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February 25, 2016 - Updated on March 8, 2016

Reporters Without Borders calls on FIFA not to elect Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman as president


Reporters Without Borders calls on the members of World Soccer Association FIFA to decide against Bahrain’s candidate Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa as its future president. Upcoming Friday, the national member associations decide in Zurich who of the five candidates will be the future FIFA president.

"Sheikh Salman is completely inacceptable as the top representative of world soccer", said RSF Germany’s executive director Christian Mihr. "As a member of Bahrain’s royal Family, Salman represents a regime that has been mercilessly repressing Journalists and critical bloggers for years. Salman's candidacy is an obvious attempt by Bahrain to exploit world-class sports for cultivating its international image while at the same time persecuting critics in its own country.

Since the start of a protest movement in February 2011, Bahrain is relentlessly repressing media workers. Many journalists have been put to trial on dubious charges and have been sentenced to sometimes long jail terms simply because they covered demonstrations or reported about scandals. At the time of the first wave of repressions in 2011, Sheikh Salman in his capacity as Bahrain Football Association president allegedly chaired a committee that identified athletes participating in the protests. Many athletes were arrested and mistreated; some are still facing persecution and repression.

Presently, at least nine journalists as well as five bloggers and online activists are imprisoned in Bahrain because of their journalistic work. News photographers and camera operators in particular have often been the targets of intimidation, arbitrary arrests and dubious charges for their coverage of "illegal" protests.

Arrests and jail sentences after demonstration reports

Not long ago, another camera team fell victim to the Regimes persecution. The well-known US journalist Anna Therese Day and her three team members were arrested on February 14, while covering demonstrations on the anniversary of the protest movement on the island of Sitra. After having been interviewed by the prosecutor, they were released on February 16, but the investigation is continued. The authorities accuse the journalists of participating in an illegal demonstration to disturb public order.

In early February, a court of appeals in the Bahrain capital Manama upheld the sentence against the photographer Ahmed Al Fardan. He was sentenced on February 17, 2015 to a three month jail term, because he allegedly tried to participate in an illegal demonstration. After the announcement of the sentences affirmation, the journalist currently working for the local newspaper Gulf Daily News was arrested instantly to serve his term. His lawyer currently tries to have the sentence commuted to a fine or community service (http://t1p.de/mqt9).

Fardan had worked for the agencies Nurphoto, Demotex and Sipa. Already on August 8, 2013 he was arrested, beaten and threatened with being killed. The authorities wanted to coerce him into handing over photos he took of demonstrators (http://t1p.de/tdzf). On December 26, 2013 he was arrested anew, beaten once again and released on bail only on January 10, 2014 (http://t1p.de/kxzn).

Terror charge against journalist

Repeatedly, Fardan campaigned for his friend and colleague Ahmed Humeidan. The internationally renowned photographer was sentenced to ten years in prison in 2014 and has been in jail ever since – because he allegedly participated in an attack on a police station. Humaidan had frequently documented the protest movement.

Still in jail is also Mahmood Al Jazeeri, a parliamentary correspondent of the independent Bahraini newspaper Al Wasat. The authorities accuse him of supporting terrorist activities, allegedly funded by Hezbollah and Irans Revolutionary Guards. If convicted, Jazeeri may face a life sentence and being stripped of his nationality. One day prior to his arrest, the journalist wrote an article referring to a controversial draft bill, providing for the confiscation of state housing from members of a family whose head has been stripped of his nationality.

Besides direct repression, Bahrain is also well known for digital surveillance of human rights activists and journalists with the aid of Western companies such as FinFisher.

Bahrain is ranked 163rd out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.