New York, March 15, 2011–Armed assailants stormed the Manama printing facility of the Bahraini independent daily Al-Wasat early this morning, damaging the press and hindering production of today’s edition. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the attack, which comes just as military contingents from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been enlisted to help contain political unrest in the kingdom.
In Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, the government withdrew the accreditation of Ulf Laessing, a senior Reuters correspondent based in Riyadh, the news agency reported today. The government asserted that Laessing’s coverage of a recent protest in that country was inaccurate, but it provided no details and Reuters stood by the reporting. The withdrawal of the accreditation requires Laessing to leave the country, Reuters said. Earlier this month, Saudi authorities indefinitely banned three critical columnists for the government-controlled daily Al-Watan. Authorities did not cite a reason, although columnists Amal Zahid, Ameera Khashghari, and Adwan al-Ahmari had written about political unrest in the region, according to CPJ research.
In Bahrain, where pro-reform demonstrations have been staged by Shiite majority protesters for several weeks, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa declared a three-month state of emergency today, according to news reports. On Monday, about 1,000 Saudi and 500 UAE troops entered Bahrain at the king’s behest, according to news reports, a move that heightened regional tensions.
Around 1 a.m. today, dozens of men armed with knives and clubs stormed the printing facility of the daily Al-Wasat, said Mansour al-Jamri, the paper’s editor-in-chief. The assailants forced their way into the facility, threatened employees who were preparing to print today’s paper, and then damaged the press to make it inoperable, al-Jamri told CPJ. He said the newspaper contacted the Ministry of Interior, which dispatched security forces to disperse the mob. Another Bahraini newspaper, Al-Ayam, agreed to print today’s edition of Al-Wasat.
“We condemn this attempt at censorship through mob violence and intimidation,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “The government of Bahrain is responsible for the safety of journalists and the physical security of media installations. The authorities must prosecute all behind this assault on Al-Wasat.”
Al-Jamri said some of the assailants remained outside the newspaper’s premises later today in an apparent intimidation effort. Government supporters have been harassing Al-Wasat press employees for the past several days, according to news reports and a CPJ source.
Al-Jamri told CPJ his newspaper has been targeted for reprisal in connection with its coverage of the political demonstrations. On Sunday, Al-Wasat photographer Mohammed al-Mukharaq was beaten by government supporters. And a number of Al-Wasat journalists, including al-Jamri, were named in an anonymously authored “Bahrain list of dishonor” that has circulated widely online.