MANAMA (Reuters) - Bahrain’s main opposition newspaper resumed publication Monday after its high-profile editor was replaced by a low-key columnist and board member.
Bahrain suspended the Al Wasat newspaper Sunday, accusing it of falsifying news about sectarian unrest and a government crackdown. It said the newspaper posed a threat to the U.S.-allied Gulf island kingdom’s security.
Bahrain has seen its worst unrest since the 1990s after mostly Shi’ite protesters took to the streets in February, inspired by uprisings that toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia, to demand a bigger say in the Sunni-ruled country.
The official Bahrain News Agency (BNA) said Monday that Abidli al Abidli was appointed editor-in-chief of the newspaper, replacing Mansour al Jamri, the son of the Shi’ite former opposition leader.
“The board of directors earlier decided to sack Al Wasat editor-in-chief Mansour al Jamri, managing editor Walid Nouwaihidh, and head of local news department Aqeel Mirza,” BNA said.
“The panel has also decided to elect a new board of directors within a month.”
Analysts said Abidli has a lower political profile than his predecessor Jamri, whose father led Bahrain’s Shi’ite opposition in the 1990s. Jamri returned from exile a decade ago after the country’s king promised political reforms.
Jamri told Reuters Sunday he had resigned to “safeguard the newspaper,” adding staff had been threatened and attacked.
The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists criticised Bahrain’s measures against the newspaper.
“Alleging bias in Al Wasat’s coverage without providing credible evidence to support such a claim is laughable,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, a CPJ regional program coordinator.
“Bahrain has previously hurled unsubstantiated accusations of bias in order to silence critical media, most prominently against Al-Jazeera last year when the government wanted to shut the channel’s local bureau,” he said in a statement.
Al Wasat’s printing press was damaged during the unrest and on March 17 a group of plainclothes men with weapons were in the streets around its offices, holding up production.
There are no private broadcasters in Bahrain and the Shi’ite opposition has accused Bahrain TV of fomenting sectarian division by what it says is its one-sided coverage.
Analysts say most of Bahrain’s state-owned media is under the control of hardliners in the royal family.
Official statistics say at least 13 protesters, seven foreign residents and four police died in clashes that prompted Bahrain to declare martial law and invite troops from its Sunni Gulf neighbors, which are wary of the regional influence of Shi’ite power Iran.
Gulf Arab states Sunday condemned what they called Iranian interference in their affairs after Iran objected to the dispatch of Saudi troops to Bahrain.
The Gulf Cooperation Council, which groups the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait coordinates military and economic policy in the world’s top oil-exporting region.
The troops sent by Saudi Arabia and the UAE are part of a joint Gulf “Peninsula Shield” force.
Additional reporting by Gulf newsroom; writing by Amran Abocar; Editing by Philippa Fletcher