The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, “provided that the fundamental beliefs of Islamic doctrine are not infringed, the unity of the people is not prejudiced, and discord or sectarianism are not aroused.” In practice the government limited freedom of speech and press through a variety of means, including the active prosecution of individuals in both civilian and SNS courts under the press law, libel and slander laws, and national security-related laws.
Freedom of Speech: The law forbids any speech that infringes on public order or morals. While individuals openly expressed critical opinions regarding domestic political and social issues in private settings, those who publicly expressed such opinions faced repercussions. There were multiple reports that government and parastatal employers dismissed or suspended workers for statements made either in person or through social media. During the year the government also prosecuted individuals in SNS and civilian courts for incitement against the government and insulting public officials.
On March 27, police arrested Fadhila Mubarak Ahmed at a security checkpoint for “playing music calling for the overthrow of the regime.” Security forces claimed she refused to turn down the music and physically and verbally insulted a police officer. She was taken to a police station in Riffa and was later transferred to a police station in Isa Town. Security forces allegedly beat her while she was in custody. On May 18, the lower SNS court sentenced Ahmed, along with eight others, to four years’ imprisonment for insulting a public official, calling openly for hatred of the regime, and taking part in illegal protests. On June 8, an appeals court reduced her sentence to 18 months. She remained in prison at year’s end.
On March 30, Ayat Al Qurmozi, a university student, turned herself in to authorities following multiple raids on her family home. Al Qurmozi had risen to prominence following her recitation of original poems critical of the government at two demonstrations at the GCC/Pearl Roundabout in February and March. On two earlier occasions, masked members of the security forces raided her parents’ house and threatened to kill her brothers unless she came forward, according to Amnesty International. She was held incommunicado for the first 15 days of her detention, during which time she was reportedly tortured. On June 13, a SNS court convicted Al Qurmozi of inciting hatred against the regime and taking part in an illegal gathering. On July 13, she was released from prison. On November 21, Al Qurmozi’s defense attorney announced that the court of appeal had suspended the case upon the request of the public prosecutor.
Freedom of Press: The government did not own any print media, but the Information Affairs Authority (IAA) and other government entities exercised considerable control over privately owned domestic print media. The government refused visas to many international media representatives.
On March 15, unknown vandals attacked the offices and printing presses of the independent Al Wasat newspaper, forcing it to stop publishing and to relocate its offices. On April 2, the IAA briefly suspended Al Wasat and blocked its Web site after a program called Al Rasid (The Observer) on state-run Bahrain Television alleged that the newspaper had published false news and photographs. On April 3, security officials detained Al Wasat’s cofounder and board member, Abdul Kareem Fakhrawi, after he responded to a Sanabis police station summons. He died as a result of torture while in BNSA custody, according to the BICI. The IAA stated that Al Wasat was suspended for “unprofessional and unethical” reporting and ordered an inquiry into the newspaper’s activities. The government published a 30-page report alleging that Al Wasat intended to “target” the country’s security and stability by misleading readers through “lies, falsification, and plagiarism.” The newspaper resumed publication on April 4, following the resignation of another founder and editor in chief, Mansoor Al-Jamri, and other senior staff members. Al-Jamri was rehired as editor in chief in August.
The government owned and operated all domestic radio and television stations. Radio and television broadcasts in Arabic, Farsi, and English from countries in the region, including by satellite, were generally received without interference. The IAA reviewed all books and publications prior to issuing printing licenses. The Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs reviewed books that discussed religion.
Violence and Harassment: According to Reporters without Borders, there were many reports of journalists being harassed, arrested, or attacked due to their reporting during the year. The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters without Borders documented the detention of and physical assaults on journalists, including the deaths of two in custody, as well as government-sponsored billboards and advertisements smearing journalists and activists. The government also denied entry to, deported, and harassed foreign journalists during the year. For example, on March 16, the IAA required CNN reporter Mohammed Jamjoom to leave the country. The authorities did not provide a reason for his expulsion, but observers believed it was likely due to his critical reporting.
On May 22, police summoned and interrogated Nazeeha Saeed, a journalist for France 24 and Monte Carlo Radio. Authorities accused her of participating in protests and calling for the downfall of the regime, charges that she denied. She claimed that interrogators insulted her and questioned her about journalistic reports she had written for international media outlets. She reported that police officers repeatedly kicked and beat her with a rubber hose, applied electric shocks to her arm, poured urine on her face, forced a shoe into her mouth, and plunged her head into a toilet to simulate drowning. At the end of the interrogation, officials forced her to sign a document that she was not permitted to read. The journalist later filed a report of the incident with the MOI. On May 24, physicians from Doctors without Borders examined her, following which she traveled to Paris for medical treatment. On May 25, the interior minister announced an investigation into the reported abuse; there was no update at year’s end.
Censorship and Content Restrictions: Government censorship occurred. IAA personnel actively monitored and blocked stories on matters deemed sensitive, especially those related to sectarianism, national security, or criticism of the royal family, the Saudi royal family, or the judiciary. Journalists widely practiced self-censorship. According to some members of the media, government officials contacted editors directly and told them to stop writing about certain subjects or told them not to publish a press release or a story.
Libel Laws/National Security: The government enforced libel and national security-related laws restricting freedom of press. The law provides for fines of as much as 10,000 dinars ($26,500) and prison sentences of at least six months for criticizing the king or inciting actions that undermine state security, as well as fines of up to 2,000 dinars ($5,300) for 14 related offenses. Punishable activities include publicizing statements issued by a foreign state or organization before obtaining the consent of the IAA president, publishing any reports that may adversely affect the dinar’s value, reporting any offense against a head of a state that maintains diplomatic relations with the country, and publishing offensive remarks about an accredited representative of a foreign country because of acts connected with the person’s position.
On June 14, the government announced it would sue British newspaper The Independent for libel over an article written by correspondent Robert Fisk. The government accused the newspaper of deliberately “orchestrating a defamatory and premeditated media campaign” and “failing to abide by professional impartiality and credibility in its one-sided news-coverage and reports.” The status of the libel case remained unknown at year’s end.