The monarchy’s progress towards democracy has not included decriminalising press offences and the regime continues to control the media.
The democratic reforms of Sheikh Hamad, a Sunni Muslim, since he came to power in 1999, quickly faded before the demands of the country’s Shiite majority for a voice. Journalists are increasingly critical of the regime, but the press laws, which allow prison sentences from between six months and five years, prevent normal working conditions, so self-censorship is still the best way to keep one’s job.
The supreme court banned the media on 4 October 2006 from mentioning in any way a scandal known as Bandargate, involving the royal family and some politicians, that led to the deportation of Sudanese-born British citizen Salah al-Bandar for distributing a detailed report on electoral fraud. Hussein Mansour, of the daily paper Al Mithak, and Mohamed al-Othman, of the daily Al Wasat, received anonymous phone threats in October for writing about the scandal.
The government had said in April 2005 that all Internet websites dealing with Bahrain would have to register with the information ministry, but the new rule, which was criticised by Reporters Without Borders, has not been implemented. However, access to many sites and political blogs was barred in October 2006, a month before parliamentary elections. The regime also censored online publications that mentioned Bandargate.