12 June 2008


CAPSULE REPORT: Despite advances, journalists still face possible jail terms under prevailing laws, warns IFJ

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a chapter from IFJ's "Breaking the Chains 2007/2008" report on press freedom across the Arab world and Iran:

Bahrain is one of the Gulf States in which there is an active debate led by journalists about durable changes to strengthen press freedoms. Press Law 47, passed in 2002, includes 17 categories of offences and provides for sentences ranging from six months to five years' imprisonment for criticising the state's official religion, the king and inciting actions that undermine state security. Articles 160, 161 and 168 prescribe prison sentences of up to five years for possessing or disseminating thoughts that insult Islam, criticise the Monarchy or could "damage public interest".

In addition, the law allows fines of up to 6,000 euros for 14 other offences, including publishing information related to any case that is under investigation or being tried, reporting any offence against the head of a state that maintains diplomatic relations with the country or its accredited representatives, etc. Additional restrictions on press freedom came with the anti-terrorism law enacted in August 2006 and a number of online publications, mainly of political content, are kept under close monitoring.

Founded in 2000, the Bahrain Journalists' Association (BJA) represents the broad range of media and is predominantly concerned with protecting press freedom and defending individual journalists from prosecution through legal assistance, public protests and lobbying.

It is active in helping draft the new media law and lobbying for over 40 amendments to the original. It has proposed recognition of electronic media in the new law, its statute, rights and obligations. It also monitors the introduction of Bahrain's new labour law, which will enable it to transform itself into a trade union and defend journalists' working as well as professional rights.

A strong campaign spearheaded by BJA to make deputies amend the law failed after Islamist MPs in the Lower House insisted on including a clause to imprison journalists who criticise officials or parliamentarians. A new press law draft prepared and endorsed in May 2007 by the more liberal Upper House (Majlis Al-Shura or Consultative Council) is scheduled to be debated by the Council of Representatives.

In the latest developments, the Bahraini government introduced on 4 May 2008 amendments to press law 47/2002, of which the most important eliminate prison sentences for journalists and prior censorship on publications. However, it is still possible to charge and jail journalists on the basis of the penal code and anti-terrorism law.

BJA plans to launch a strong campaign to lobby the Council of Representatives in order to improve further the law to meet journalists' demands.

King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa appears to be supportive of "progressive laws that guarantee the independence of the press and the freedom of honest and responsible expression". No journalists have been imprisoned since he became the country's leader in 1999.

For further information visit the BJA website: http://www.bja-bh.org/en


International Federation of Journalists
International Press Centre, Residence Palace
Bloc C, second floor, Rue de la Loi, 155
1040 Brussels, Belgium

Fax:+ 32 2 2352219
More from Bahrain