The Bahraini government has shut down Al-Wasat, a prominent independent newspaper “until further notice” after the paper published a piece about unrest in Morocco. Authorities are cracking down on dissent in the country.
Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority issued the order verbally on Sunday and later through a statement published by the state-run Bahrain News Agency (BNA), Mansoor al-Jamri, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, said, adding that the move had come as a “total surprise.”
“We didn’t have any due process basically,” he told The Associated Press news agency.
The closure was due to an article “affecting the relations of the Kingdom of Bahrain with other countries,” the official statement read.
Al-Jamri said the closure was due to a story on page 19 of its Sunday edition that focused on recent protests in northern Morocco’s El Hoceima – an area that has seen widespread unrest since October. The column had insulted a “sisterly Arab country,” BNA reported.
The sudden closure of the daily is the third time authorities have ordered the paper – widely seen as the only independent newspaper in Bahrain – to stop publishing a print edition since 2011, when Arab Spring protests started. It also comes just after officials briefly banned the newspaper in January from publishing online.
The daily is associated with the mainly Shi’a Muslim-led opposition, which has been facing a crackdown by the Sunni-led government since last year.
A riot police officer looks for Bahraini anti-government protesters during clashes in Malkiya village
For over a year now, Bahrain’s government has arrested or forced activists into exile while breaking up major opposition political parties in the Shi’a-majority nation.
The government recently refused to accredit two AP journalists.
In late May, a police raid killed five protesters in one of the bloodiest confrontations since the 2011 protests. Another 286 people were arrested during the raid on a sit-in supporting a prominent Shiite cleric who has been stripped of his citizenship.
“[This is] a panic move from the authorities scared of facts and quality journalism,” Brian Dooley, a senior adviser at Human Rights First, told The Associated Press. “Today’s move is the latest attempt by Bahrain to prevent critical coverage of what’s happening in the country,” Dooley said in a statement.