The authorities in Bahrain are still dragging their heels over allowing foreign journalists into the country in the run-up to the first anniversary of the uprising in the Gulf kingdom on 14 February, when demonstrations are expected.
In a statement published on 8 February, the head of the Information Affairs Authority cited the safety of journalists and the “abnormally high volume of requests” between 11 and 18 February as reasons for the failure to grant visas.
Reporters Without Borders dismissed this explanation as spurious. “The denial of visas is clearly part of an attempt by the authorities to impose a media blackout on the eve of the anniversary of the uprising in order to restrict the number of unwanted observers of the expected demonstrations and the crackdown they will probably trigger,” it said.
As demonstrations swelled during the weekend, several foreign journalists were turned back at the airport, although they had the necessary accreditation. On 11 February, a crew from the Japanese television station NHK was refused entry despite having an entry permit from the Information Affairs Authority.
The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights reported that an Australian journalist was also refused entry to Bahrain and was put back aboard a plane.
Access to a new website, http://witnessbahrain.org which was launched on 10 February to publicise reports about human rights violations in Bahrain, was blocked the day after its inauguration.
Two American activists, Radhika Sainath et Huwaida Arraf, who were responsible for providing video footage for the site, were arrested on February 11 as they were filming a peaceful demonstration in the capital. They were deported to the United States
Reporters Without Borders considers the treatment of those working for the website as yet more proof that, contrary to their claims, the authorities are seeking to stifle at any cost the coverage of human rights violations in the country.
The suspension adds to the list of independent news and information websites that have been blocked, including those with streaming video, that are used by activists to distribute real-time images of demonstrations and their repression.
10.02.2012 - Foreign reporters denied visas ahead of first anniversary of uprising
Reporters Without Borders has registered a series of freedom of information violations in Bahrain in the run-up to the first anniversary of the uprising in this Gulf kingdom on 14 February. They include a refusal to issue visas to a number of foreign journalists for the anniversary, when demonstrations are expected.
Sheikh Fawaz Ben Mohammed Al-Khalifa, the head of the Information Affairs Agency, claimed in a statement yesterday that some journalists had not received visas because of the “high volume of requests” for the 11 to 18 February period.
Reporters Without Borders dismisses the claim as spurious. Foreign journalists were directly and deliberately attacked by the security forces during the uprising. Shots were even fired at some foreign reporters while they were covering the demonstrations in Pearl Square.
The denial of visas is clearly part of an attempt by the authorities to impose a media blackout on the eve of the anniversary of the uprising in order to restrict the number of unwanted observers of the expected demonstrations and the crackdown they will probably trigger.
These are some of the journalists who have reportedly been denied a visa:
- Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times correspondent. When he visited Bahrain last December, teargas was fired at him and he was briefly detained. The authorities were very critical of his coverage.
- Adam B. Ellick, a New York Times photographer. He was advised to apply again for a visa after February. He was also briefly arrested after teargas was fired at him when he visited Bahrain with Kristof in December.
- Kristen Chick, who works for The Christian Science Monitor, and Cara Swift of the BBC. They were told they could not have visas because of the “high volume of requests.”
- Alex Delmar-Morgan of The Wall Street Journal and Gregg Carlstrom of Al-Jazeera. Delmar-Morgan was arrested by the National Guard when he visited Bahrain in March 2011.
Several Bahraini journalists and activists are meanwhile being investigated or prosecuted. They include the journalist Waheed Al-Balloushy. He was questioned by prosecutors on 2 February in connection with a Tweet regarded as insulting and offensive to the Prophet Mohammed by members of Al-Asala Islamia, a Salafist group that filed a complaint against him. Balloushy said the complaint was politically motivated.
The journalist Reem Khalifa continues to the target of a prosecution that was initiated against her after she filed a complaint against the government supporters who had insulted and physically attacked her in February 2011. A hearing in her trial was held on 2 February and then the case was adjourned until 23 February.
Reporters Without Borders is also worried by government blocking of independent news websites, especially streaming sites. The authorities are clearly concerned to limit coverage of unrest, above all websites providing live coverage.
The Live973.info website was blocked on 4 February as it was streaming live footage of a demonstration by opposition groups. The “Wefaq live” page of the audio streaming site Mixlr.com was also blocked. The blocking began two hours after they began covering the demonstration, although it was permitted by the interior ministry.
Visitors to these two sites suddenly found a message that said: “This website has been blocked for violating regulations and laws of Kingdom of Bahrain.” Last year, the authorities also blocked access to news websites as they were transmitting footage of demonstrations live.
Bahrain is one of the “countries under surveillance” in the Reporters Without Borders list of Enemies of the Internet. It fell 29 places in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index and is now ranked 173rd out of 179 countries.