CPJ concerned about legal harassment of Bahraini journalist

Today the Committee to Protect Journalists joined 42 other organizations in a joint statement expressing concern at the Bahraini Public Prosecutor’s decision to charge Nazeeha Saeed, an award-winning journalist with Radio Monte Carlo Douliya and France24, with unlawfully working for international media.

Bahrain’s press and publications law requires all journalists working with international media to obtain a license from the Information Affairs Authority. Journalists in violation of this provision face a fine of up to 1000 Bahraini Dinars (approximately US$2650).

Saeed told CPJ she applied for the renewal of her license, which expires annually, at the end of March and continued to report as she has done for more than a decade. She received written notice in June that her request for renewal was denied.

Officials at the Information Affairs Authority initially agreed to speak to CPJ on the phone about Saeed’s case. But citing scheduling reasons, they suggested CPJ submit written questions instead. CPJ sent questions on July 21 and has yet to receive a response.

On its own merits, the charge may not seem that significant, especially for one of the worst jailers of journalists in the world. But the ramifications are greater than the potential fine: By refusing to renew Saeed’s license, the Information Affairs Authority has effectively silenced one of the most prominent reporters covering events in Bahrain for the international media.

The charge may also portend additional retribution against Saeed. Saeed told CPJ she has been prevented from leaving the country four times since June. Yet, she said she has been unable to find any official willing to take responsibility for the apparent travel ban against her.

The actions taken against Saeed seem particularly alarming against the bleak backdrop of recent events in Bahrain. In the past two months, the government jailed a leading human rights defender, banned the main opposition group, revoked the citizenship of the most prominent Shia cleric, and forced another human rights defender into exile, according to news reports and international human rights organizations.

Last week Information Affairs Minister Mohammed Al-Rumaihi issued a new regulation requiring all newspapers to acquire a supplementary annual license to publish online, in addition to the license to publish print copies, according to the official Bahrain News Agency. Even newspapers with all the appropriate licenses will be banned from posting live video clips, or clips longer than 120 seconds.

These kinds of regulations spin a complex web of legal and regulatory tripwires for journalists in Bahrain that encourage self-censorship and caution. That is what is happening right now to Saeed. In explaining why the government is pursuing charges against her, the state news agency cited an unnamed source at the Information Affairs Authority as saying that “nobody is above the rule of law” in Bahrain.

Yet the government has failed to successfully prosecute any of the security officials allegedly responsible for torturing Saeed in 2011, when she was arrested covering anti-government protests and held for 13 hours . According to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, established by King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa himself, Saeed alleged a number of police officers kicked her, beat her with a rubber hose, and electrocuted her. She also testified that police officers poured urine on her face, forced a shoe into her mouth, and plunged her head into a toilet to simulate drowning.

That the state has failed to bring to justice any of the people accused of committing these crimes, yet can zealously charge Saeed for practicing journalism without a permit, suggests that the law is unevenly applied: In Bahrain, some people are above the law, and some are silenced by it.

Read the joint statement here.