In February 2001 a "National Charter" providing for democratic reforms was adopted by referendum. It specifies that freedom of expression "should be guaranteed by the constitution". Despite noteworthy improvements in human rights in recent years, a lot still needs to be done as far as freedom of expression is concerned. For the first time ever, late in the year a journalist lodged a complaint against the information minister. The minister had previously banned the journalist from practising his profession after he had been charged for "betrayal of national unity".
Like other Gulf countries, the emirate enjoys some press freedom, even if self-censorship is still widespread. This tiny country has four dailies, two in Arabic, Al Ayyam and Akhbar al Khaleej, and two in English, Gulf Daily News and Bahrain Tribune.
Pressure and obstruction
On 11 November 2001 charges were laid against Hafez El Sheikh Saleh, journalist with the daily Akhbar al Khaleej and contributor to the Arabic newspapers Ach Charq and Al Quds el Arabi. The journalist’s writings were "incompatible with the spirit of the National Charter and the constitution", according to the justice minister who accused him of "betrayal of national unity". The journalist believes that the real reason was an article published in the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star in which he wrote that the emir’s recent visit to the United States "had cause much consternation" in Bahrain and the Gulf countries. The journalist is known for his particularly critical articles regarding the Shiite majority in the country.
On 4 December Hafez El Sheikh Saleh counter-attacked by lodging a complaint against the information minister, Nabil al-Hamer, for prohibiting him from practising his profession. The minister had also banned the journalist from travelling abroad.
In late November the authorities prohibited the Arabic daily Azzaman, published in London, from being printed in the country because it had violated the press and publications law. The newspaper was accused of publishing a series of articles criticising the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamed bin Khalifa Al Thani.