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Bahrain bans reporting on scandal over alleged election fraud plot

Bahrain bans reporting on scandal over alleged election fraud plot

Bahraini authorities called for a total ban on 'Bandargate' late Wednesday, prohibiting publication of news relating to a former government consultant who alleged a high-level plot to manipulate upcoming elections and disenfranchise a majority of voters.
The High Criminal Court of this Persian Gulf nation issued an order disallowing the "publication of all types of news, analyses or information pertaining to the case of Salah al-Bandar who had been accused of illegally possessing state's documents and stealing two bank checks," the official Bahrain News Agency reported.
Bahrain's state and independent media have reported widely on al-Bandar, who was deported last month and will be tried in absentia for sedition after publishing a report that ties top government officials to plans to rig the next elections and deprive Shiites of their rights. Al-Bandar, a Sunni Muslim, worked for Bahrain's Cabinet affairs minister, himself accused in the plot, and the government statistics agency until the end of August.
To Bahrainis, the plot claim is only the most recent in a series of collisions between the Sunni ruling elite and Shiite voters, who make up 60 percent of the kingdom's population of 725,000. Sunni or Shiite, liberal democrat or Islamist _ Bahrainis have shown intense interest in al-Bandar's report, gathering in small groups all over the island to discuss its contents after evening prayers.
Late last month, Bahrain responded to opposition concerns that electronic voting could be used to rig the vote and canceled plans for electronic voting in the Nov. 25 elections.
But people concerned about al-Bandar's claims are worried that a law restricting the right to assemble _ enacted in July _ could be used to crack down on the post-prayer gatherings.
Al-Bandar's report and the government's reaction to it has strengthened the perception that the kingdom, which introduced a new constitution in 2001 and restored parliament a year later, is wavering on promised political reforms. Upcoming elections, Bahrain's second in 30 years, offer Shiites, in particular, an opportunity for empowerment.
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Updated : 2021-04-19 06:03 GMT+08:00