(BCHR/IFEX) - The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is alarmed by the widening scope of a censorship and internet blocking campaign, led by Mai Al-Khalifa, Minister of Information and member of the ruling family, targeting dissident voices about Bahrain. This campaign has extended to social networking sites such as Facebook, blocking any discussions the authorities consider subversive.

BCHR has conducted some research on the extent of this battle against freedom of expression inside Facebook to report on the following recent incidents of censorship of Facebook entries. BCHR believes that these samples do not comprise an exhaustive list:

- "Discrimination and sectarian oppression in Bahrain, a Systematic Reality" a report, in English, by Nabeel Rajab, president of BCHR, displayed on PressTV ( http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=86562§ionid=3510303 ). This report is posted on the BCHR Facebook page

- A BCHR alert posted on IFEX, which appears on the BCHR Facebook page, on the prosecution of journalist Lamees Dhaif, in both English and Arabic. ( http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/101406 )

- "A Window Overlooking Bahrain," a report in Arabic by Kawther Ali, "Aljazeeratalk" reporter, covering some aspect of recent popular protests and human rights violations in Bahrain ( http://www.aljazeeratalk.net/portal/content/view/4152/56 )

- Amnesty International's recent report on human rights defenders covering Middle East and North Africa, posted on the BCHR Facebook page ( http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/as...0012009ara.pdf ). Brief coverage of this report was also posted on the BBC Arabic site

- An electronic forum by the University of Bahrain students, posted on the BCHR Facebook page, managed by a group of students covering issues of academic and public concern. An electronic vote is displayed on its main page ( http://www.uobvoice.net/forums/index.php?showtopic=747 )

- A "Washington Post" piece on a "Democracy Appeal", a petition addressed to US President Obama by 163 American and overseas politicians, human rights defenders, academics, and others, calling for the U.S.'s commitment to genuine democratization and support of human rights in the Muslim world and a promise to cease supporting autocrats and dictators in this part of the world. This article and the letter with signatories, was posted on Facebook by activist AJ Alsingace, Head of the Human Rights Unit in the HAQ Movement of Civil Liberties and Democracy

- A link to page 4 of the 14 February issue of "Alwasat" newspaper, showing different portraits of human rights violations, with an English comment: "UTTERLY untrue. Bahrain is a safe haven. People enjoy freedom of expression, assembly, religious practice, etc. Children, youth, women and seniors are enjoying it!" This remark and link was posted on BCHR's Facebook page by the activist AJ Alsingace. ( http://www.alwasatnews.com/pdf/default.asp?issue_number=2381&p=1 )

- Facebook provides a free SMS service for its members. The authorities blocked the downloading of the application software from the site, which is required for the Facebook chat service.

What is interesting is that these items and comments are accessible outside of Facebook. BCHR believes that the drive behind the eagerness of the Bahraini Authorities to block these and similar dissident entries on Facebook is the realization that this social site has extensive accessibility and distribution.

Nabeel Rajab, president of BCHR, responded to this campaign:"We consider this campaign to be a war against all forms of expression". He added: "This war has widened to include even social and worldwide renowned sites like Facebook. We are dismayed that this war is spearheaded by Mai Al-Khalifa, a lady modeled as liberal and presented with many medals in recognition of her support to culture and liberalism". Rajab concluded: "We are wary of these accolades. Mai Al-Khalifa's actions, with regards to restricting freedom of expression, should be the basis for the retractions of those accolades.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Send appeals to the Bahraini Authorities asking them to: - lift the ban and blockage of BCHR's Facebook entries and respect the freedom of expression of BCHR's Facebook group members - put an end to the campaign against all forms of freedom of expression and lift the ban on dissident voices on the web - repeal all administrative resolutions targeting web accessibility and restricting freedom of expression, and constrain the Minister of Information's involvement in media censorship - amend the Press Code of 2002, ensuring its conformity to international conventions

APPEALS TO: His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa King of Bahrain

Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa Cabinet Prime Minister Fax: +97 3 1 721 1363

Please copy appeals to the source if possible.


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; Facebook: English Group: http://www.facebook.com/home.php/group.php?gid=44138766349, Arabic Group: http://www.facebook.com/home.php/group.php?gid=50727622539