Journalists detained in Bahrain, Egypt

New York, March 30, 2011–A CNN crew was detained today in Manama while interviewing a prominent Bahraini human rights defender, according to a Twitter posting by the network and a CPJ interview. The detentions come amid a recent series of repressive actions by the Bahraini government, which included today’s arrest of a well-known blogger. Anti-press actions were also reported in Egypt, Syria, and Libya, CPJ research shows.

CNN tweeted this evening from Bahrain that a crew had been detained at the home of Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. Rajab told CPJ that the crew included CNN journalists Scott Bronstein and Taryn Fixel, along with an unidentified cameraman. He said a fourth journalist, an unidentified documentary filmmaker, was also detained.

Rajab said masked men in seven police cars descended on his home. “They pushed me against the wall, insulted me and ordered me not to say a word,” Rajab told CPJ. “Then they proceeded to ask the journalists who they worked for and told them that they would be taken for interrogation.” The journalists were freed hours later, a CNN spokesman said.

Prominent Bahraini blogger Mahmood al-Yousif was also detained today, according to a local journalist and the blogger’s brother. On his blog, al-Yousif regularly wrote about Bahraini politics, society, and recent demonstrations. Police arrested al-Yousif at his home around 3 a.m., according to his brother, Jamal,who  posted details on Twitter.

Al-Yousif was among the first journalistic bloggers in Bahrain, according to CPJ research. He was also the administrator of JustBahraini, a website that featured a campaign against sectarianism and was closed by the government in 2009, according to Jillian York, a U.S.-based blogger and Internet freedom advocate.

“We call on Bahraini authorities to release our detained colleagues without delay,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “Government officials must recognize that journalists don’t create unflattering news; they simply report it.”

In Egypt, military police arrested political blogger and activist Maikel Nabil Sanad on Monday night. Multiple bloggers and local press freedom advocates told CPJ that Sanad’s arrest was likely triggered by a recent article in which he criticized the military’s performance and perceived lack of transparency, both before and after the resignation of Hosni Mubarak. On Tuesday, a military court ordered that Sanad remain in custody for 15 days pending investigation, according to blogger Wael Abbas and news reports.

“We are dismayed to see the Egyptian military, in spite of having committed itself to a categorical break with the authoritarian practices of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, resort to repressive tactics in handling critical media,” said CPJ’s Abdel Dayem.

In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad said in a speech today that “foreign conspiracies” were a driving force behind civil unrest throughout the country. In several references, he said international media, particularly satellite news channels, were willingly and unwittingly promoting “subversion” and damaging Syrian unity. The president asserted that media were reporting about vandalism to public facilities before the activity took place, but he provided no details. CPJ research has found no such cases.

In Libya, foreign journalists covering Tripoli and the surrounding areas controlled by loyalist forces continue to be subjected to severe government restrictions. For weeks, these journalists have described an inability to move freely or cover events of their choosing. Foreign journalists are concentrated at the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli, where they are under constant government supervision, CPJ research shows. News conferences are called suddenly and without notice. “It’s a tactic seemingly designed to exhaust the reporters, more suited to a detention facility, which this kind of is — a plush expensive one. But the journalists in Tripoli are completely at the whim and mercy of the regime,” National Public Radio correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro wrote today.

A Saturday episode reflects the inability to work freely in Tripoli. When a woman tried to give reporters at the Rixos Hotel her account of being tortured and raped by 15 militiamen loyal to Muammar Qaddafi, she was violently silenced and forcibly removed from the premises by government minders. Journalists who tried to intervene were also physically assaulted, and at least one camera belonging to CNN was smashed in order to destroy footage of the altercation that was underway. Nonetheless, some of the footage was preserved and appeared on newscasts worldwide.

Editor’s note: This alert was updated in paragraph three to report the release of the four journalists in Bahrain.