In new round of tensions, Bahrain lashes out at Qatar’s rights accusations

The Bahraini-Qatari tensions, observers say, open the way for a renewed confrontation after the relative calm that followed the Gulf reconciliation summit, in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia.
Saturday 01/05/2021
The logo of Al Jazeera Media Network is seen on its headquarters building in Doha. (REUTERS)
The logo of Al Jazeera Media Network is seen on its headquarters building in Doha. (REUTERS)

MANAMA--The Police Media Centre at Bahraini Ministry of Interior responded Friday to what it deemed incitement-intended  reports broadcast by the Qatari government-sponsored Al Jazeera Channel.

Over the past days, the Qatari channel has been quoting European Parliamentarians alleging their concern over the human rights situation at the Reformation and Rehabilitation Centre in Jau and demanding the release of some detainees they claim are “prisoners of opinion.”

The Interior Ministry condemned the “incitement campaign of the Qatari channel” and said Al Jazeera reports “have nothing to do with slogans the channel uses for media consumption.”

The Qatari criticism of Manama and the response of the Bahraini ministry chart a peculiar course for the reconciliation process between the two Gulf countries, in contrast to the approach that Qatar has adopted to achieve rapprochement with Saudi Arabia.

The tensions, observers say, open the way for a renewed confrontation after the relative calm that followed the Gulf reconciliation summit, in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia, where the kingdom and its allies decided to end their boycott of Qatar.

“The Police Media, through its observation, has almost confirmed the systematic approach of the Qatari government-owned Al Jazeera Channel as the main party. Another party is individuals who run alleged human rights organisations while they are convicts and escaping from justice, and some of them involved in terrorist cases,” the Bahraini Ministry of Interior said.

“The organised approach includes some parliamentarians from European countries announcing wrong human rights information about Bahrain,” the ministry added, noting that “the released statements” were made by “individuals who lack information about the human rights situation in Bahrain.”

“Some European parliamentarians who release statements about human rights in Bahrain ignore the situation of thousands of inmates in their countries that are supposed to have achieved a decent level of human rights protection development. At the same time, most of their prisons witness alarming COVID-19 outbreaks,” the ministry said.

Over the past few days, an unprecedented media campaign has been mounted to criticise the situation in Bahraini penal institutions, with some media reports questioning Bahrain’s treatment of detainees and the country’s measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

In this regard, the Bahraini Ministry of Interior said that the authorities in the country have provided COVID-19 vaccines for all citizens and residents, with half the population inoculated “in a remarkable health milestone.”

The optional vaccine was offered for free for inmates, and 100% of those registered have been vaccinated, the ministry added, stressing that “there are no COVID-19 active cases at the Jau Reformation and Rehabilitation Centre.”

Criticism of the Bahraini government’s handling of the situation in prisons also prompted a response from the Shura Council and Parliament, in addition to the most recent reaction by the Ministry of Interior.

In its statement, the ministry denied what was reported by the Qatari channel about members of the British House of Commons signing a petition to denounce the abuse of detained Bahraini children. The ministry also noted that Al Jazeera report did not include the names of the British representatives or the official details of the aforementioned document.

“The Jau Reformation and Rehabilitation Centre is open for human rights organisations, including the National Institute for Human Rights, the independent Office of the Ombudsman and Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission. These institutions organise announced and unannounced visits to ensure that inmates receive services stated in the Reformation and Rehabilitation Organisations Law and its rules,” the ministry said.

“Facts deny the alleged media neutrality of the Qatari Al Jazeera Channel. Its media policy targets others and their accomplishments while it does not discuss anything related to Qatari Affairs,” the ministry added in its statement.

The Foreign Affairs, Defence and National Security Committee of the Bahraini Shura Council supported the Ministry of Interior’s response to European parliamentarians, calling on members of the European Parliament “not to interfere in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Bahrain.”

The Committee indicated that the ministry has adopted precautionary and preventive measures while committing to health care and safety in line with international standards. These measures included all prisoners, the Committee said, noting that the ministry’s approach has proved effective in dealing with the pandemic.

The Committee also revealed that it conducted a field visit to the Jau Reformation and Rehabilitation Centre and recorded the authorities’ commitment to the precautionary and preventive measures.

The Committee called on members of the European Parliament to communicate with Bahrain’s members of Parliament so as to obtain information from official sources and avoid “being led by fallacies and misleading news from offensive parties that have been spreading rumours.”

Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia severed relations with Qatar in mid-2017 over accusations that Doha supports terrorism – a broad allusion to Islamist movements, a charge that it denies.

The four Arab states had demanded Qatar shut a Turkish military base, close the freewheeling Al Jazeera news channel, cut links to the Muslim Brotherhood and downgrade relations with Iran. Doha has said it will do none of that.

In January, heeding outgoing US President Donald Trump’s wish to re-establish a united Arab front against Iran and keen to impress new President Joe Biden, Saudi Arabia declared an end to the boycott of Qatar and said its three allies were on board.

Yet, high on the agenda in all bilateral talks is Al Jazeera’s coverage of Middle East politics as well as general social media activity in Qatar, both regarded by the four as inflammatory.

Diplomats say the Qatar-funded TV network has toned down its coverage of Saudi Arabia as it inched ahead towards reconciliation, but left the rest of its Gulf coverage largely unchanged.