Bahraini reporter charged with violating gag order

New York, July 2, 2010— The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Bahraini authorities to drop charges against Mohammed al-Sawad, a reporter for the independent daily Al-Bilad, who is accused of violating a government-imposed gag order.

The order was issued in the case of former minister of state, Mansour bin Rajab, who was dismissed in March after a year-long investigation into alleged money laundering. The issue had sparked wide interest in local and regional media. The public prosecutor’s March 25 order directed news outlets to publish only what was officially released by the prosecution. Article 246 of Bahrain’s penal code states that violations of gag orders concerning “ongoing investigations” may be punished by up to one year in prison.
On June 1, after learning the investigation had ended and trial proceedings had been scheduled, al-Sawad wrote a story about the case. 
“When the case was transferred to the court, the jurisdiction of the general prosecution ended because it entered the jurisdiction of the court,” the newspaper’s lawyer, Sami Sayedi, told CPJ. “The case came out of the mandate of the public prosecutor and under the jurisdiction of the Higher Criminal Court,” he said, adding that the court has not issued any restrictions on coverage. 
“CPJ favors the broadest possible coverage of issues of public interest, especially accusations that the public trust has been broken,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “But even looking at this case from the vantage point of Bahraini law, the initial gag order should no longer apply.”
Al-Sawad appeared in court for the first time on Wednesday. The next hearing is scheduled for October 12, he told CPJ.