Bahrain’s Center for Human Rights (BCHR) has expressed deep concern over the government’s temporary suspension of the country’s only independent newspaper.
On Thursday, the BCHR’s president Nabeel Rajab described the al-Wasat newspaper’s closure as an attack against freedom of expression.
Rajab, a prominent rights defender who was recently released from jail for health reasons, also said the recent restrictions would move the country towards a dark future.
Following a warning on August 3, the Bahraini Information Affairs Authority (IAA) said that it had temporarily closed the newspaper “due to [the newspaper’s] violation of the law and repeated dissemination of information that affects national unity and the Kingdom’s relationship with other countries.”
The IAA added that the paper would remain closed until further notice.
The BCHR has demanded Manama immediately cancel the suspension of al-Wasat and allow it to continue its publications. It has also called on the Bahraini government to stop its targeting of journalists and writers.
The rights group further said Manama should halt its use of the judiciary system as a tool to crack down on journalists.
The Executive Director of Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), Husain Abdulla, also criticized the move by Manama, saying it was “an attempt to shut down the only free media in the country.”
Al-Wasat says its journalists and staff members have been harassed by the government in the past.
In June, a case was filed by a Bahraini MP against the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Mansoor Aljamri and one of its writers, Hani al-Fardan, over an article regarding foreign-backed militants operating in Syria. A hearing is expected on the case in September.
Al-Wasat was established in 2002 as part of a reform and reconciliation program by King Hamad.
The tiny Gulf country has been witnessing anti-government demonstrations since mid-February 2011, with protesters calling for the ruling Al Khalifa family to relinquish power.
Manama has countered the peaceful demonstrations with a heavy crackdown, which has left scores of Bahrainis dead and hundreds of others injured. It has also imprisoned many of its opposition figures.