DUBAI, Oct 11 (Reuters) - A Bahraini court sentenced four journalists on Tuesday to fines of 1,000 Bahraini dinars ($2,650) each for publishing false news during martial law imposed in the Gulf Arab state to crush a pro-democracy protest movement, one of them said.
Mansoor al-Jamri, editor-in-chief of al-Wasat, told Reuters by telephone that the three others sentenced were also editors of the independent daily, which is seen by Bahrain’s government as a mouthpiece for the Shi’ite Muslim-led opposition.
Jamri was reinstated in August as the daily’s editor. The authorities had previously suspended the paper and purged senior staff, prompting Jamri to resign in April.
The editors pleaded not guilty during the trial, arguing they were fed disinformation as part of a campaign to discredit al-Wasat, and the short-staffed paper published the mistakes.
Al-Wasat’s founder, Karim Fakhrawi, was one of four people who died in police custody during more than two months of martial law. Hundreds of Shi’ites were detained and many more lost their jobs. A commission of international experts is due to make public its findings on the unrest this month.
Bahrain, host to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, faced a wave of anti-government protests in February and March as mostly Shi’ite demonstrators demanded democratic reform. Some called for a republic and an end to the Sunni-led monarchy.
Bahrain’s rulers crushed the protests on March 16, saying they were fomented by Shi’ite power Iran, and called in troops from neighbouring Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to help restore order.
More than a dozen other journalists and photographers are thought to have been questioned by authorities over their coverage of the unrest and could also face trial.
“This is unfortunate for Bahrain,” Jamri said of the possible trials. “We need freedom of expression to exit the political crisis we are presently going through.” (Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Alistair Lyon)