Britain burnishes Bahrain's record on press freedom

In an article for FP this week, Freedom House Vice President Arch Puddington laid out the 10 worst countries in the world to be a journalist. The list contained well-known dictatorships such as North Korea, Syria, and Cuba -- and also the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain.

"Restrictions on the press have steadily worsened since pro-democracy protests began in 2011," Puddington wrote on Bahrain. "Many domestic journalists have been arrested and detained without warrants and confessions have been extracted through torture."

The British government, however, takes a sunnier view of its longtime ally's attitude toward the media. On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, the British embassy in Manama published two articles on media freedoms -- one written by the editor-in-chief of a Bahraini government-controlled newspaper, and the other by a political group sympathetic to the ruling monarchy.

Unsurprisingly, both articles find little wrong with the Bahraini government's crackdown on domestic unrest in the past two years -- and find a great deal wrong with Western coverage of their country. "So-called human rights organisations, which unfortunately are largely administered by ex-ideologists and even terrorists, today propagate their own version of the word 'freedom,'" griped editor Anwar Abdulrahman. "[I]n today's world there is a frequent tendency for the press to brand those in power as 'baddies', and the real wrongdoers as victims."

The other article, written by an advocacy group called "Citizens of Bahrain," directly questioned the value of a free press. "Those of us who have lived through [the recent domestic turmoil] would tend to believe that freedom of the press has limits," the article argued. "When it comes to fabricating stories and using terminologies that polarize society, freedom of press should be looked into as a more complex matter than we may first realize."

During an event in December, Bahrain's crown prince praised Britain's support for Bahrain, saying it "stood head and shoulders above others." If there ever was any doubt, it should now be clear why the kingdom's royals are so pleased with the British embassy. 




Ecuador's ambassador to Peru proves that brawling in a supermarket doesn't have to end your diplomatic career

It's every diplomat's worst nightmare: being summoned back to the mother country after getting trounced in a supermarket slapfest. But that's exactly what happened, at least temporarily, to Rodrigo Riofrío, Ecuador's ambassador to Peru, who on April 21 in Lima was caught on a supermarket video camera swatting a number of women with a rolled-up magazine as they slapped and yanked his hair.  

Riofrío appears to have fallen into an argument with the women in the checkout line, where he allegedly struck and insulted them with racist slurs. (The YouTube video below shows the ambassador getting some pretty impressive extension as he goes on the offensive.)

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the story, however, is that Ecuador is standing behind its diplomat. Despite being temporarily recalled, Riofrío will apparently remain at his post. According to a statement issued by Ecuador's Foreign Ministry, there is no reason to replace the ambassador: "If this happened, it would set a terrible precedent that would involve punishing someone who, as in this case, is the victim of an assault." That's right, Ecuador is claiming that Riofrío was the victim of an assault (the AP is reporting that the women involved in the clash were a mother and daughter, and that the daughter slapped Riofrío's wife first in reaction to an insult before the ambassador turned on them).

Even Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, has weighed in on the fiasco, saying that the video clearly shows that the women were the aggressors. One of the women was "very young," according to Correa. "And you know, the ambassador is no longer a young man."

Peru's minister for women, Ana Jara Velásquez, isn't buying it, however: "There is no single argument that justifies violence against women," she fired back on Twitter. 

Perhaps this kerfuffle has yet to run its course. 

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