Demonstrators gather in Manama, Bahrain. Image: RyanBayona on Flickr. Some rights reserved
Bahrain intends to sue the Independent, accusing the newspaper of "orchestrating a defamatory and premeditated media campaign" against the country and its neighbour Saudi Arabia.
A UK-based law firm has been hired to pursue legal action against the newspaper, according to a report by Bahrain state news agency BNA. Nawaf Mohammed Al-Maawda, acting press and foreign media director for the country's Information Affairs Authority (IAA), said that the newspaper had "deliberately published a series of unrealistic and provocative articles targeting Bahrain and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia".
Al Maawda singled out the Independent's long-serving Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk in his criticism.
The IAA tweeted last night: "IAA takes legal action against columnist Robert Fisk and The Independent (UK) for repeated falsification of facts and publication of misinformation".
Fisk published an article yesterday in which he heavily criticised the trial of almost 50 medical staff in Bahrain accused of attempting to topple the government.
The government reportedly accuses the medical staff of stockpiling weapons and claims that the hospital at which they worked in Manama was a centre for protest organisation.
Fisk's article calls the proposed trial "utterly fraudulent", the military court "flagrantly unfair" and the charges "a pack of lies".
The Independent has declined to issue any comment at this stage.
Media law consultant David Banks told Journalism.co.uk this morning that the case is "unlikely to get anywhere near the high court".
"The basic principle is that local and national governments can't sue. That's been the case since 1993 when Derbyshire County Council tried to sue the Times and I can't see this action getting past that judgement.
"I suspect what it would boil down to is an individual action by a Bahrain minister, but even that would come up against all sorts of problems such as Reynolds defence, and the Independent would have a strong case."
Any individual minister attempting to sue the Independent for defamation would have to prove that his or her personal reputation had been tarnished. The newspaper could potentially cite Reynolds defence, which protects publishers who have made defamatory statements if they can prove there was a clear public interest in publishing the allegation.
Bahrain's Sunni Al-Khalifa royal dynasty has faced widespread international criticism in recent months over its its suppression of protests by the country's Shia majority.
According to the BNA report, Al Maawda "called upon all media to observe accuracy and objectivity and project the true image, adding that all doors remain open to visit Bahrain and gauge the real situation on the ground as the Kingdom is steadily regaining normality and stability".
Image by RyanBayona on Flickr. Some rights reserved
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