Bahraini journalists harassed, banned from travel

New York, May 1, 2017–Bahraini prosecutors and security officials should cease harassing journalists and should lift travel bans imposed on two reporters in the past week, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Prosecutors summoned three journalists for questioning in the week before the U.N. Human Rights Commission conducted its Universal Periodic Review of the kingdom’s human rights record today.

Bahrain’s public prosecutor summoned three journalists–Faisal Hayyat, a video blogger; Jaafar al-Jamri, a writer at the beleaguered Al-Wasat newspaper; and freelance journalist Ahmed Radhi–over the course of the past week, according to the Journalist Support Committee (JSC), a Bahraini press freedom group, and an emailed statement from Bahraini rights activist Nazeeha Saeed. Hayyat and Radhi are both banned from traveling.

Radhi told CPJ that an interrogator at the prosecutor’s office accused him of participating in a protest in the village of Duraz on October 6, 2016, alongside 800 other people. Duraz is the site of an ongoing sit-in protest and is also the home of influential Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim. Radhi denied the charges.

Al-Jamri wrote on Twitter that officials from the prosecutor’s Electronic Crimes department questioned him about a series of tweets he wrote, without elaborating. Neither Hayyat nor al-Jamri responded to CPJ’s requests for further information.

“If Bahrain is serious about its commitments to free expression and press freedom, it will immediately lift the travel bans on journalists Fasial Hayyat and Ahmed Radhi and cease harassing the press,” CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney said from Washington, D.C.

Hayyat and Radhi denied having attended protests in Duraz. Both have been jailed for their writing before. Bahraini authorities held Radhi in pretrial detention for months in 2012 on terrorism charges following remarks he made on social media criticizing a proposal to unify Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, CPJ reported at the time. Hayyat was jailed from October 9, 2016 to January 7, 2017, for his activity on social media, and in 2011 on suspicion that he participated in mass, antigovernment protests in April of that year.

During Bahrain’s last Universal Periodic Review in 2012, the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) criticized the kingdom’s record on press freedom.

At least seven journalists, including Hayyat, were in prison for their work on December 1, 2016, when CPJ last conducted its annual global prison census. More recently, on March 21, police detained former Agence France-Presse photographer Mohammed al-Shaikh for 24 hours upon his return from a holiday in India.