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Bahrain authorities ban main opposition newspaper

Accused of publishing "fabricated" reports, false details

Bahraini authorities banned the country's main opposition newspaper on Sunday after accusing it of providing "unethical" coverage of the popular uprising that has swept the Arab Gulf state.

The newspaper al-Wasat did not appear Sunday after Bahrain's Information Ministry ordered the paper to shut down. Al-Wasat's online edition also was blocked. The state-run Bahrain News Agency accused the paper of "unethical" coverage of the uprising against the country's rulers.

State television accused Al-Wasat of publishing "fabricated" reports last week about the "security developments in Bahrain", claiming that the daily printed "false news" and "fake names of people claimed to have been abused by police."

But the newspaper's editor-in-chief rejects those accusations the ban was "an attempt silence independent news in Bahrain."

"There is now no other voice, but that of the state. The news blackout is so intense," he added.

Al-Jamri was also a former opposition activist during the Shiite uprising in the 1990s, who returned to Bahrain in 2001 following a royal pardon.

Bahrain's king declared emergency rule last month in the wake of a popular uprising that regional Arab states say was stirred by Iran.

The first edition of Al-Wasat newspaper hit the news stands in September 2002, and it was the first newspaper to reflect oppositional perspectives. It was established after the early reforms adopted by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. Prior to al-Wasat, only two daily Arabic newspapers existed, Akhbar al-Khaleej and al-Ayam. This was a pivotal moment in press freedom in the region, as it enabled more leniency in discussing social issues.

Al-Wasat won the Arab Journalism Award for Political Journalism and Bahrain e-Content Award for website enhancement, both in 2009. The newspaper was also ranked by Forbes Middle East as number 15 in top 50 online newspapers in the region in 2010.

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.