Sept 18, 2010

In an attempt to halt the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press, coupled with practicing more media blackout and prevention of accurate information publicity, Bahrain Information authority has censored the website of Al-Wefaq Society, the largest political Society in the country. This comes just a few weeks before the Society was to launch its campaign to participate in the parliamentary elections and concurrently with the firm security and media crackdown set to arrest tens of political activists, clergymen, and human rights defenders coupled with an official and programmed campaign to distort their reputations and incite the public against them.

The website's surfers were surprised early in the morning on Friday, the 3rd of September 2010 to find a message indicating the website's blockage, a message Internet users in Bahrain are familiar with and see every now and then while exploring discussion and blog sites, religious forums, or even social and networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, where opinions slating the regime are posted. Eventually, the Information Affairs Authority[1] had justified its resolution to block the website stating that "The website does not comply with applicable rules and regulations pertaining to such activity and based on violating incidents recorded" without making any reference to such violations. The Authority has also relied on Decree Law no. 47 of 2002 pertaining to press regulation, print, and publications, and the Political Societies Law no. 26 of 2005, which are regarded jointly by international standards as laws restricting freedoms. There is a great deal of demand placed by many international human rights organizations like Freedom House[2] and the Committee to Protect Journalists[3] to either adjust or abandon such regulations.

In a move to clampdown on the freedom to publish, being independent or dissenting, the Information Affairs Authority informed Al-Wefaq[4] along with other political societies about its alleged claims of violations in their printed newsletters, which are being electronically uploaded on the societies' websites, . The Authority stated that "The authorization granted to the Society was to issue a newsletter. However, what the Society issues is not classified as such" without giving any justification of incidents of violation. Sources reported that the reason is due to an announcement made by Al-Wefaq Society about its intention to launch a visual and audio service on the website, which is one of the media means the Authority is striving to put its hand on as It had earlier banned Al-Wasat Newspaper[5] from broadcasting any audio or video reports on its website.

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights believes that such censorship is a response by the government for what Al-Wefaq Newsletter publicizes weekly about the violations conducted by the regime against human rights, its condemnation on the regime of publishing the photos of the accused individuals in the media before being brought to a court of law, publishing the ongoing kidnappings carried out by mercenaries of a militia-like group that report to the National Security, and the statement made by the Society's Undersecretary who condemned the approach of the security forces in handling events that took place recently coupled with ongoing violations in Bahrain[6]. The Centre believes that such censorship aims to prevent the public from viewing thoughts and opinions different than or against the regime. The Information Authority imposes a ban on the publication or the exchange of information related to the detained activists, and the Authority also dictates that all civil society organizations have to be on the regime's side; otherwise they will be questioned and harassed[7]. The timing of this censorship has been set in the period prior to the election campaign to be conducted by the Society to participate in the parliamentary elections, to place hindrance on the Block not to benefit from its website to promote itself for such a campaign and thus minimizing its ability of reaching its constituents.

The website censorship is the second of its type faced by a political Society of this size, after the Information Affairs Authority (formerly known as the Ministry of Information and Culture) blocked on January 18, 2009 the website of Waad Political Society without prior notice. The Ministry of Information and Culture (before being restructured to become an authority) enforced a censorship campaign to close down many websites; a campaign that started at the wake of the year 2009 when the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority issued its directives to Internet providers in Bahrain to censor 1040 websites followed by further censorship. The censorship campaign has not stopped and is concurrent with the crackdown against political activists and human rights defenders with more and more websites on which the demos coverage and opposing statement are propagated[8].

This organized censorship campaign on websites and electronic forums is in conflict with the position of Bahrain as a member of the Human Rights Council and being that it alleges to respect and promote freedom of opinion and expression. Furthermore, the censorship campaign is not compliant with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which Bahrain ratified and stipulates that "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

Therefore, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights is appealing to the Government of Bahrain as represented by the Information Affairs Authority to:

• Remove the blockage affecting the websites as per the last crackdown and prior to it. • Abolish all measures oppressing and restricting freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, and information exchange. • Show complete compliance with international obligations and to respect the forms of freedom of expression and freedom to publish as stipulated in international conventions and charters. • Amend the Press Law no. 47 from 2002 so that is in line with international standards of human rights.

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[1]alwasatnews.com/2920 [2]freedomhouse.org [3]cpj.org [4]alwasatnews.com/2918 [5]BCHR Statement [6]al-akhbar.com [7]alwasatnews.com/2916