Tag Archives freedoms

Bahrain’s National Hero is an American

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Fawzi Julaid, the manager of the National Democratic Institute leaving BahrainNot a lot of people valued Fawzi Julaid‘s input into the shaping of Bahrain’s fledgeling democracy nor understood his efforts until he was practically deported off the island, treated like one of the thousands of illegal and run-away workers, rather than a valued person who has worked tirelessly to inculcate democracy’s mechanisms in Bahrain.

Even his country’s ambassador seemed hesitant to give him a hand; at least this is what one understands from Liz Campbell’s comments when he says that the previous American ambassador to Bahrain and the Administration are going to be unhappy to see Mr. Julaid treated in this heinous manner.

I keep asking myself the question “why”? I really do not understand what prompted the government to behave in this way. Why would it want to replace an institute which has wide public acceptance with a quixotic entity that is more bluster than actual experience.

And how can the newly formed Bahrain Institute for Political Development even come close to the vast experience of the NDI, and institute born off a working democracy? Ulterior motives must have been the only factor which was considered when they attempted to chase the NDI out of Bahrain, without any thought given to modern communication infrastructure which ensures that anyone can work and deliver timely opinions and help remotely, across countries and time-zones. That, demonstrates to me yet another disconnect that this current government is nothing short of dinosaurs employing ancient techniques to subvert the path of reforms and democracy drawn and implemented by his majesty the king.

Why now? I have expressed an opinion previously that this move might be directly related to the NDI requesting a monitor status for the forthcoming municipal and parliamentary elections scheduled to happen any day now, as the government through its Ministry of Social Affairs have done the very same thing to the Transparency Society, another entity which requested the very same action.

They obviously have failed in both attempts; the Transparency Society has recently elected its board so there is no reason for it not to resume its mandate, and the NDI have clearly said that the office in Bahrain will not be closed, and that they will continue to operate in Bahrain via Mr. Julaid regularly physically visiting the island, but more importantly keeping in contact with all political societies in the island, and if a seminar or workshop need to be done, then those could easily be done in another country if physical presence is required, or virtually through the internet and telephones.

So what does the current government gain from all of this?

My very simplistic reading of the situation suggests that:

1. Put the breaks on democracy at any cost, even utilising somewhat respected persons to do the dirty work; all they achieved there is the complete discrediting of those people who might have really contributed to this country’s progress.

2. Besmirch this country’s reputation; as an Arab and a Bahraini I am mortified that a guest of this country, formally invited by his majesty the king no less, to have been treated in such a discourteous manner. This is bad form at its worst and I hope that Bahrainis are not going to be looked at by fellow Arabs and the rest of the world as simply are rude and oafish.

3. Discredit the democracy that we have been fighting to build since 2001.

4. Fast-track the return of the State Security Law with all that entails (that would make the recent events in Cairo look like a picnic!)

Someone please put me right if I have misread the clues here.

Mr. Julaid, you have been a credit to this country and I, as a Bahraini, profusely apologise for your rude treatment. Rest assured that virtually the whole country, all those who value democracy, are completely with you and would welcome you back with open hearts and arms.

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Going South

If you’re already wet, would being sprayed make you even wetter? What if you jumped in the pool when you’re already wet, would that make you wetter? Of course not. So what if Bahrain once again went south in its ranking in the Press Freedom Index for 2006? Okay, it’s just a few ranking postions: from 155 in 2004 to 156 in 2005 and 158 in 2006… the only bright side of this that I can think of is that we have reached bottom, and the only way is up, or get covered in silt and wait a few million years to make something worthwhile of our existence!

Let’s see what the full 2005 report says about us (pdf) and revel in its praise:

BAHRAIN
STATUS: NOT FREE

LEGAL ENVIRONMENT: 24
POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT: 26
ECONOMIC ENVIRONMENT: 22
TOTAL SCORE: 72

The constitution allows for the right to press freedom, excluding opinions that undermine the fundamental beliefs of Islam or those that promote discord or sectarianism. This right is restricted further in practice. The 2002 Press Law catalogs a variety of press crimes, severely curtailing the range of topics the press is permitted to cover. Though suspended
soon after promulgation, the law continues to be enforced at the government’s discretion. Nonetheless, the press has grown bolder in its criticism of government policies and other controversial issues in recent years. In May, the Chamber of Deputies proposed a draft law to create an Information Council that would increase transparency and access to information. As of December, the draft had not been approved.

Internet freedom came under increased pressure in Bahrain in 2005. Despite boasting a liberal telecom environment, the Bahraini government does filter some content, monitoring emails and blocking access to several political opposition websites, In February the government arrested the moderator of the web log www.bahrainonline.com, Ali Abdul Imam, along with two web technicians for disseminating defamatory material through the site’s discussion forum. Released after several weeks amid protest, Abdul Imam’s arrest was quickly followed by a decree by the Ministry of Information requiring all Bahraini website moderators to register with the ministry within three months, a move decried by human rights advocates as a means to monitor and stifle freedom of expression on the web. The government is not the only threat to press freedom. For example, a Muslim cleric threatened the editor-in-chief of the daily Al Ayam and led a massive protest after the paper published political cartoons depicting the Ayatollah Khamenei and offending many Shi’ites in Bahrain.

Print media are privately owned, but they usually exercise self-censorship in articles covering sensitive topics and are often issued government ‘directives’ on how to report certain stories. The government continues to own and operate almost all radio and television stations in the country, and these outlets largely conform to the government position. In October, the first private radio station began broadcasting music and entertainment, but does not cover news or current affairs. Broadcast media from neighboring countries are available, however, and the number of households with access to satellite channels continues to grow. Saudi-owned entertainment satellite channel MBC2 has broadcast from Bahrain since 2003. In 2004, the government lifted a two-year ban on correspondents from the Qatar-based satellite channel Al-Jazeera.
Freedom House :: MENA 2006 Freedom of the Press report :: pdf

In a recent press release, the same organisation said this about this whole region, and I cannot agree with its conclusion more:

Despite overall improvements in press freedom in the Middle East and North Africa over the last several years, the region continues to rank the lowest for press freedoms in the world, according to a major study released today by Freedom House. However, there are a number of countries that are close to an upgrade from Not Free to Partly Free status, if a few key reforms are implemented.

Generally, media in the region remain constrained by extremely restrictive legal environments in most countries. Most problematic to media freedom are the laws criminalizing libel and defamation and prohibiting any insult to monarchs and other rulers, as well as emergency legislation that remains in place which hampers the ability of journalists to write freely.
Freedom House :: 27 Apr ’06

I hope our exalted MPs, especially the bearded ones are listening.

This is what you (the MPs) take with you to your graves.. you had a real chance in your lives at least to attempt to make a difference, and you continue to squander it.

Well done Bahrain. I would like, on this very auspicious occasion, to congratulate both the Ministry of Information and the Bahraini Parliament for these reports and new rankings.

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RSF’s 2006 Internet Report

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Here’s what RSF have to say about Bahrain:

Except for pornographic sites, Bahrain does not censor the Internet much. But it has unfortunately begun to regulate it in ways that endanger freedom of expression. The government said in April 2004 that all online publications, including forums and blogs, must be officially registered. Loud protests led to suspension of the measure but it is still on the books. Three editors of a forum were held for nearly two weeks in March 2005 for allowing “defamation” of the king to be posted.

Download RSF’s 2006 Internet Report (pdf)

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Press Freedom Day

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On the eve of the Press Freedom Day, the press in this, as well as virtually the whole Middle East, are in shackles, with parliaments aiding and abetting the press and its workers’ incarceration, utilising that ever-present fillip: religion, to justify imprisoning journalists and anyone else who dares to speak their mind and challenge a preconceived notion.

The parliament here for instance is doing nothing but donning its collective religious blinkers in insisting on jail terms for anyone who denigrates God or religions, this grievous harm is to be interpreted in such a malleable manner as to make it permissible for probably any lay person or journalist to see the inside of cells for long periods of their lives for simply looking at the sky and describing that experience in terms which might not be agreeable to the law enforcer’s ears. While the parliament is on a roll with imprisoning people for their thoughts, they thought that they might as well jail anyone who denigrates the king too.

It doesn’t stop there: from memory let me recount what could be regarded as jailable offence if this new law being debated now actually passes:

Denigrating God in all of His manifestations; in Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.
Denigrating the prophet.
Denigrating the prophet’s wives.
Denigrating the prophet’s companions.
Denigrating the prophet’s descendants.
Denigrating the King.
Denigrating countries which Bahrain has relations with.

There must be some others that they will cook up, but those are what my memory serves.

How can one even decide that an offence has been made to any of the above? Isn’t an offence a very subjective manner? What is offensive to you might not be to me, and hence the absence of clear definitions of laws leads to nothing but strife and societal discord.

Why do we need this anyway? Do we need to defend our creator at every turn in life and age? Couldn’t He take ample care of Himself? Would He really be offended if someone swore at him? Or is this used as a simple and accessible tool of and for suppression? More importantly, doesn’t that very law precludes scientific and artistic exploration? Everything will stop for the fear of making an offence.

What about a law that criminalises criticism of a monarch, doesn’t that law by definition breeches a law that criminalises denigrating God because that would put both on the same level? Yet we find the very proponents of such law are those who have installed themselves as the defenders of the faith!

All of these laws would serve nothing but be a hindrance to true and courageous journalism and self expression which would ensure transparency in this country, and threatening its practitioners with prison terms and heavy fines would serve nothing but increase corruption.

On the eve of the Press Freedom Day, let us pause a little and think of these unfortunate heroes who have lost their lives or are imprisoned for doing nothing but express their thoughts for the betterment of their societies:

Happy press freedom day.

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Freedom without security isn’t much of a freedom!

blogging the 4th Arab Media Forum in Dubai

This is the over-riding feeling at the “Status of Iraqi media” chaired by Jassim Al-Azzawi and included Faisal Al-Yasseri (founder and chairman of Al-Diyar television channel), Ismael Zayer (Managing Editor at Al-Sabah Al-Jadeed newspaper) and Adnan Hussain (the noted writer and long time Saddam-regime opponent writing for Asharq Al-Awsat in London) as panelists.

Although the session started later than advertised, once it got going the panelists shared with us some surprising facts about how they see the Iraqi media as they live it, day in and day out. The most surprising factor to me is their adaptability to a scene without rules was and is painful! Imagine Al-Yasseri chasing government organisations for 6 months to notify them of his intention to start a television channel (notification, mind you, not seeking approval) and the absence of laws was also a deterrant to “real” journalism as there is no press and publication law, according to Zayer, which he still vehemently opposes, but is now insisting on the establishment of a ‘code of ethics’ that would bind all journalists.

Another surprising factor is the plethora of media outlets there are in Iraq: according to them, there are 26 satellite television stations, 40 terrestrial television stations and more than 100 newspapers including just a few tabloids! Try to compare that with what the scene was like just a few years ago. But all is not very happy, the whole media industry is in a flux; newspapers, television and radio channels have become far too politically motivated, with no real disclosure on who owns what, but a person can certainly deduce where a particular publication or television station is leaning. Apart from their political stances, a number of media outlets are clearly sectarian, even to the extent of using derogatory terms in which to call one sect or another. Some even go to the extent of inciting violence, and here is the biggest surprise to me: Iraqis – according to the panelists anyway – detest Al-Jazeera! Al-Jazeera is scene as nothing more than a terrorist mouth-piece which unashamedly encourage the continuation of violence in Iraq through its twisted reporting and its programs. The very same method has been adopted by a number of sectarian stations, which – Al-Azzawi says – had there been any liability laws, the vast majority of journalists and media persons would probably be thrown in prison not to be seen again.

According to Zayer again, there are quite a number publications which are indirectly owned by the government or political parties; more importantly, these government organs channels funds and advertising revenue to their preferred papers and not just ignoring others who do not share their views, but create a number of hurdles to cripple those which fell out of their favours. One such tactic is the “partial shutdown of districts/marshal law” which not only restricts the ability of newspapers to be printed, but completely throttles distribution. Therefore, with no money coming in, publishers continue to be unsure if they can continue to produce such a newspaper.

That restriction is by no means the exclusive domain of government; however, again Zayer stresses that if for instance Al-Sadr or his people get aggrieved because of a written article, then you could forget distributing your paper into their controlled territories in Baghdad and the south; while if you tick off the sunni leaders, you could forget about distributing your paper in parts of Baghdad, Ramadi, Fallujah and Mosul.

The television landscape is not much different than newspapers, Al-Yasseri related to us that although on the books he has 291 employees at Al-Diyar television channel, he would get ecstatic if only 60 turn up for work! He is lucky that he does not have to resort to installing concrete defences around his station (which was the original Al-Jazeera headquarters in Baghdad previously) some of his employees paid with their lives reporting for the only live program he provides (the news): one reporter was killed in Fallujah by shooting, another got killed in Baghdad, and yet another was killed because it became known that he was carrying cash on him (US$13,000) to go buy a UPS for the station. Al-Yasseri believes that the last victim was murdered because someone at the station collaborating with outside criminal elements for the cash, this shows very clearly the lawlessness Iraq suffers from, and the disregard for human life there at the moment.

As to freedoms, it was agreed that although media is infinitely freer than it was in the previous era, there is no sense for that freedom if it is not coupled with a secure environment where a journalist continuously fears for his or her life. This was amply demonstrated by Adnan Hussain who read to us one of his regularly received death threats from Iraq from someone who took umbrage with Hussain’s criticism of Dr. Ja’afari, even though it should be noted that generally, when a journalist criticises someone, that criticism is not personal but most probably to the position he fills.

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A present to Ali Matter and his lot

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Shaikh Ali MattarLash and Mask KitYes, ladies and gentlemen, this is a special lash and mask kit I would like to present to our dear member of parliament Ali Mattar who suggested the very valid and totally workable solution to penalise errant journalists… WHIP THEIR ASS!

And of course Mattar is going to wear that mask while he’s doling out the lashings punishment (arabic).

Mattar of course backtracked on his brainfart and justified it by saying that he was just joking! Well, I never thought that this guy and the whole herd he belongs to have any sense of humour whatsoever. But I am obviously wrong so I fully and humbly and unambiguously apologise for my temerity.

At a time when he and his compatriots in this parliament should fight tooth and nail to increase civil rights, what we get is the continuous attempts by them to restrict them. When we look to them to develop the penal law and establish true correctional facilities, we get them proposing amputating limbs and chopping off heads to combat crime, when we want to encourage tourism, they blindly and willingly categorise any concert as satanist and entice simpletons to riot to force a closure of a concert, and the list goes on…

brainfart!A joke? Not by a long shot.

It is their secret wish to change this country into an Islamist Wahabi extremist state living more than 1,400 years in the past.

It is their secret wish to encourage and applaud suicide bombers and see innocent blood flow in the streets of Bahrain.

It is their secret wish to want to kill anyone who simply opposes their twisted and moronic thoughts and beliefs, using their brand of Islam as justification.

But they are no secrets at all! They have come out and declared all of these factors in the very parliament we voted for in 2002!

The only time we will see a smile on their mugs is when they achieve their version of Bahrainistan, only then will they be happy:

Taliban Afghani religious policeman lashing someone who is not in the mosque during prayer time.

Are we to continue to stand around and let these brain-dead jokers control our lives? Are these the kind of people we really want to get into parliament again?

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Truth & Reconciliation!

The best news to come out of Bahrain for a very very long time… this could be the very thing we need to turn a new page for the whole community, after 30 very dark years:

Justice and reconciliation in the Bahrain reform process will come under the spotlight at a five-day conference organised by MPs and civil societies, which opens at Elite Suites Hotel in Sanabis tomorrow.

Bahraini MPs, members of human rights and political societies will join international human rights delegates from all over the world for the conference on Transitional Justice.

Parliament vice-chairman Abdulhadi Marhoun and Bahrain Society for Freedoms and Democracy (BSFD) president Ali Orrayedh will give the opening address at the conference.

Three papers on transitional justice in Bahrain will be presented by members of the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS), the Committee for Former Exiles (Returnees) and the National Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture.

New York-based International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) director Hani Magali, Washington-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) office director and Middle East and North Africa division director Joe Stork and Morocco-based International Federation for Human Rights president and Moroccan Truth and Reconciliation Committee member Idrees Al Yazmi will open a second session, on aspects of transitional justice.
GDN :: 22 Apr ’06

I have been calling for a truth and reconciliation commission in Bahrain for some time now to start the dialogue and repair some of the damage meted out to a large portion of the society in the 90s and at other times. I am extremely happy and really encouraged that we finally have something like this happening in Bahrain now.

This is really excellent news.

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Dr. Munira Fakhro

Dr. Munira Fakhro

Dr. Munira Fakhro“When the political turmoil happened in the 1990s, I signed a petition for the return of democracy and for a parliament, as one of the fourteen leaders, and the only woman, I added a paragraph on women’s equality. I realised there was great injustice during the 1990s which was happening to a large number of Bahraini people, those who were against the government.”

Then, along with 350 other women, she wrote another, sharper petition, which was sent to the late Amir Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa in 1995. She and many others were suspended or fired from their jobs. She went to America for several years as a visiting scholar to Columbia, her alma mater, and then to Harvard where she presented the Bahraini case for democracy. She returned in 2001 to Bahrain and to the university.

As a member of the political association, The National Democratic Action Society, she believes, “You cannot separate democracy from other women’s causes … I believe that men and women should work together, for women or men or the whole society. We have so many men who believe in such issues (women’s rights), who work with us either at the university as scholars or at the political association.”

Bahrain is in fine form, as long as she continues to produce people like Dr. Munira Fakhro, a person who should be emulated and respected for all the sacrifices she already offered and continues to do so daily.

Looking at some of her various scientific and political contributions, I realise now that she not only touched Bahrain, but through her work she also influenced countless others in the world too.

It is people like Dr. Fakhro who should be celebrated, and roads and towns should be named after them, because their contribution to this society far outweighs what society can actually give them back.

And I would rather have her in parliament, helping and deciding Bahrain’s future, than the whole bunch who occupy it at the moment.

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Arab Media Forum

Arab Media Forum logo

I’ve been invited to be on one of the panels of the forthcoming Arab Media Forum organised by the Dubai Press Club starting on April 26th in Dubai. I’ll join a panel to be chaired by Aneesa Al-Sharif. With me on the panel will be Dr. Emad Al-Bashir (Lebanon), Wael Abbas (Egypt) and Dr. Umaima Ahmed (Algeria).

We will be discussing very interesting topics, including:

  • Although there is an increase in the freedoms of expression (in the region), the Arab bloggers remain an unknown entity.
  • Is there any impact by blogs and bloggers on public opinion and on the local press?
  • The impact of blogging and bloggers on Arab freedoms of speech policies
  • Women bloggers, presence and impact

If you’re around, please look me up!

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