Bahrain must end harassment of critical reporters

Reuters , Wednesday 20 Jul 2011

An international rights group called on Bahrain to stop harassment and intimidation of reporters critical of the government, which crushed weeks of protests earlier this year

The U.S .-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a statement on the situation in Bahrain, released late on Tuesday that it had documented cases of two journalists dying in custody and many others being detained or assaulted in the Gulf island kingdom.

"Bahrain's government has a responsibility to protect journalists from those who resort to threats of violence, intimidation, or fabricated criminal charges to influence coverage," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's regional program coordinator.

Tensions have been simmering in Bahrain ever since mass pro-democracy protests hit the country in February, led by the country's Shi'ite majority. Bahrain's Sunni rulers crushed the protests in March, arresting hundreds. It accused the protesters of a sectarian agenda backed by nearby Shi'ite power Iran.

Despite a national dialogue launched in July, small protests have erupted daily in Shi'ite villages near the capital. On Sunday, a local journalist was summoned by public prosecutors over accusations that she hit a woman who had joined pro-government supporters in breaking up a news conference held by an Irish delegation investigating rights abuses against medics.

CPJ said the charges against Reem Khalifa appeared to be fabricated and criticised pro-government newspapers and the official Bahrain News Agency for describing Khalifa as an assailant.

It also pointed to a Twitter account, which describes itself as the "People's intelligence network to protect Bahrain from traitors". It gave followers the time and place "the terrorist Reem Khalifa" picked up her children from school, urging them to "go say hello".

The group has also maintained a list of cases of abuse and interrogation of foreign and local journalists. "CPJ has documented dozens of cases of journalist detentions in Bahrain, the death in custody of two journalists ... and a large number of physical assaults against reporters," it said.

In May, two Bahraini journalists working for Western media outlets said they were detained, interrogated and beaten by police.

The government denies any systematic torture by its security forces and has vowed to investigate any charges of abuse.

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