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Keep politics away

A TEAM of British barristers, in Bahrain to assess freedom of expression, has been urged to make sure their work is not hijacked by political agendas.

That was the message delivered yesterday by senior management of the GDN and our Arabic sister newspaper Akhbar Al Khaleej.

Akhbar Al Khaleej editor-in-chief Anwar Abdulrahman, deputy editor Sayed Zahra, columnist Nabeel Saeed and GDN editor-in-chief George Williams attended a meeting with the delegation from the UK-based Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, which consisted of Ivan Hare, Naina Patel and Eric Metcalfe.

"There is a great conspiracy controlled in the name of human rights, which is political in nature," warned Mr Abdulrahman during the meeting.

He added that human rights were not limited to a certain few, but to all and especially law-abiding policemen who face a barrage of Molotov cocktails every day.

"Where are the so-called human rights organisations?" he asked.

"Why don't they talk about the deaths of policemen?

"And what about guest Asian workers, who are beaten, robbed and killed? All by thugs whom human rights organisations are defending."

The British legal experts have been invited to Bahrain by the Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowment Ministry and are here on a four-day visit, during which they are also expected to meet government officials and society representatives.

Mr Hare and Ms Patel are barristers with Blackstone Chambers, specialising in human rights and civil liberties, while Mr Metcalfe is a barrister at Monckton Chambers, which works in human rights and public law.

They were joined by British Embassy political officer Heba Al Khalafawi.

Mr Abdulrahman highlighted government initiatives to implement the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) - as well as the fact that it hosts churches, temples and even a synagogue for the country's small Jewish population.

"All this shows that Bahrain is the most liberal society in the Arab and Islamic world," Mr Abdulrahman told the lawyers at the Dar Akhbar Al Khaleej Press and Publication House.

He therefore urged them not to be swayed by one-sided media coverage of unrest since February 2011.

"We were amazed with what was being reported in the international Press, which contradicted the reality on the ground," he explained.

"The international media had its own agenda that did not represent the truth, but shameful lies."

He used the BBC's Arabic news network as an example of an international organisation that made "drastic mistakes" on a daily basis in its coverage of Bahrain.

However, he also admitted Bahrain had been caught off-guard by events in 2011, which meant local television made mistakes of its own.

"Nobody was prepared for this," Mr Abdulrahman said.

"Yes, there were mistakes by television presenters where they used an attacking language."

However, he added that "cultural loopholes" had been addressed with the appointment of new trained staff, which had softened the tone of broadcasts.

Meanwhile, Mr Williams cited an example in which a Sky News correspondent covering last year's Formula One went on air to say police were attacking protesters.

"But the fact of the matter was that this reporter was sitting in Dubai and not Bahrain covering the race and had no clue of ground realities," he said.

"In fact, the opposite was true, violent protesters were attacking the police, who were trying to maintain law and order."

Pioneer

He described Bahrain as a "pioneer" in Press freedoms, stressing there was no direct government censorship of the Press during February and March 2011, nor at any time.

"We provided a balanced approach in our reports and allowed opposition groups to share their views," he said.

"The police have allowed our reporting team to cover all demonstrations, which shows there is no denial of access."

Mr Zahra told the delegation that sectarian divisions in Bahrain could be traced back to inflammatory speeches by members of the opposition.

"The radical opposition leaders are feeding sectarian tension in society and the media has no idea how to deal with such situations," he stated.

"We do not want human rights groups praising Bahrain, but at least give a clear picture with a right balance.

"Human rights cannot be hijacked by political agendas. Unfortunately, this is exactly what has happened."

Mr Saeed, who is both a lawyer and writer, added that freedom of writing and expression in Bahrain is far ahead of any other Middle Eastern country, and is protected by the constitution.

sandy@gdn.com.bh



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