More and More Freedom of Expression!

Since the beginning of the reform project in Bahrain, there has been an unprecedented margin of freedom of expression in all its forms. Ten years later however, it appears that there is a need for more. This was reflected in the continued criticism of the current Press Law and persisting demands to amend and ratify it by the Parliament. It is also noticeable that during the last two years, criticism of this law has escalated and complaints have increased by local and international human rights organizations. This indicates that the Law is currently unable to serve the interests of the present period, does not fulfil citizens’ demands and needs for more freedoms, and contradicts recent global technological revolution.

The proof that the current Press Law is long outdated can be seen in the fact that journalists, authors, bloggers and internet websites refuse to adhere to it. The Government itself recognizes the difficulty of literally adhering to the current Press Law and, accordingly, obliging journalists to comply with its restrictions. For this reason, Government has intentionally turned a blind eye to any breaches and criticisms, or attempts at breaking the taboo on sensitive issues. This means that the negative points of the present Press Law, which always trigger criticism, have actually failed to change the reality on the ground, for despite the blocking of several internet websites, throughout the last ten years not a single journalist or author has been arrested for their opinions. However, the mere existence of such a law has given the Bahraini Government a bad reputation internationally.

The fact that should be acknowledged here is that even if the margin of freedom is wide -which is the case in Bahrain - this margin could only satisfy citizens for a limited period of time, as it is part of the human nature to aspire for more freedom. Therefore, saying that the amount of freedom, which currently exists, is enough or more than enough is not precise, for there is always a need for more, and what citizens see as enough today, will be considered insufficient tomorrow.

There is no surplus in relation to freedom of expression. On the contrary, there is always a continued need for more freedom of expression.

It is difficult to put limits on freedom of expression, but it is possible to establish red lines that should not be defied such as abusing the rights of others under the pretext of freedom of expression, or using it as a tool to incite violence, hatred and racism. Also, freedom of expression should not entail disrespecting recognized social values or contradicting the higher interests of the country and its citizens (these interests should, of course, be defined first).

It is very unfortunate that the new bill, which local and international organizations have kept pressing for, has yet to be passed. The allotted time of the present Parliament has passed and we are now waiting for the next parliamentary elections at the end of this year, meaning that a modern and desired Press Law will not see the light in the near future.

In his last speech on the occasion of International Press Day, the King was fully aware of the changes in citizens’ need for more freedom of expression. He spoke of their demands to expand press freedom and that of websites, and not to subject journalists to detention and restrictions. On 2 May 2010, the King pledged not to punish journalists with imprisonment or close any media institution, based on their ‘constitutional right to express their opinions’. He also added: ‘we are proud that since the launch of our reform project, the Kingdom does not detain any political prisoners or prisoners of conscience. We always encourage any unique contribution in this era of freedom of the media’. He hoped that ‘cooperation between the Legislative and the Executive Authorities will yield a modern and enlightened law for the press, printing and publication. This law should coincide with the present changes of the information period, knowledge and openness. We hope that the development in the media legislation will allow a wider scope for freedom of expression within a framework of transparency and the freedom to access information’.

We also hope that the new Press law will be on the same level as the King’s recent ambitious speech.