May 25, 2017 / 5:44 PM / 3 months ago

Bahrain journalist found guilty of reporting without licence

DUBAI (Reuters) - A Bahrain court fined a prominent journalist 1,000 dinars (2,048.39 pounds) on Thursday for reporting in the kingdom without official permission, her lawyer said, after a trial seen by rights groups as an example of diminishing press freedom.

Nazeeha Saeed, an award-winning Bahrain correspondent for France 24 and the Arabic-language Monte Carlo Doualiya radio, was accused of working as a journalist without a permit, after authorities did not renew her accreditation in June 2016.

Her lawyer Hameed al-Mulla said Saeed, who had worked as an accredited correspondent for 12 years, would appeal against the verdict of the lower criminal court. Mulla has argued that Saeed had applied for the annual renewal of her permit before its expiry.

French public radio broadcaster France Médias Monde (FMM) and Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) had urged the Gulf Arab country's authorities to abandon their prosecution of Saeed and allow her to continue her work as a reporter.

When prosecutors first outlined the charge against her last year, RSF accused Bahrain of hounding and harassing Saeed. Bahrain has replied that it is simply applying the laws regulating the accreditation of international journalists.

Sherif Mansour, the Middle East and North Africa programme coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said Thursday's ruling had in effect silenced one of the most prominent reporters covering Bahrain for international media.

"The conviction, and recent targeting of journalists, have had a chilling effect on the media’s ability to cover Bahrain and aims to block independent news and images from reaching the wider world," he said in a statement.

Civil liberties monitors point to freedom of expression as a right increasingly constrained in Gulf Arab states.

RSF, which ranks Bahrain 164 on a list of the worst countries for press freedom in 2017, with Eritrea bottom on 180, says 14 journalists and bloggers are currently detained.

Home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, Bahrain has carried out a crackdown on opposition political activity and dissent since a 2011 uprising by demonstrators from the Shi'ite Muslim majority seeking a greater role in government.

Reporting by Noah Browning; Editing by John Stonestreet and Andrew Heavens

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