Journalists’ leaders from the Middle East and the Arab world have protested strongly over attempts to muzzle independent media in Bahrain after Islamist politicians launched a “vicious and unprovoked” attack on a leading newspaper editor.
A meeting organised by the International Federation of Journalists in Beirut this weekend condemned a wave of threats and abuse directed at Esa Al-Shaiji, the Editor in Chief of Al-Ayam after some members of parliament attacked the newspaper for its open and independent style of reporting.
Yesterday the newspaper was targeted in a number of speeches in mosques across the country, statements criticizing the editor were published on websites and in a number of Islamic newspapers, and 40 abusive and threatening text messages were sent to Esa Al-Shaiji.
“This vicious and unprovoked attack on a respected and distinguished colleague is an example of the intolerant and undemocratic character of extremist politics that is increasingly being used against the free press,” said participants at the Beirut meeting. “We demand that the authorities in Bahrain intervene to stop this assault on independent journalism.”
The meeting also unanimously called on the IFJ to intervene at the level of the United Nations and with UNESCO to protest over the incident.
“This affair shows just how fragile is the state of press freedom in the region,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, who chaired the meeting. “Journalists are rightly angry at this form of orchestrated bullying of a respected journalist. We want the authorities to speak out against this campaign. If they remain silent, it will only encourage further attacks.”
The meeting noted that the newspaper has been targeted because of its liberal and pluralist approach to news reporting, and has been the focus of criticism from extremist voices such as the Islamic Society, Al-Menbar and Al-Asla.
The Beirut meeting included leaders of journalists groups from Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Palestine, the Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan the UAE, Bahrain and Yemen as well as guest representatives of journalists’ unions from Great Britain and Ireland, Germany and Belgium.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries