(BCHR/IFEX) - On 14 January 2009, local newspapers disclosed a ministerial order by the new minister of culture and information and a member of the royal family, Sheikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, addressed to all telecommunications companies and Internet service providers, calling on them to prevent access to websites that were banned by the ministry.

This is the first resolution issued by the minister this year and the first administrative resolution to give sharp and clear instructions to telecommunications companies and Internet service providers to prevent "all the customary ways to access blocked sites," whether through Internet addresses or through the use of alternative servers (proxies) or any other way.

The text of the minister's resolution stated that "lifting the block on any site should only be on the instructions of the minister herself." She asked the companies and Internet service providers to "use unified technical solutions" to comply with the instructions in her resolution.

The minister's actions were justified as a campaign against "pornographic websites and public morality," as stated in the ministerial resolution, but it is well known that the list of banned sites in Bahrain goes beyond that to include websites of local public discussion forums, popular committees, political establishments, human rights organisations, religious and non-religious groups, nationalists, electronic newspapers, news and advertisements sites, and even humour sites.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is alarmed by this measure that further tightens the grip on freedom of expression and access to information.

The BCHR believes that this act restricts the access of local Internet users to certain websites which cover subversive or unfavourable topics like the misappropriation of public lands, administrative and financial corruption, sectarian discrimination against majority Shia, and favouritism. This attitude was even more fierce in the aftermath of an incident that is locally known as "Bandergate report." The total of banned sites then exceeded 26, which included local and international sites.

Nabeel Rajab stated that "the Bahraini government has to wake up and realise that it is the year 2009, and its latest actions will not block people from reality and truth, but will convince more and more people that we are living under a repressive and dictatorial regime."

The actions of the Bahraini authorities violate freedom of expression as stipulated in Article 19 of the ICCPR signed by Bahrain on 20 September 2006.

RECOMMENDED ACTION:

Send appeals to Bahraini authorities calling for: - the lifting of the ban on all electronic sites about public, cultural and human rights related to Bahrain and others. - the amendment of Press Decree Code no. 47 of 2002 so that it conforms with international human rights standards.

APPEALS TO:

His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa Cabinet Prime Minister,

Her Excellency Shaikha Mai Al-Khalifa, Minister of Information

Fax: +97 3 1 721 1363

Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

Updates the issue of Internet censorship in Bahrain: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/99565

MORE INFORMATION:

For further information contact Nabeel Rajab, President, BCHR, Manama, Bahrain, tel: +973 3963 3399 / 3940 0720, fax: +973 1779 5170, e-mail: nabeel.rajab@bahrainrights.org, info@bahrainrights.org, Internet: http://www.bahrainrights.org