Manama: Bahraini authorities lifted a ban on the main opposition newspaper on Sunday after its three top editors resigned to save the paper from a campaign to muzzle anti-government media and crack down on the Shi’ite opposition in the Sunni-ruled Gulf nation.
Al-Wasat, the country`s most popular newspaper, did not appear on Sunday after Bahrain`s Information Ministry ordered it to close down. Al-Wasat`s online edition was also blocked.
The state-run Bahrain News Agency accused the paper of "unethical" coverage of the uprising against the country`s rulers.
The agency reported later that the Information Ministry agreed to allow the newspaper to resume publishing on Monday after its editor-in-cheif and two other top editors stepped down.
Editor-in-Chief Mansoor al-Jamri said that he resigned from his position because he did not want to jeopardise the newspaper`s future and the livelihoods of its employees.
"I did not want others to suffer because there`s a witch hunt against me," al-Jamri said.
Bahrain has sharply tightened Internet and media controls under the military rule imposed last month after weeks of protests and clashes by groups seeking to break the monarchy`s grip on power in the strategic Gulf nation, which is home to the US Navy`s 5th Fleet.
"This is an attempt to silence independent news in Bahrain," said al-Jamri, who is also one of Al-Wasat`s main shareholders.
Bahrain`s King declared emergency rule last month and cracked down on protests by the country`s Shi’ite majority for more rights and freedom against a Sunni dynasty that has ruled Bahrain for two centuries.
About 1,500 troops from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Sunni-led Gulf states entered Bahrain at the government`s invitation to help quell the rebellion and deepening the kingdom`s sectarian divide.
The unprecedented political unrest in the tiny nation of 700,000 has also inflamed tensions between the peninsula`s Sunni heavyweight, Saudi Arabia, and neighbouring Iran, a Shi’ite theocracy.
Since the protests began in mid-February, at least 27 people have been killed, according to Bahraini human rights organisations and opposition leaders.
Hundreds of protesters, activists and opposition leaders have been detained by the authorities. Bloggers and journalists have been threatened by armed thugs and harassed by authorities.
"We have been working in extreme conditions and under immense pressure since the emergency measures were announced," al-Jamri said. The newspaper`s printing facility has been vandalised twice in the past month, and journalists, editors and other staff of Al-Wasat have been subjected to a "systematic campaign of intimidation by the state media”, he charged.
The first edition of Al Wasat newspaper hit the newsstands in September 2002. The paper has a daily circulation of 15,000 and a popular online edition. It has 200 employees, of whom 50 are reporters and editors.