Dubai, Asharq Al-Awsat- Security authorities surprised Bahrain’s media on Monday by halting publication of Bahrain’s oldest newspaper the Akhbar al-Khaleej however this decision was reversed less than one day later. The initial decision to bring a halt to publication came after the newspaper had published an article on Sunday written by a member of the Bahraini Shura Council which according to sources in Manama “affected Bahrain’s relationship with a neighboring country.”
As well as halting publication of the Akhbar al-Khaleej, the newspapers website was shut down, replaced with a single disclaimer that simply read “In light of governmental orders made to Akhbar al-Khaleej Editor-in-Chief Anwar Abdulrahman after midnight yesterday [21 Jun]…in light of this the newspaper has halted publication.”
The Bahraini authorities have yet to official disclose the reason that publication of the newspaper was halted, but officials say that the article published on Sunday by Samira Rajab entitled “The Islamic Republic: Vehement Public Anger” was the reason behind this.
There have been unconfirmed reports that the Iranian embassy in Manama protested against the article’s content to the Bahraini Ministry of Foreign Affairs, saying that the article “falsely accuses” the Supreme Leader of Iran, the Iranian President, and senior Shiite clerics.
Akhbar al-Khaleej was first published in February 1976, and is one of the newspapers that is closest to the government’s [political] orientation. The Bahraini public were surprised at the ban, especially as it took place without a [formal] warning, as stipulated under Article 47 of the Press Code. A newspaper being forced to halt publication is a rare occurrence in Bahrain, and this is only the second time that Akhbar al-Khaleej has halted publication since it was founded thirty-three years ago.
Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with Bahraini journalist and Shura Council member Samira Rajab, whose article is reputedly behind the halt to publication. Rajab informed Asharq Al-Awsat that she had not been contacted by any state official and that “I have also not received any official position [from the government] with regards to the controversial article.” Rajab went on to say that “if the country is taking its own interests into account by suspending [publication of the newspaper] then this is within its right, but in any case I can confirm that this decision affects the freedom of the press and freedom of speech.”
Asharq Al-Awsat asked Rajab what in her article could be construed as being political sensitive, she answered by saying that her article “did not include anything that was already not well known, for what I said about Iran and its ruling regime is not new, and has [previously] been widely circulated even in Tehran itself. Even writing about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Jewish origins was not new, as presidential candidate Mehdi Karrubi mentioned this during the electoral debates.”
Samira Rajab said that the views expressed in her article were those of a journalist, and she did not write the article in her capacity as a member of the Shura Council. Rajab informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “I was a journalist…long before I entered the Shura Council, and my writing reflect my personal opinions and not my position as a member of the Shura Council.”
The article contained what some considered a fierce attack on Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The article described Khamenei’s speech last Friday as a “passage of lamentation.” President Ahmadinejad similarly did not escape Rajab’s attention, and she wrote “During a televised live debate between [presidential candidate] Mehdi Karrubi and Ahmadinejad, Karrubi took a jab at Ahmadinejad’s origins and said ‘My full name is Mehdi so-and-so Karrubi, what is your full name?’ The answer to this was ‘My name is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’ avoiding mentioning one of his family name which the Iranians know is of Jewish ancestry, and Mehdi Karrubi was trying to bring this to the public’s attention.”
On Monday, the Bahraini Journalists Association issued a statement of solidarity with the Akhbar al-Khaleej following the decision to halt the publication of the newspaper. The Bahraini Journalist Association said that were deeply concerned about the decision made by the Ministry of Culture saying “The Bahraini Journalist Association invites the Ministry of Culture to reconsider its decision in order to promote the atmosphere of freedom and democracy that is seen in Bahrain under the leadership of King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa.”
The Journalist Association expressed their deep concern that this decision came directly from the Ministry and not via the judiciary as stipulated under Article 47 of the 2002 Press Code. The Bahraini Journalists Association described this decision as being “contrary to the rules of law.” Akhbar al-Khaleej went back to press less than 24 hours after the initial halt to publication.