The Bahraini Press and Publications Law number 47 of 2002 has been contentious since the day it was promulgated. It has gone through a couple of revisions, one of them unwritten when the prime minister ordered a freeze on journalists’ imprisonment, but it fell far short from what journalists and writers were striving for.
The Shura Council put in an alternative law which has been lauded by many that it is the law under which journalists and opinion writers would be comfortable working under as it is fairer and removed the very damaging link between it – the press law – and the Penal Code, and removed all possibilities of the journalists sent to jail due to their writings.
The king spoke against the current Press and Publications law twice, once when he was inaugurating the parliamentary term and the other time more directly on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day a couple of days ago. With this level of political pressure, it was no surprise that wheels were put immediately into motion; but what motion it is!
In its weekly session held yesterday, the Cabinet declared that no journalist or writer is to be imprisoned for publishing their opinions. Wonderful! But even though I did not personally read the proposed amendments they sent to Parliament for discussion and ratification, I do not see any mention of the untying of the Press and Publications law and the Penal Code. In fact, what I do see is that this is the exact same thwarting law, but in a different guise:
The amendment seeks to shield those who exercise their right to freedom of expression from punishment as long as they preserve the political systemâ€™s privacy and fundamentals, the Kingdoms heritage and general decency. – Bahrain Tribune
Sorry? What does that bit about the as long as mean? To me – and I might be completely mistaken here – it means that nothing has changed, and nothing will change. And when you consider that on the very same day the cabinet sent its “amended” Law to the Parliament, the Shura Council finally sent its version – which is arguably much better than the Cabinet’s efforts – to Parliament too. The Parliamentary by-laws are quite clear, they give precedence to government initiated laws – thereby – negating or at least infinitely delaying the Shura Council’s efforts ever coming to light.
So my advice to you guys is to not to start jumping up and down in happiness at this new development by the Cabinet. The “gotchas” in it are actually much more severe than even the older iteration.
It makes me really wonder – once again – if the government, represented by the Cabinet, is doing its damnest to thwart the wishes of the king of the land, on purpose!