reporter, respectively, of the independent Bahraini daily Al-Wasat.

Today was the second hearing in a trial that began on June 21, and is to resume in September. The case against Al-Jamri and Khalaf stems from a March 26 article by Khalaf reporting that three men, who had been arrested in February 2003 and accused of being members of a terrorist cell, had been released from custody.

Al-Jamri told CPJ that after the men were arrested in February, the Prosecutor General ordered the newspaper not to publish anything relating to the proceedings. Al-Jamri said that the paper complied with the order until the release of the men was published in other news outlets such as Agence France-Presse, Deutsche Presse Agentur, and the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat.

Within days of the article being published in Al-Wasat, the Prosecutor General brought a case against al-Jamri and Khalaf. They were charged, in accordance with the 2002 press law, with violating a gag order.

The paper’s lawyer said that if convicted, the journalists face up to six months in prison and a 1,000 dinar fine (US$2650).

“These prosecutions are a setback for press freedom in Bahrain,” said CPJ senior program coordinator Joel Campagna. “The authorities should be encouraging more open media discourse, rather than imposing media blackouts and bringing journalists before the courts. We call on the authorities to dismiss this case immediately.”