ALERT - BAHRAIN
30 May 2008
Editor and journalist of "Al-Ayam" newspaper sued by religious leader overarticle condemning extremism
SOURCE: Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Cairo
(ANHRI/IFEX) - ANHRI condemns the persistence of Egyptian Islamist preacherSheikh Wajdi Ghunaim in his continuous harassment of the Bahraini newspaper"Al-Ayam", and his prosecution of Eisa Al Shayji, the newspaper'seditor-in-chief, and journalist-writer Saeed Al-Hamad. Ghunaim is suing thejournalists for alleged slander before the Criminal Court.
Ghunaim - an Egyptian preacher expelled from Bahrain in November 2007 -initiated the legal action in August 2007, following the publication of anarticle accusing the Muslim Brotherhood and Ghunaim of having broughtextremist ideas into Bahrain and disturbing the relationship between thecountry's Sunnis and Shiite communities. Ghunaim alleged that the newspaperhad offended Islam. The first hearing, originally scheduled for 26 May2008, has been postponed until 30 June.
Such increasingly common accusations have come to pose a threat to pressfreedom, not only in Bahrain but in the entire Arab world, as criticizing amember of the clergy is often equated with criticizing religion itself.
"We know that Sheikh Wajdi Ghunaim is a preacher of fanaticism and bigotry,therefore we are very concerned about this case. We call on him to dropthis lawsuit, rather than adding it to the growing list of cases brought byreligious figures against journalists, in which some are trying to usereligion to restrict the press," said Gamal Eid, the executive director ofANHRI.
It is worth noting that, despite the Bahraini government's announcementthat it had abolished imprisonment as a penalty for publishing crimes,there are still some 15 criminal lawsuits outstanding against journalists.Many of these cases involve clerics or religious institutions taking actionagainst journalists who have written critical articles about them. The newlaw has not yet been implemented, and under the old law these journalistsmay be sentenced to three years in prison.
The use of legal action by religious figures and institutions tocontinuously harass journalists has an unacceptable chilling effect onpress freedom in the Arab world that should be strongly opposed.
For further information on other lawsuits against "Al-Ayam", see:http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/93578
For further information contact Gamal Eid, Executive Director, ANHRI,Apartment 10, No. 5, Street 105, from Midan al Hurriya, Al Maadi, Cairo,Egypt, tel/fax: +202 2 524 9544, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org,email@example.com, Internet: http://www.anhri.net/en/
The information contained in this alert is the sole responsibility ofANHRI. In citing this material for broadcast or publication, please credit ANHRI.
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