New York, April 4, 2011—The Bahraini government continued its attempts at muzzling critical media with the Ministry of Information ordering the country’s premier independent daily temporarily shut down on Sunday. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the Bahraini government’s strong-arm tactics, which effectively forced a change in a prominent paper’s editorial management. In Libya, Iraq, and Yemen, independent and critical media continue to be targets for government intimidation and harassment, CPJ research found.
Al-Wasat did not appear on newsstands on Sunday and its online edition was disabled, according to local and international news reports. The Information Ministry accused Al-Wasat of “deliberate news fabrication and falsification during the recent unrest that gripped the Kingdom of Bahrain,” the official Bahrain News Agency reported. On Monday, president of the Information Affairs Authority, Shaikh Fawaz bin Mohammed al-Khalifa, lifted the ban after the paper’s editor-in-chief, Mansoor al-Jamri, Managing Editor Walid Nouwaihidh, and Local News Director Aqeel Mirza stepped down.
“Resigning was a difficult decision but it is what was needed to safeguard the newspaper and the livelihood of its staff,” al-Jamri told CPJ. “The paper has been subjected to a relentless campaign of intimidation by the authorities.”
Bahrain has intensified its crackdown on media since imposing a state of emergency last month, CPJ research shows.
“Alleging bias in Al-Wasat‘s coverage without providing credible evidence to support such a claim is laughable,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “Bahrain has previously hurled unsubstantiated accusations of bias in order to silence critical media, most prominently against Al-Jazeera last year when the government wanted to shut the channel’s local bureau.
Lotfi al-Messaoudi, one of four Al-Jazeera journalists detained by Libyan authorities, was released and arrived in Tunisia on Sunday night, the Qatar-based news station reported. Al-Massaoudi, along with colleagues Ahmed Vall Ould Addin, Kamel Atalua, and Ammar al-Hamdan, were arrested in mid-March and freed on Thursday only to be re-arrested on the same day. The three journalists remain in custody, according to Al-Jazeera. At least seven local journalists who spoke critically of government policies remain missing amid wide speculation that they are in the custody of forces loyal to Qaddafi.
“We are relieved that Lotfi al-Messaoudi has been released, but remain concerned about the fate of the other missing and detained journalists in Libya,” said CPJ’s Abdel Dayem.
On Sunday, Libyan authorities ordered London’s Daily Telegraph correspondent Damien McElroy to leave Tripoli, according to news reports. The Libyan government provided no justification for its action. On Wednesday, the government expelled Reuters correspondent Michael Georgy, who had been covering the conflict for several weeks. Again, no reasons were given for the expulsion.
In Iraq today, security forces arrested Murtadha al-Shahtour, media director of Al-Nasiriyya’s police department and a regular contributor to the independent daily Azzaman and other news websites. On January 2, al-Shahtour published an article on the website Kitabat in which he criticized government policies related to security issues. Kitabat said that al-Shatour’s detention stems from the January 2 article; the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO), a local press freedom group, concurred.
Security forces arrested Raya Hamma Karim, a correspondent for the independent weekly Hawlati and Niyaz Abdullah, a journalist and a board member of JFO, in Iraqi Kurdistan today, news reports said. Both were covering student protests at a university in Arbil.
In Yemen, Ahmad al-Aghbry, a journalist working for the official SABA News Agency and a member of the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate, told CPJ that he received an email that it interpreted as a threat. In the email, the sender accuses al-Aghbry of possessing information about an upcoming terrorist attack, adding that he would be held accountable for it, al-Aghbry told CPJ. The syndicate condemned the threat, and called on the Interior Ministry to seriously investigate this and similar previous threats. CPJ has documented dozens of threats made against journalists during the past two months in person, on the telephone, and over email.
Reuters said that Syrian authorities freed its Damascus-based photographer Khaled al-Hariri on Sunday, six days after detaining him. Al-Hariri was the last of five Reuters journalists who had been detained incommunicado by Syrian authorities in the past two weeks. All have since been released. On Friday, two correspondents for The Associated Press were ordered to leave the country with less than an hour’s notice, the news agency reported. CPJ continues to track the cases of a handful of local journalists who have been rounded up in Syria, either while reporting or from their homes.