Bahrain unlocks the door on media restrictions

In a ground-breaking move, the government of Bahrain has relaxed its laws governing the press and publishing industry. A major change is the abolition of jail sentences for journalists convicted of most transgressions.

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By  David Cass Published  November 5, 2002

A new press and publishing law, issued by royal decree in Bahrain, has abolished a controversial jail punishment for journalists convicted of transgressions except those who call for overthrowing the regime, defaming Islam or criticising the king. Conviction would carry a minimum jail sentence of six months.

According to the official news agency, BNA, the law, which had been approved by the Cabinet last month was decreed on Sunday by His Majesty the King, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

"Journalists shall work freely under no authority but that of the law and have unhindered access to all information and data except those deemed classified according to the law," the BNA quoted from the decree, saying the law stresses that there shall be no restrictions on the 'right' of citizens to get the proper information.

According to the law, journalists will be treated as public servants who have the full protection of the law from being harassed or assaulted. They also cannot be dismissed from their organisation without the employer presenting a justifiable reason to the journalists' association.

First reaction from the press sector welcomes the change. Clive Jacques, General Manager of Al Hilal Publishing and Marketing, which owns Bahrain's top selling English and Arabic daily papers, said, "The new decree clearly identifies with the overall democratic process that has been established in Bahrain. The new clauses show transparency and, through their liberal foundations, provide the media with an exciting, challenging and responsible role as democracy further evolves in Bahrain."

Newspapers cannot be closed without a court order and a journalist shall not be interrogated but with the presence of the association or a representative of his or her media organisation.

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