Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ministry of Information rage over foreign agencies and book Publishers

HAQ: Movement of Liberties and Democracy- Bahrain

حق: حركة الحريات والدموقراطية- البحرين

مكتب حقوق الإنسان ..Human Rights Bureau, Email:

Ministry of Information rage over foreign agencies and book Publishers

January 30, 2010

News has been revealed that the Bahraini Ministry of Culture and Information (Moci) handed over a list of unwanted Lebanese publishers to the shipping company responsible for shipping books from Lebanon to the book fair which will be held in Bahrain next 17th March[1]. The official communication by Moci to the shipping company contains a "blacklist" of 25 publishers requesting that their books are not to be shipped to Bahrain.

HAQ Movement is more concerned to learn that the Lebanese publishing houses did not receive any official communications from Moci advising them of its decision and will only know from that shipping company that they are not welcome to participate in the book fair in Bahrain. It is not known, yet, if other lists have been dispatched to shippers of books from countries other than Lebanon.

This is the first time this approach is perused by the Authorities to ban books from entering Bahrain or reaching people on its soil. The most common way is to confiscate books, journals and any form of publications at any of Bahrain ports (Land, sea or air) through an office or officer belonging to Moci stationed there. This way books, and any form of materialized publications, are not displayed at bookshops and control is more stringent on what people can physically access. In the Bahrain International Book Fair during 18-27 March 2004, about 40 books were confiscated from the shelves of the publishers places in front of everybody which caused a media fiasco for the Authorities which resulted in the relative opening up for publishers in the recent years. Most of the confiscated books were religious books of Shia sect of Islam. Few were historical but considered subversive.

It is believed, however, that any form of embarrassment and/or media exposure resulting in a wide range of criticism could be avoided if publishers are indirectly prevented from coming to Bahrain and displaying their publications and books. It is feared, nevertheless, that the ban focuses on publishers which print Shia books, a form of persistent suppression to the religious freedom to Shia citizens in Bahrain.

On the other hand, it has been learned that the correspondents of Agence France Press (AFP) and German News Agency (DPA), were summoned last Thursday 28 January 2010 by the Moci to inform them that their "credential" is suspended, meaning they cannot report to their agencies about Bahrain. The "credential" or permit is mandatorily renewed each year at the Foreign Media Directorate of the Moci, a way of identifying foreign correspondents and affect their media coverage.

The two correspondents (Messers Mohammed Fadil of the AFP and Mazin Mahdi of DPA) were separately met by officials of the Foreign Media at the Moci to express the Ministry fury for the recent media coverage produced by the two agencies, which were found "exaggerating and had negative impact upon Bahrain image".

The two correspondents, Fadil and Mahdi, are well known of their professional media coverage and have been working for their agencies for many years. It is believed that the media outlets of on certain issues were found "sensitivity" to the Authorities, which could be the reason behind the recent decision. Among the issues which were covered by the two agencies are their stories about the cases of Al-Qaeda suspects in Bahrain, among them newly naturalized, i.e. Non-Bahrainis, who were accused of perpetrating to carry out several bombings to the US-related places in Bahrain.

HAQ is concerned of the recent development to the freedom of expression and access to information to the people in Bahrain. The Authorities have taken measures to block over 1000 electronic sites, homepages and bloggers, thinking that flow of information could be blocked. This policy proved failure exploiting the advancement in the information technology. Banning publishers from entering Bahrain will never succeed in preventing people from accessing books, and attempting to control over foreign media correspondents will never cease flow of information and news to the rest of the world via other efficient and fast means, as long as Bahrain is open to the world. Needless to say, that blocking access to information, in any form, is a blatant violations to basic human rights and those spelled by Article 19 of the UN Declaration of human rights and the same article of the ICCPR, which was acceded by Bahrain in September 2006.

Therefore, HAQ calls for the Authorities to:

1- Put an end to the silence policy and trying to control flow of information via blocking sites and blogs, banning books and publishable materials.

2- Hand off foreign media and correspondents to international journals and news agencies. In particular, we call for the credentials of the AFP and DPA to be reinstated without limiting it by time period or specific media guidance.

3- Respect vows and commitments to human rights covenants and declarations and particularly those concerned with freedom of expression and rights to information