New York, April 12, 2011-- The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Bahraini authorities to launch an immediate and thorough investigation into the death of a blogger while in state custody. Bahraini authorities, meanwhile, announced that they would file criminal charges against three senior editors at the Gulf kingdom's premier independent daily, continuing a months-long pattern of violence, harassment, and intimidation against journalists covering widespread civil unrest. CPJ documented other attacks on the press in Libya, Syria, and Yemen. The blogger, Zakariya Rashid Hassan al-Ashiri, who moderated and wrote for a website that covers news and other developments in his village of al-Dair, died under mysterious circumstances while in government custody on Saturday, regional and international media reported. Security forces arrested al-Ashiri on April 2, according to the same press accounts. He was charged with disseminating false news and inciting hatred, the BBC reported. Although the site is inaccessible inside Bahrain, according to local journalists, CPJ viewed the website and found no basis for the government's allegations. Government claims that al-Ashiri died from complications of sickle cell anemia were vigorously denied by his family, CPJ research shows.

"The circumstances of Zakariya al-Ashiri's death raise numerous questions about his treatment," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "The government's claim that he died from a pre-existing condition--which is disputed by the family--does nothing to answer any of those questions."

Bahrain's public prosecutor, Ali al-Buainain, will be filing criminal charges against three former editors at the independent daily Al-Wasat, the official Bahrain News Agency reported on Monday. Editor-in-chief Mansoor al-Jamri, Managing Editor Walid Nouwaihidh, and Local News Director Aqeel Mirza will be charged with "publishing false reports" and "harming the interests of the country," the news agency said. All three stepped down on April 3 in what al-Jamri described as an effort to save the newspaper. On April 4, another Al-Wasat editor, Ali al-Sharifi, and columnist Rahim al-Kaabi, both Iraqi nationals, were deported from Bahrain.

"If the case against Al-Wasat and its journalists is not a politicized witch-hunt, prosecutors must seriously investigate the paper's claims that they were duped into publishing false information, which was later used as a pretext for manipulating the country's premier independent publication," CPJ's Abdel Dayem said.

Al-Jamri conceded that the news items called into question by the government had been "printed in error," but maintained that the newspaper had not deliberately published misleading information, AFP reported. He told Human Rights Watch that an internal investigation revealed that all six false news leads, which described alleged government misconduct, had come from different email accounts, but had all originated from the same IP address. Human Rights Watch added that the false leads "appeared to have been sent also to other Bahraini newspapers, making them appear more authentic, but with small mistakes in the addresses so that, in fact, Al-Wasat was the only recipient."

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