New York, April 17, 2019 — Bahraini authorities must immediately clarify whether they are detaining Akhbar al-Khaleej columnist Ibrahim al-Sheikh and, if so, release him immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
In an April 14 Instagram post, the public prosecutor’s office announced that it had detained an unnamed journalist on charges of spreading false news and rumors. The prosecutor alleged that the journalist had “cast doubt on the capabilities of the defense forces and the coalition,” regarding the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.
The post followed an April 11 statement by the Bahraini Council of Representatives’ Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs, Defense and National Security condemning an April 10 column about the military campaign by al-Sheikh, a columnist for the privately owned Bahraini daily Akhbar al-Khaleej. In the statement, the council called on the public prosecutor to investigate the column.
Bahrain Mirror, a dissident-run website that operates outside of the country, published an article on April 15 stating that al-Sheikh had been arrested. The Bahrain Press Association, a London-based press freedom group, condemned al-Sheikh’s arrest in a statement on Twitter, as did two former members of the Bahraini parliament.
The Bahraini Public Prosecutor did not respond to CPJ’s email requesting comment. An email sent to Akhbar al-Khaleej did not receive a response.
“Bahraini authorities must immediately clarify whether the journalist in their custody is Ibrahim al-Sheikh and if so, release him without charge,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington, D.C. “‘Casting doubt’ on the capabilities of the defense forces or any part of the government is a journalistic exercise in scrutiny, not a crime.”
In al-Sheikh’s column, the journalist criticized Bahraini news commentary on the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. He compared the coverage to Egyptian state media proclaiming victory amid Egypt’s defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War and former Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Said al-Sahaf’s claims of Iraqi victory during the 2003 U.S. invasion, according to a CPJ review of the article.
CPJ could not determine Al-Sheikh’s whereabouts. Detainees are often initially held at the Dry Dock Detention Center in Manama, the capital, as a temporary measure, according to CPJ research.
At least six journalists were detained in Bahrain at the time of CPJ’s latest prison census. CPJ has documented how Bahrain has stamped out most independent reporting since its 2011 uprising, and in 2017 shuttered the island’s last remaining opposition newspaper.