Bahrain Weekly Update 6/9/17

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Government Suspends Independent Newspaper

U.N. Rights Commissioner Admonishes Bahrain‘s Rights Record

Bahrain Severs Ties with Qatar

Updates from Bahrain

Government Suspends Independent Newspaper: On Sunday, June 4, the Ministry of Information Affairs ordered Al-WasatBahrain’s only independent newspaper, be suspended indefinitely. Al-Wasat has been shut down under similar circumstances four times since 2011. State news cited the paper’s “recurrent violation of the law and spreading what would stir divisions within the community and undermine the Kingdom of Bahrain‘s relations with other countries.” The paper’s editor, Mansour al-Jamristated the suspension was in response to an op-ed on ongoing protests in Morocco’s Rif region.

Al-Jamri defended the paper, stating “We are an independent newspaper, we publish stories covering both points of view.” The newspaper’s suspension also faced condemnation from human rights groups, including  thirteen local and international groups, who presented a letter to the governments of the United Kingdom, United States, Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and the European Union, urging them to take action against this decision. “The suspension of Al-Wasat muzzles the media, unduly restricting the right to freedom of expression and opinion. As the only independent newspaper in Bahrain, its suspension removes a key voice for public discourse and denies the public the right to access information and diverse views.” The letter also called on governments to take action against the broader crackdown on opposition following the Diraz protests, including the dissolution of Waad, a secular opposition party.

The State Department also expressed concern over the bans on Al-Wasat and Waad, as well as the crackdown on the Diraz protests. In a press briefing on Thursday, June 8, State Department spokesperson, Heather Nauert stated, “The United States is deeply concerned about the decision …, to dissolve the opposition party, the Wa’ad political society. So we are following [the Al-Wasat suspension] closely. We’re also concerned about … people were killed in Diraz, in the village there in Bahrain. So we’re watching as all of this continues to develop.”

UN Rights Commissioner Calls on Bahrain to Respect Human Rights: In statements over the past week, United Nations High Commissioner For Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has called on Bahrain to step up its efforts to protect human rights. On Friday, June 2, al-Hussein urged Bahrain “to choose a different path … My Office stands ready to offer technical assistance and advice on the promotion and protection of human rights in Bahrain.”

At the Human Rights Council’s 35th session in Geneva on Tuesday, June 6, al-Hussein also pointed to Bahrain and its failure to allow visits from Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) Special Procedures. The OHCHR has requested to visit Bahrain at least five times in the past five years in order to assess the status of human rights in the country, but has been consistently denied. In March 2017, the Bahraini Parliament reportedly invited al-Hussein for an official visit, promised him “unrestricted access to prisons and Shi’a villages.”

Bahrain Severs Ties with Qatar: On Monday, June 5, Bahrain, alongside Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Yemen’s exile government, severed ties with Qatar.Bahrain has recalled its diplomatic mission to Doha, banned Bahraini citizens from travelling to Qatar, expelled Qataris staying in Bahrain, and closed its ports and airspace to Qatar. Saeed Wahabi, a political analyst, considers this degree of retaliation to be unprecedented and stated that this form of sanctions have never been in place in the Gulf.

Bahrain’s state news lambasted Qatar, stating the country continues to, “undermine the security and stability of the Kingdom of Bahrain” and cited “the escalation and incitement of its media and its support to acts of terror and to financing armed groups associated with Iran to carry out subversive attacks and spread chaos in the Kingdom” as grounds for the diplomatic rift. On Thursday, June 8, the Kingdom also stated that anyone expressing sympathy or support for Qatar will face up to five years in prison.

The international community has expressed interest in repairing the rift. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated, “We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences.” On Tuesday, Kuwait also volunteered to help mediate the conflict.

Court Hands Down Sentences for Karbabad AttackOn Tuesday, June 6, Bahrain’s Fourth High Criminal Court sentenced two to death in relation to the killing of a police officer responding to unrest in Manama’s Karbabad neighborhood in April 2017. The court also sentenced two to life in prison, eight to terms lasting three to ten years, fined two defendants $76,106, and stripped two of their citizenship. The Ministry of the Interior attributed the attack, which consisted chiefly of throwing molotov cocktails, to a “terrorist group.” The Ministry also published the names and photographs of the suspects who later claimed to have been tortured during their interrogation.

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