Bahrain -“Al-Wasat” newspaper has had to lay off all its employees three weeks after being suspended by the authorities in Bahrain. The newspaper reports on various issues including on protests and human rights events and is known for its balanced journalism. Its suspension is a flagrant violation of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
On 24 June 2017, the newspaper notified its employees in an e-mail of the decision to lay off all staff. The letter, signed by the Chairman of Dar Al-Wasat Publishing and Distribution Company, Adel Al-Maskati, says, "We regret to inform you that the board of directors of the company has decided to terminate employment contracts with employees, due to the suspension of “Al-Wasat” newspaper activity, as per the Ministry of Informations decision of 04 June 2017 and the resulting losses to the company." The layoff affects 160 people employed by the company, including 30 foreign nationals.
On the occasion of its closing, Editor-in-Chief Mansoor Al-Jamri said, "After 15 years of journalism, we reaffirm that the success of “Al-Wasat”s unique project would not have been achieved without the confidence of its constituents, which it considered a civilized means of reform, a bridge of understanding, cooperation, coexistence and acceptance of opinion and the opposite opinion, depending on the loyalty to the whole nation of all groups of society, while adhering that is internationally acclaimed to media professionalism.” He added, “The most important of all: honesty in saying and acting."
On 04 June 2017, Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority (IAA) suspended “Al-Wasat” newspaper until further notice, for allegedly violating the law and repeating the publication of and broadcasting news that stirs up the community and affects the relations of the Kingdom of Bahrain with other countries. The suspension relates to an article published about protests in Morocco on 04 June 2017, which was accused of “abuse of one of the Arab countries."
Authorities have previously targeted “Al-Wasat” in an attempt to curtail freedom of the press, including by bringing defamation cases against Mansoor Al-Jamri in 2014 and 2015. On 16 January 2017, its electronic version was stopped for allegedly “disseminating and broadcasting what stirred the division in society, the spirit of discord and prejudice to national unity and the aggravation of public peace.” It had also been briefly suspended in 2011, 2015 and 2016, and three of its editors were put on trial and forced to leave their jobs at the newspaper.
Thus, the only independent newspaper in the country stops publishing after a successful 15-year run marked by its support for the human rights movement in the country, resulting in its continued targeting by the authorities. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is saddened by the closure of “Al-Wasat” which is a severe blow to independent and free press in the region.
GCHR urges the authorities in Bahrain to:
Immediately and unconditionally remove the suspension against “Al-Wasat”;
Provide “Al-Wasat” will all kinds of support to renew its work; and
Ensure that journalists, media workers and all human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.