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Bahrain media play role in tension after protests

After protests calling for political freedom erupted, the Bahraini government used a combination of sectarian incitement and outright repression to delegitimise the threat to its rule

Reuters , Thursday 5 May 2011
A Bahraini anti-government protester gestures in front of riot police on an overpass near Pearl roundabout in Manama, Bahrain, March 13, 2011, (AP).
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Views: 1272

Bahraini media have played a central role in a crackdown on Shiite Muslims following the suppression of pro-democracy protests that threatened the Sunni monarchy's grip on power, analysts say.

Since the crackdown began in March, pro-government media have depicted the protesters as violent, driven by Shiite sectarian designs to disenfranchise Sunni Muslims and encouraged by Shiite power Iran, the bete noire of Gulf Arab rulers.

Mohamed Abdel Dayem of the Committee to Protect Journalists said the media coverage had been "inflammatory", though it did not go as far as open incitement to violence.

"The rhetorical and editorial lines of state and pro-government media has certainly been inflammatory, no doubt about it," he said, pointing to editorials, cartoons and news reports in print, radio and television.

A prominent Bahraini journalist who declined to be named for fear of arrest said pro-government newspapers had engaged in a witchhunt against Shiites working for major firms.

"They write commentaries that hatemonger openly or between the lines. They are going sector by sector, company by company, ministry by ministry and removing people," he said.

One columnist in al-Watan -- the leading pro-government daily, owned by a royal family member -- turned his attention in a recent article to state-owned Bahrain Petroleum Co. (BAPCO).

"The main seat of sectarianism in BAPCO is a certain official who refuses to employ the people of Bahrain in order to take over the firm and turn it into something like an Iranian firm," wrote Hesham al-Zayani on April 22, in language that appeared to suggest Shiites are not true Bahrainis.

"There must be a fundamental strong change today that reaches all symbols of sectarianism and cleanses BAPCO," Zayani wrote, phraseology that Shiites said was a cue for action.

Turki Al-Rasheed, a Saudi columnist who once organised monitoring of Bahraini elections, said the authorities were using the media to cast a mass movement for legitimate democratic rights in sectarian clothing.

"It's a policy of diverting attention. It will only work for a weeks or months. Sooner or later they (activists) will march again and there will be wider civil disobedience," he said.


The country's Shiite majority complain of discrimination in housing and jobs as well as a demographic war, with authorities granting Bahraini nationality to Sunni Muslims from other Arab countries and Pakistan.

But the media discussion has presented the Sunnis as victims of "traitors" who are not true Bahrainis. Some Shiite groups called openly for replacing the monarchy with a republic and some of the youth protesters supported that demand.

A pro-government Facebook group on Bahrain called "Together we will expose the traitors" posted pictures last week of demonstrations, enlarging their faces to ease identification.

"We cannot live among these traitors," the tagline for some of the pictures said. "Please try to find their names so they can be punished."

The protest movement denied being steered by any Iran or any exterior power. They called mainly for greater political freedom, a constitutional monarchy and an end to sectarian bias. The government denies having discriminatory policies.

State television has enlarged images of protesters to highlight the participation of some people who turned out to be famous athletes or other public figures.

The government has begun to investigate Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, for posting a link on social media site Twitter to an image of one of four people who died in police custody showing marks from apparent torture. An interior ministry official said the image had been doctored.

The government removed the editor of the main opposition newspaper al-Wasat earlier this month after accusing the paper of falsifying news about the protest movement and crackdown.

Its previous editor, Mansour al-Jamri, son of a prominent Shiite opposition figure, has said staff were threatened and attacked by government loyalists during the unrest.

Its founder, Karim Fakhrawi, died in custody this month.

Abdel Dayem said al-Wasat was now a shadow of its former self, carrying more items from the state news agency and fewer columns. "I no longer refer to it as an independent daily. I dropped that adjective," he said.

The paper ran an obituary of Fakhrawi that omitted to say that he died in police custody, stating only that he died of kidney failure. It has not reported the continuing police detention of one of its own columnists, Haidar Mohammed.

"If all you had read was that, you would think this guy died at home. The closing lines were sinister: 'Mr Fakhrawi was known for his infectious smile'," Abdel Dayem said.

Fakhrawi died a week after failing to return home from a police station where he had tried to complain about his house being demolished by police.

Bahrain's government denies there is torture in the country and says all such allegations will be investigated.

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06-05-2011 04:09pm
Al Rasheed is spot on
Al Rasheed is spot on .Despite Bahraini rulers’ claims to be exposing the true nature of the uprising as an Iranian plot to destabilize the kingdom, it is clear that they are solely concerned with protecting themselves and punishing their rivals—and that they will use any means necessary to accomplish both.
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