Following the arrest and deportation of four American journalists from Bahrain this week, Bahrain Watch can now confirm that the total number of journalists, suspected activists, aid workers and NGO observers that have been denied access to the country is over 250. The journalists deported this week – Anna Therese Day and three members of her camera crew – were in the country with valid visas to report on the demonstrations surrounding the anniversary of the pro-democracy movement. It appears the authorities were displeased that the journalists had not reported to the information affairs authority who stated that “security authorities detained four U.S. nationals during the incident as a result of their involvement in the criminal acts.” This restriction on mobility as well as the way journalists are hunted down, prosecuted and then deported, amounts to an official policy of treating journalists as criminals.
Worryingly, even government sponsored events such as the Manama Dialogue last December in which participants after having arrived in the country, have subsequently been taken from their hotel rooms and deported.
The overall three pronged policy of rejecting visa applications by journalists, refusing entry at the airport and deporting journalists after entering the country is part of a systematic policy to shut down the possibility for independent international media to report directly on ongoing protests and repression in the country; this is effectively a form of censorship and is succeeding both in reducing interest, and increasing the cost and risks of reporting from inside the country.
It is important to note that, in our report, we have not included Bahraini journalists or observers working inside the country, many of whom are jailed and facing sentences of up to 15 years imprisonment. These cases are being advocated for by partner organisations such as the Bahrain Press Association, while our focus here is on border control policies, and containment efforts to isolate events from international scrutiny.
Bizarrely, on 18 February 2016, the Emirati academic Abdulkhaleq Abdullah was denied entry into Bahrain to attend the Gulf Development Forum on Water Security without any reason given. Gulf citizens are allowed to travel to other GCC states without a visa but joint security agreements means that border agencies retain lists of personas non gratas.