Tag Archives freedom-of-expression

Gratitudes and the Duraz Siege

Gratitudes and the Duraz Siege

Every day, I endeavor to be grateful for at least five things.  I write them down as early as I can every morning to remind me to stay humble and be thankful for what I have. This practice has allowed me to stay positive in the face of difficulties and reminded me to see things in context and put them into perspective. Today is my 105th day of doing this, thanks to the Facebook Group 90 Days of Gratitude.

Today, I choose to reflect on our village Duraz’s siege from my own perspective. We are having to suffer long queues of cars to report to a police checkpoint – one of only two for a village and an area that hosts over 20,000 residents – to get home. Every other entrance into the village has been closed off by police. And I mean this literally. The ancient village of Duraz has many routes in and out of it, as you might imagine for a very old habitat, but every single one of them has been closed and is being guarded by police. The word inconvenience doesn’t even start to describe what residents are going through. Every day. At least twice a day. For the last two and a half months.

The situation as I personally see it is better described as collective punishment. This of course has to stop. It is the decent thing to do.

Backgrounder:

Picture courtesy of Alwasat newspaper. Checkpoint at Duraz entrance on the Budaiya highway
Picture courtesy of Alwasat newspaper. Checkpoint at the Budaiya highway entrance to Duraz.

On 20 June, Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior revoked the nationality of Sheikh Isa Qassim, the spiritual leader of Bahrain’s Shia community, rendering him stateless. In response, hundreds of demonstrators began a peaceful sit-in around Sheikh Qassim’s home in the village of Duraz, where he also preaches. Since then, the authorities have subjected Duraz to an unprecedented lockdown, in what is a form of collective punishment against the entire village. The government’s action violates the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, assembly, and movement for all the residents of Duraz and their families.

Duraz is located in the north west of the main island. To its west is Budaiya and to its east is Barbar. Its south side faces onto the major Budaiya Highway, and on the other side are the villages of Bani Jamra and Saar. Duraz has an estimated population of 20-30,000 people.

…more at ECDHR

Here are my gratitudes of this morning, for the 105th day.

I am grateful for:

  1. The internet for keeping me entertained, inspired and informed for the calculated delays at the Duraz checkpoint to get home. Twice a day at least. Every day. For the last two and a half months.
  2. The inconsiderate dimwits who choose to ignore the patience of everyone at the Duraz checkpoint. Although they are many, my trust in humanity, patience and respect of others is strengthened by noting that those patiently queueing are considerably more than the inconsiderate unmannered uncultured dimwits. I’m reminded of this at least twice a day. Every day. For the last two and a half months.
  3. For my fervent belief that security measures are never a final solution, but a tool wisely used to get opposing sides to the dialogue and peace table. Sieges are so 12th century not the 21st. I’m reminded of this at least twice a day. Every day. For the last two and a half months.
  4. The comfort that my car provides. Makes waiting to go through the checkpoint at Duraz actually a tolerable experience. Other than my and thousands of others daily loss of at least two hours having to tolerate this siege every day. At least twice a day. For the last two and half months.
  5. The realization that dialogue, compromise and outcomes that respect international human rights codes are the intelligent solutions going forward. The Duraz siege manifests the failure of the realization of these certain facts. Every day. All day. For the last 2,025 days.

Regardless of the reason why the government has imposed this siege, this is collective punishment for a population through no fault of its own.

160829: Thank you Alwasat Newspaper for featuring this post.

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The Hostility of the Middle East to Freedom of Expression

The Hostility of the Middle East to Freedom of Expression

Here’s a riddle: if you heard the following, which country of region or the world would immediately jump up at you?

A female artist and activist serving a 12-year prison sentence is facing additional charges, including “indecent conduct,” after shaking her male lawyer’s hand.

South America?
China?
Belarus?
Georgia?
USA?

No. I bet the region that popped up in your mind was the Middle East. As to the specific country, it most probably was either Saudi Arabia or Iran. Okay, I’ll throw in Afghanistan in there too.

Atena Farghadani

The correct answer, of course in this case, is Iran.

Why is this region so afflicted with this disease of needing to control everyone and mould them into unthinking and unfeeling automatons beyond their own officially sanctified propriety? Aren’t the perpetually descending freedom indices enough to jolt the region’s officials to a state of utter alarm coupled with a clear realisation that the people of this region have had enough Big Brotherly oversight and repression and they’re rebelling against the chains? Don’t they realise that peoples’ aspirations have now changed beyond their recognition and broke out of their moulds? That what people now want is the plentiful bounty of choice that is available to their fellow human beings elsewhere? And that the continued application of unfair and unjust laws that curtail personal freedoms will achieve nothing but an all out ugly rebellion that might well lead to civil wars?

The Middle East is by almost any reckoning the world’s worst region for freedom of expression. Reporters Without Borders, a press freedom lobby, puts war-torn Syria 177th out of 180 countries on its latest annual ranking, in 2014. Iran is 173rd, Sudan 172nd, Yemen 167th, Saudi Arabia 164th. The highest any of the region’s countries make it is 91st, with Kuwait, which has a democracy of sorts. According to the Pew Research Centre, a think-tank, as of 2012, 14 of 20 Middle Eastern countries criminalise blasphemy and 12 of 20 make apostasy—leaving Islam—an offence. [Unholy Silence – The Economist]

Almost every country in the Middle East imprisons political activists, artists, journalists, writers, bloggers, and anyone else who dares to oppose official views or simply criticises any official body using draconian and malleable laws that will ensure their silencing and also make them examples to deter others from treading their paths.

The ludicrous story of the Iranian artist Atena Farghadani embodies all that ails this region of the world. She expressed her opinion of the political situation in her country by drawing Iranian parliamentarians as animals. That opinion got her more than twelve years behind bars in the country’s top security prison. When she shook the hand of her male lawyer, they slapped an additional prison sentence for public indecency and they both can receive over 70 lashes for their courtesy on top of the prison sentence.

“The laws on the books in Iran are a kind of arsenal or tool kit always available for use by the authorities in their efforts to suppress any form of expression they don’t approve of,” Elise Auerbach, Iran country specialist at Amnesty International, told The Huffington Post.

How are these laws allowed to be legislated in the first place? How can parliamentarians continue to have any respect for themselves after allowing such legislation to pass? Don’t their conscience and honour question their actions or lack thereof?

Of course, the practical effects of this suppression are manifold; chief amongst them is the killing of innovation and creativity. People cannot be creative and innovative if they’re continuously looking over their shoulders and censoring themselves. This creates such a corrosive and unproductive environment which enforces subservience to foreign products, workforce and talent. This situation will ultimately unbalance the very foundations of a sustainable society and put whole countries at the mercy of the external powers they are beholden to. The local disenfranchised population will of course lose hope, lose their kinship with their own country of birth and might well stand on the sidelines while its resources continue to be plundered because they would be unsure whether they are empowered to act to protect the resources. Under these conditions, there is no doubt that governments will ultimately lose the support of their own people and chaos will ensue.

The great Mark Twain once said that “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it”.  Judging by the acceleration in arbitrary arrests, the fashioning of even more opaque laws whose sole purpose is for their use against any form of opposition or dissent, the further choking of freedoms of expression and penalising almost any form of criticism, that governmental support across the Middle East is declining to a level that open rebellion – small as it may currently be – is begining to be witnessed on a daily basis.

There is a way out of this, of course. Paradoxically, Bahrain once provided the guiding light for how things can be reversed and corrected. Just look at what its RSF Press Freedom Index was in 2002 and compare it to every year since. What did Bahrain do in 2001 that warranted that huge increase in its press freedom ranking and all other freedom of expression indices?

Here’s a brief, courtesy of 2002 report from Freedom House:

Bahrain’s political rights rating improved from 7 to 6, and its civil liberties rating improved from 6 to 5, because of political reforms that set the stage for the establishment of an elected legislature, abolished emergency laws and courts, released political prisoners and allowed exiles to return, granted nationality to bidoon (stateless peoples), and improved political debate and freedom of association.

Sheikh Hamad ibn Isa al-Khalifa ended almost a decade of civil unrest in February 2001, when he presented Bahrainis with the opportunity to vote in a referendum on a new national charter. The charter, which calls for the establishment of a partially elected legislature, an independent judiciary, political rights for women, equality for all citizens, and a body to investigate public complaints, addresses the key grievances of Shiite-led opposition groups. Ninety percent of Bahrainis turned out to vote in the referendum, and 98 percent of them approved the new charter.

Although the 2002 Freedom House index for Bahrain rates it as “Not Free”, it does recognise that some solid steps have taken place that warranted that upward change in ranking. In fact, the effect of those changes were clearly seen from 2003 – 2009 when the country’s status changed to “Partly Free”, which is a big achievement.

From a practical level, I remember the heady days of 2001 when people stood up straighter, looked each other in the eye, had fruitful debates without resorting to hushed tones and continuously looking over their shoulders and political lectures and workshops were aplenty. We actually started to understand what “debate” actually was rather than resort to the usual accusations of treason, or lobbying choice epithets at people we disagree with. The whole country was abuzz and business was booming. Everyone had an air of accomplishment and a sense of worth and pride.

That feeling is a universal requirement for a healthy and effective Middle East. Unfortunately it has disappeared, or at least, it got lost in the interim. For our own survival and our much needed growth as effective nations, we need to get that sense of self-worth back.

How the people of this region might go about this will not be easy. The road will require sacrifices to re-establish trust between all parties. Shared goals need to be set that have national interest fully in sight and which transcend personal aggrandisement and selfish benefit. I personally believe that this can and must be achieved. I can’t give up on more than 400 million people and neither can the world for that matter.

We all individually have a part to play, no matter how small, to achieve that much required correction to rejoin a world, without terrorism, wars or strife. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to try.

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Selective security

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While I abhor the Molotov cocktail attack on Samira Rajab’s residence and regard it as a heinous crime not to be condoned at all, especially when consideration is given that this attack was most probably undertaken due to Ms Rajab’s opinions and political position, I am left at a loss as to how the security services can find and apprehend the perpetrators within a day of the incident and those even more severe attacks on the two Wa’ad HQs in both Manama and Muharraq, the attack on the Wefaq Secretary General’s residence and countless opposition MPs, doctors, journalists and writers are still at large!

What gives?

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The Ambassador Speaketh

The Ambassador Speaketh

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Interesting interview in Al-Wasat this morning in which its editor-in-chief interviewed the departing American Ambassador to Bahrain Mr Adam Ereli. The interview had three axes: reflections on his tenure in Bahrain, Freedoms of Expression as exercised (or lack thereof) in Bahrain and the Internet in particular and lastly human rights. It’s surprising and refreshing to read some straight non-diplo talk once in a while, and this interview is largely that, though judging by some of the responses the article received, a lot of people found his responses are a direct interference in the internal issues of the country while others were vehement in their refusal of everything American painting them as the Great Big Satan wherever they landed.

left to right: Rachel Graff, US Cultural & Media Ataché, Ambassador J. Adam Ereli and Dr. Mansour Al-Jamri

I must confess that I’m pleasantly surprised by the responses and his uncloaked advice to the government and his comments on the Gulf Air / Wikileaks exposé:

ليس هناك ما أخجل منه أو أخفيه، وكوني سفير الولايات المتحدة يعني أنني يجب أن أدافع عن الشركات الأميركية، وأعتقد بأننا نريد للشركات الأميركية أن تأتي للبحرين وتستثمر وأن تكون جزءا من الحياة الاقتصادية في البحرين، وهذا أمر جيد أن يتحقق لكلا البلدين، لأنها توفر فرص عمل وتعمق العلاقات الاقتصادية بين البلدين. ولكن إذا كان هناك من يعتبر أن الصفقة فيها تدخل سياسي، فهذا أمر يعود للبحرين فيما تريد فعله، أما بالنسبة لي فأنا أتحدث باسم الشركات الأميركية، بينما من حق الحكومة البحرينية أن تقرر ما تريد القيام به بسيادة تامة على قراراتها.

 

There’s nothing for me to feel ashamed of or hide, being the ambassador of the United States means that I have to defend the interests of American companies. I believe that we want American companies to come to Bahrain and invest in it and for them to be a part of the economic life of Bahrain. This is a mutually beneficial facet for both countries, because it promotes job creation and entrenches the economic relationship between both countries. But if there is anything that suggests internal interference with this deal, then this is for the Bahraini government to deal with, as for me, I speak for the American companies; however, it is within the Bahraini government’s rights to determine what its response should be within its own sovereign dictates.

and

وفي اعتقادي أن آليات التعامل مع المواقع الإلكترونية يجب أن تتسم بالشفافية والإعلان بوضوح عما هو مقبول أو غير مقبول والعقوبات التي يمكن أن تنتج عن ذلك، حتى تكون العملية واضحة، مثلما هي واضحة في قانوني التجارة والعقوبات على سبيل المثال، وإذا كانت هناك مبررات عدم وجود قانون ينظم استخدام الإنترنت لأنه شيء حديث، ولكن حين نرى مواقع أو نشرات جمعيات سياسية تغلق قبل الانتخابات من دون سبب واضح، فلاشك أن الناس ستصل إلى تفسير خاطئ في هذا الشأن.

 

وحين تغلق المواقع الإلكترونية لأفراد من دون مبرر، سوى بحسب ما تدعيه الحكومة من أنها تروج للطائفية أو تحرض على الكراهية، من دون معايير واضحة، أو أنها كانت عبارة عن مجرد قرارات اتخذها مسئولون في يوم ما من دون مبرر، فإن ذلك يعيدنا إلى مسألة ضرورة الالتزام بالشفافية في التعامل مع هذه الأمور.

 

I believe that transparency must be the mechanism to be adopted for dealing with Internet websites and [the government] must declare what is and isn’t acceptable in a clear manner and the determine the legal repercussions in order for clarity to prevail, just as in the commercial and criminal laws for example. If there are excuses for not having such laws governing the Internet due to being new, but if we witness websites or political societies publications being banned before the elections without a clear reason, then people will arrive at the wrong conclusion in this matter.

 

And if personal websites are banned without cause – either by what the government’s claim that the website propagates sectarianism without clear guidelines, or it haphazardly applies officials’ individual order without cause, then this brings back the question of the importance of the application of transparency in dealing with these matters.

as to the human rights situation:

حقوق الإنسان شيء مهم للولايات المتحدة، وجميع الأحداث الأخيرة تتم متابعتها بدقة من الولايات المتحدة، وباعتقادي أن ردة الفعل الدولية لما حدث في شهري أغسطس/ آب، وسبتمبر/ أيلول الماضيين (2010) في البحرين، تعطي مؤشراً واضحاً على ما تعنيه البحرين للعالم. كما أرى أن الحكومة البحرينية مهتمة بحقوق الإنسان من أعلى هرم فيها إلى أسفله، فاحترام وحماية حقوق المواطنين هو أمر مهم وأولوية للقيادة السياسية في البحرين.

 

ولكني أؤكد أن السرية لا تنفع في إدارة مثل هذه الأمور والشفافية مهمة حتى يعلم الناس ما يحدث في واقع الأمر، لأنهم إذا لم يروا شيئا، فمن الصعب عليهم الفهم ولكن من السهل أن يفسروا ما هو أمر غير صحيح، وقرار الحكومة بالسماح للمجتمع المدني بحضور المحكمة هو أمر مهم.

 

Human rights is very important to the United States and all the recent events were closely monitored by the United States, and it is my view that the international community’s repercussions to what has happened in August and September of 2010 in Bahrain gives a clear indication as to the high regard given to Bahrain by the international community. I see that the Bahraini government is interested in human rights from the top of its pyramid to the bottom, as respect of the citizens and their security is a matter of high priority to the political leadership in Bahrain.

 

But I emphasise that secrecy does not work in managing these issues and transparency is important so that people know the reality of what is happening because if they do not see something, then it becomes very difficult for them to understand but becomes easy to be lead to the wrong conclusion. The government’s decision to allow civil observers to the [so called terrorism] trial is important.

Impressive! I can’t add any more to this as his views – surprisingly – tally with my own and I have expressed them as such over and over again in my various writings. I wonder how the government is going to deal with this one. We’ll see how the barometer lies tomorrow by the headlines in the other local papers. Should be fun!

How long does he have before leaving again, and will that be accelerated due to this piece?

Note: the above are my imperfect translations but are current best efforts. I’m sure that the American embassy will probably translate the transcript and make it available on their website or to whomever asks.

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Blocking sites gains momentum

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and Pakistan (as well as Bahrain, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Iran I suspect) are going frantic over blocking websites they find… uh… offensive to their delicate sensibilities:

“Before shutting down (YouTube), we did try just to block particular URLs or links, and access to 450 links on the Internet were stopped, but the blasphemous content kept appearing so we ordered a total shut down,” he said.

Quite natural isn’t it? They block hundreds of websites, they admit that the adopted measures don’t work, so what do they do? Fuck it, shut down access to the whole global site which is enjoying 2 billion views a day. What the hell, their (and our) people don’t need this shite anyway right? Numerically, we’re about 600 years behind the world (according to the literal numbers on our calendars) so why not change that esoteric figure into an actual condition?

But the YouTube shutdown was in 2007. What, one might ask, do the innovative Pakistani authorities have in their magic turban for this year?

Well Facebook of course!

A Foreign Office spokesman condemned the publication of caricatures of the Muslim prophet on Facebook and urged countries to “address the issue” which he said was an “extremely sensitive and emotional matter for Muslims.”

“Such malicious and insulting attacks hurt the sentiments of Muslims around the world and can not be accepted under the garb of freedom of expression,” the spokesman, Abdul Basit, told a weekly briefing.

cloaked? for heaven’s sake cloaked? Freedom of expression need to be cloaked? Did the guy never hear of the Human Rights declarations at all? Oh I’m sorry, if it comes to attacking our illustrious and great religion our method of confronting that is not negotiation, promoting understanding or simply ignoring the jibes, but no, we have to demonstrate how weak our religion is by summarily banning, outcasting, boycotting or even executing those who “dare” to criticise; thus, confirming the now common precept that Islam is weak.

Stupid. Disgusting. Un-Islamic even.

But wait, there’s more!

After the PTA’s directives against Facebook and YouTube, Pakistani mobile companies blocked all Blackberry services on Wednesday night but restored services used by non-corporate users later on Thursday.

Now I wonder where they got that particular idea from? Oh wait! It’s us! It’s us! We – the great Bahraini Nation – are the pioneers in blocking Blackberry services! Yippeee, we have something to be really proud of!

You know what also worries me about this? The people in the picture. People demonstrating in favour of giving up their god-givin human rights.

I fully expect that Bahrain, already blocking hundreds if not thousands of sites under the precept of protecting us from ourselves, will now take head of the “Pakistani model” and go ahead and block the most important sites on the Internet, because, wait for it… blocking specific URLs didn’t work…

Read the full Reuters report here.

Gute Nacht.

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Newspaper Banned in Bahrain

Not that I love Akhbar Al-Khaleej, nothing could be more remote from the truth, but my feeling for this decrepit paper, its publisher or some of its so called journalists is completely immaterial, but it should not have been banned under whatever reason given or withheld by whatever organ of government dictating this latest ban on freedom of speech.

Rumour has it that the reason for the ban is this excellent Muharraqi cartoon. In it, a hand captioned as Official Media is trying to cover the truth unsuccessfully.
Rumour has it that the reason for the ban is this excellent Muharraqi cartoon. In it, a hand captioned as Official Media is trying to cover the truth unsuccessfully.

My sources tell me that the paper was banned due to a rather cutting article by the infamous Shura Council MP Ms. Sameera Rajab who is no stranger to controversy. She is loathed by a great swathe of people in Bahrain due to her background and rather critical writings especially about the Shi’a and their beliefs. It is also no secret that she detests the regime in Iran and has been very sympathetic to the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussain.

Regardless, banning a paper because of a column is a slap in the face of the freedom of information that the Ministry has been at pains to promote – rather paradoxically, especially that it has made it their professional hobby to block websites.

Sameera Rajab is free to her own opinion, and regardless of what she has written criticising the Iranian regime, neither the paper nor she should have been banned from publication. If the government of Iran – if the information is correct – has an issue with the article, they are free to respond in kind, rather than crying to a boneless ministry who has acquiesced to a foreign power’s request rather than stand up for freedoms which should be its main purpose in life to protect.


Update 24 June, 2009: The reasons for the suspension/banning the paper for a single day is due to Ms. Sameera Rajab’s article as confirmed by the Editor-in-Chief Anwar Abdulrahman. Yacoub’s Dome has more to say about this episode.

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Spoke too soon. Another opinion writer in the dock

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No sooner than I published my excitement about the steps taken recently by the Ministry of Information to correct past mistakes which resulted in Bahrain taking a beating in all major press and publications indices than I wake up this morning to the news that Abdulla Hassan Buhassan of the National Action Democratic Society has been detained by the public prosecutor due to articles he published in the political society’s newsletter dealing with the Bandargate scandal, articles which portray the acknowledged political society’s position!

And in typical fashion, they make the arrest on Thursday, the last day of the working week, which ensures that he will have no recourse to the courts until they open after the weekend on Sunday.

This is despicable. And yet another demonstration that this tiny spic of a country is run by multiple governments, each looking after their interest in complete disregard to everyone and everything else. When we see one part of the government running hell for leather trying desperately to correct the country’s image in national and international venues, we have others diligently working at destroying any chance of progress.

Abdulla Buhassan is a political prisoner, as far as a I am concerned, in addition to him being a prisoner of conscience. As a Bahraini citizen, I demand that he be released immediately and that a national reconciliation commission be established to deal with our past, as well as an independent commission of inquiry be established to deal with the Bandargate scandal and its ramifications.

Bahrain will not and cannot go forward without these issues being properly dealt with.

FREE ABDULLA NOW!

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Retooling the press law

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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 system’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!

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Extradited cleric takes editor to court for defamation

You probably remember Mr. Wagdy Ghoneim, the guy that was thrown out of the States and is now still waiting for being blessed with a Bahraini passport (shock horror!) even though his immensely popular religious show on our Bahrain TV canned; hence, the country no longer requires his services, but he’s not only still around, he has taken Isa Al-Shaiji, the editor-in-chief of Al-Ayam newspaper and the head of the Bahrain Journalists Association to court for defamation!

Needless to say, Wagdy doesn’t have a leg to stand on, but is probably looking for another financial compensation package to help defray the high costs of living in this overly generous country.

We’re all with you Isa and are sure that you will win, even though you are dragged once again in front of the Public Prosecutor for just expressing an opinion, treated like a common criminal just for your and your paper’s word. But persevere my friend, it’s all for a good cause.

As to Wagdy, I think he should take the opportunity given by the Ministry of Labour and apply for free plane tickets back to wherever he came from before the illegal migrant amnesty period ends.

And that, my friends, would be good riddance and none too soon!

Update 29 Aug, ’07: BJA Press Release after the break (in Arabic)

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World Press Freedom Day

Today marks the annual commemoration of the World Press Freedom Day. This occasion of course is not a celebration, not by any means, but is an occasion for all of us to reflect about what dear price journalists and opinion writers pay to bring us news and thoughts which makes us more aware of the world around us, and even allow us to make informed decisions. And for that, they generally get kidnapped and imprisoned. It is unfortunate too that the Arab world in particular seems to be the most hostile to not just the basic human right of freedoms of expression, but to other personal freedoms too via restrictions imposed by rulers cloaking their discriminatory decisions with religious dogma and shroud them with the need to preserve our culture.

In Bahrain, our king repeatedly came out in support of press freedoms, while the very law that he promulgated in 2002 is still used to silence and criminally penalise journalists, the cases against whom I am told now average at least one case a week brought against them for libel or any of the plethora of other charges, all designed to silence criticism or to seemingly try to force the aura of respect (or probably subordination) to public officials’ and their positions, refusing to collectively recognise the power of good that a free and responsible media could enact in communities and countries.

To commemorate this day, I shall put my hand firmly with those in the Bahraini press today and stand with them at a token demonstration in front the parliament building this afternoon at 5pm. I shall also remember Alan Johnston and Kareem Sulaiman and their like and extend them my thanks for their courage in speaking their mind and doing their job.

Press Freedom Barometer - RSF - 3May07

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