New York, January 17, 2017--The government of Bahrain should rescind an order suspending the online edition of Al-Wasat, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The Information Affairs Ministry ordered the independent outlet yesterday to suspend its online operation indefinitely for inciting division, jeopardizing national unity, and disrupting public peace, according to the official Bahrain News Agency.
It is not clear what articles led to the suspension of the online edition, which republishes content from the print edition, alongside original reporting, and has a national and international audience. The print edition of the daily newspaper was not affected. Al-Wasat's editor-in-chief, Mansoor al-Jamri, told The Associated Press the paper was trying to get information from authorities about the order. The ministry did not immediately respond to CPJ's written request for comment.
"Bahrain claims it respects press freedom. But any government that truly respects press freedom does not interfere with a news outlet's publication, particularly without any formal explanation," said CPJ's Middle East and North Africa senior research associate, Jason Stern. "We call on the Bahraini government to immediately allow Al-Wasat to resume online publication and to stop censoring and harassing independent media."
A CPJ review of Al-Wasat's website today found its content has not been updated since the order was issued.
The action came at a tense time in Bahrain. On January 15, the government executed three men convicted of killing three police officers in a bombing in 2013, according to news reports. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights said the men had been forced to confess under torture. After the execution, violent clashes broke out between police and protesters, the reports said.
Al-Wasat has been suspended previously. In 2015, it was ordered to stop publishing for a few days after authorities accused the outlet of "repeated dissemination of information that affects national unity and the kingdom's relationship with other countries," the official Bahrain News Agency reported. CPJ honored al-Jamri, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Al-Wasat, with its International Press Freedom Award in 2011. That same year, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa approved the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate human rights violations and propose institutional and policy changes. Authorities have largely failed to carry out the inquiry's recommendations and the crackdown against the press has continued, CPJ has found.
Seven journalists were imprisoned for their work in Bahrain, including Mahmoud al-Jaziri, a reporter for Al-Wasat, according to CPJ's latest prison census.