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Breaking pledge, Bahrain bars free expression mission

King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa's government breaks a promise to allow an international mission to assess free expression in Bahrain. (AP/Hasan Jamali)

Reneging on a promise made just weeks earlier, Bahraini authorities have denied visas to representatives of several free expression organizations who planned to travel to the kingdom next week to assess press and free speech conditions. CPJ is among several organizations that have signed a joint letter to Bahrain's director of human rights organizations condemning the action.  

The free-expression delegation--affiliated with the International Freedom of Expression Exchange--was to include representatives from the Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Index on Censorship, PEN International, and Reporters Without Borders. Freelance journalist Clare Morgana Gillis was also to have participated.

On April 11, Bahrain's Ministry of Human Rights and Social Development granted the group  permission to conduct a mission assessing freedom of expression in the country. CPJ had also received a letter from the ministry in January inviting our organization to visit the kingdom.

On April 30, just days before our planned departure, the ministry reversed its decision, claiming that new guidelines allowed only one organization per week to visit the country, thus precluding the group from going forward.  

Over the past year, Bahrain has made a habit of denying visas to international journalists, human rights defenders, and observers--most recently to reporters seeking to cover the restive political backdrop to last month's Formula One Grand Prix motor racing event.  

Domestic repression has been severe. CPJ research shows that in the past year, independent and opposition journalists in Bahrain have endured the worst conditions since King al-Khalifa assumed the throne in 1999. CPJ has documented three journalist deaths, including a shooting death last month; dozens of detentions; arbitrary deportations; government-sponsored billboards and advertisements smearing journalists; and numerous physical assaults.

Despite its ongoing efforts to silence independent observers, the government has publicly asserted an interest in openness. On May 2, in an address marking World Press Freedom Day, King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa lauded the blossoming of a free media, human rights, and reforms in Bahrain. He made a point of saying foreign media distorts news coverage of events in the Kingdom. 

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IAA withdraws NGO visas
Posted on : 2012-05-04
The government yesterday withdrew its visa approval for a human rights organisation that was supposed to visit Bahrain next week.
An official spokesperson at the Information Affairs Authority (IAA) said that the move was subsequent to the NGO - Freedom House, which had applied and obtained a visa to enter Bahrain earlier, demanded permission for six other NGOs to accompany them.
“The NGO had taken an approval from the Human Rights and Social Development Ministry for its team after defining their purpose of visit. However, the remaining six did not go through the process,” said the spokesperson.
Moreover, in such a short notice, the ministry was not prepared to accommodate such a big team.
Human Rights Watch Society (BHRWS) Secretary General Faisal Fulad said this was ‘not a welcome move’.
“Authorities should think of a new strategy – a policy of more fairness and openness, especially when Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa is travelling to boost Bahraini economic ties with other countries,” said Mr Fulad. “If we close doors to NGOs, we are dampening the efforts of Prince Salman, while we should be fearless and have an open door policy.”
Bahrain houses various embassies, international and local media and entertains people on social media and bloggers, unlike many other countries, he said.
Mr Fulad pointed out that the world is like a small village today, where nothing can be hidden and a better cooperation with the NGOs will only help the country, whereas the contrary could prove to be messy.
Recent incidents like denying entry to the EU parliamentarian and Channel 4 TV will not be good for Bahrain, he said pointing out how the episode of allowing BBC to interview Abhdulhadi Al Khawajah helped prove many speculations wrong.
Bahrain proved to the world through BBC that Mr Al Khawaja was fine and he was being treated in the best way possible, he explained.

http://www.dt.bh/newsdetails.php?key=301110213450&newsid=030512202834