Prominent online journalist arrested in Bahrain

New York, September 7, 2010The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Bahraini authorities to release Ali Abdel Imam, a leading online journalist who was arrested Saturday on charges of spreading “false information.” The arrest is the latest in the government’s ongoing crackdown on dissent.

Abdel Imam is founder of the news website BahrainOnline. Abdel Imam, who established the site in 1999, has made it one of the most popular news outlets in Bahrain, said Nabil Rajab, vice president of the Bahraini Center for Human Rights.

According to a posting on his Facebook page, Abdel Imam went to National Security Apparatus (NSA) offices on Saturday after being summoned by the agency. The next day, the official Bahrain News Agency claimed Abdel Imam had been arrested while “trying to flee to Qatar.” His website was shut that same day, according to CPJ sources.

Abdel Imam’s detention comes amid a government crackdown on opposition activists, which comes ahead of October parliamentary elections. On August 27, the public prosecutor issued a gag order banning journalists from reporting on the crackdown. Among the first wave of detainees was Abduljalil Alsingace, a blogger who has been critical of the government and who tracks human rights issues for the opposition Haq Movement for Civil Liberties and Democracy.

International, regional, and local human right groups have called on authorities to investigate allegations of torture made by some of the detainees. 

“The arrest of Ali Abdel Imam is a disturbing development in Bahrain’s attempts to censor coverage of its crackdown on dissent,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “We call on the authorities to release him immediately and lift the gag order on journalists covering such arrests.”