IJF Talk 2015 Ali Abdulemam – How the regime of Bahrain is attacking journalism

A Bahraini journalist, blogger and activist, Ali Abdulemam gave a 15-minute speech at the International Journalism Festival about freedom of expression
and how the government from Bahrain is attacking journalism.

In 1998, Ali Abdulemam launched a website called Bahrain Online, which hosted a forum where people could post their own opinions, including about what should be improved in their country, and what kind of changes they wanted to see. In 2002, the website was censored by the government.

“The site had 200,000 hits a day. Considering the population of Bahrain was 700,000 people, it’s quite a lot”, said Ali Abdulemam.

Abdulemam was arrested and charged, including for insulting the King of Bahrain. The charges were later dropped.

In 2010, he was again arrested, and subjected to torture.

“They threatened me and my family”, he said. “I wasn’t offered the right to a lawyer, couldn’t call my family. I was blindfolded all day. I was forced to
sign things I couldn’t understand.”

He was eventually released in early 2011, when the waves of the Arab Spring finally shook Bahrain and people took to the streets. He then went into hiding
for two years.

“Only one person was bringing me food and was my contact to the outside world.”

In 2013, he fled the country and hasn’t been back since.

“They revoked my citizenship two months ago”, he said. “No country does recognize me. I have no nationality.”

He said exile is just another instrument used by the Bahraini government, like torture, to put pressure not only on journalists but on activists in general.
It sends a message to the population about what can happen when you dare criticizing the government.

“Activists, photographers, journalists are jailed because they try to document what the security forces are doing”, he said. “People are in exile and they
can’t go back. If I go back, I’ll be jailed.”

He said corruption is rife in the country, with the King owning a lot of real estate.

“Bahrain is an absolute dictatorship. There’s something wrong in this country and it needs to be fixed.”

He said the next generation brings news promises, as they will be better educated.

“I’m always asked why I’m doing this. I know what it means to live in fear. My father told me he was treated like a slave. I don’t want my son to
need a recommendation from the King” to become someone, he said. “I want people to have a real freedom of expression in our country.”

Delphine Reuter