Ex-editors of Bahrain’s opposition paper challenge ‘fabricated news’ allegations in court

Manama – Lawyers for three former top editors of Bahrain’s main opposition newspaper on Sunday challenged allegations of unethical coverage by their clients during mass anti-government protests in the Gulf kingdom.

The trial of the editors of Al-Wasat newspaper, who were forced to resign from Bahrain’s most widely read newspaper after the government imposed emergency rule in March to quell dissent, is part of a sweeping crackdown on the island nation’s Shia-led opposition.
The charges against the three former editors, who pleaded not guilty last month, include publishing false news and endangering public order. If convicted on all charges, they face at least two years in jail and hefty financial fines.
Two employees of Al-Wasat newspaper told Bahrain’s highest criminal court on Sunday that the editors overlooked fabricated information because of the difficult conditions facing the kingdom’s only opposition paper during demonstrations against Bahrain’s Sunni rulers.
The two employees said the newspaper’s offices had been vandalized and its staff had been threatened, forcing reporters and editors to work from home.
Al-Wasat’s founder and former chief editor, Mansoor al-Jamri, told the court during last week’s hearing that the paper published the fabricated items after it fell victim to a plot aimed at undermining Al-Wasat’s role as the main voice for pro-reform advocates.
The false stories, describing fabricated crackdowns by authorities, came from an Internet address in Saudi Arabia, al-Jamri said, adding that the stories were written in a way that did not raise suspicions by personnel at Al Wasat.
Another hearing in the case is set for 3 July.
At least 31 people have been killed since February, when Bahrain’s Shia majority started its campaign for greater freedoms and rights in the Gulf kingdom, the host of the US Navy’s 5th Fleet. The protests were inspired by uprisings in the Arab world.
Violence by Bahrain’s authorities – strengthened by a Saudi-led military force – has been widespread and well documented since martial law was imposed 15 March. Hundreds of protesters, opposition leaders, human rights activists and Shia professionals like doctors and lawyers have been arrested. Dozens have been tried in a special security court that had sentenced two activists to death.
The emergency rule was lifted 1 June. Trials of suspected oppositions supporters continue in the special security court that was set up under martial law and has military prosecutors as well as military and civilian judges.
The official return to civilian rule was part of the monarchy’s efforts to make Bahrain once again an attractive destination for tourists and foreign investors.
The ruling dynasty also proposed opening talks with opposition delegates 1 July, but the outreach has met a cool reception from Shia leaders demanding that authorities roll back security measures and halt trials against activists.
On Sunday, opposition supporters blasted the decision of one political group to apologize for its role in the uprising in a statement, issued late Saturday. The apology prompted numerous resignations from the secular Waad Society, led by the opposition’s most prominent Sunni politician, Ibrahim Sharif.
Sharif was arrested during the crackdown on the opposition and his party was banned. He was charged with plotting to overthrow the monarchy and has been tried in the special security court along with 20 Shia opposition leaders. Seven of those are being tried in absentia.
The government reversed the ban on Waad after it issued the apology.

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