DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Bahrain shut down a prominent independent newspaper Sunday "until further notice" over an article about unrest in Morocco, the latest move tightening expression in the Gulf nation as authorities wage a crackdown on dissent.
The sudden closure of the daily Al-Wasat marks the third time authorities have ordered it to stop publishing a print edition since the island's 2011 Arab Spring protests and comes just after officials briefly banned it in January from publishing online.
Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority issued the order first verbally Sunday and later through a statement published by the state-run Bahrain News Agency, said Mansoor al-Jamri, the paper's editor-in-chief. The statement said the closure came over a story "affecting the relations of the kingdom of Bahrain with other countries."
Al-Jamri identified that story as a column on page 19 of its Sunday edition focused on recent protests in northern Morocco's El Hoceima. The area has been gripped by unrest since the death of a fish vendor in October, who was crushed by a garbage compactor while trying to save fish that officials had confiscated.
Al-Jamri called the order a "total surprise."
"We didn't have any due process basically," he told The Associated Press.
Al-Wasat is widely seen as the only independent newspaper in Bahrain, an island just off the coast of Saudi Arabia that's home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet and an under-construction British naval base. Independent news gathering there has grown more difficult, with the government refusing to accredit two Associated Press journalists and others .
For over a year now, Bahrain's Sunni-ruled government has arrested or forced activists into exile while breaking up major opposition political parties in the Shiite-majority nation. In late May, a police raid killed five protesters in one of the bloodiest confrontations since the 2011 protests. Another 286 people were arrested during the raid on a sit-in supporting a prominent Shiite cleric who has been stripped of his citizenship.
Brian Dooley, a senior adviser at Human Rights First, called the decision to halt the publication of Al-Wasat "a panic move from the authorities scared of facts and quality journalism."
"Today's move is the latest attempt by Bahrain to prevent critical coverage of what's happening in the country," Dooley said in a statement.
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