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Bahrain Moves Forward with Measures to Centralize Internet Censorship

8 August 2016 - The government of Bahrain introduced further restrictions to the right to freedom of expression over the Internet last week, centralizing website-blocking powers under Bahrain’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA).

On 5 August 2016, the head of the TRA Board of Directors, Mohammed Ahmed Al-Amer, issued Decision 12/2016 regarding regulations on safety over the Internet. The decision states that all telecommunication companies in Bahrain must purchase and use a unified technical system for blocking websites. The control over this system will be centralized and entirely managed by the TRA.

During the previous years, and albeit not having a centralized Internet filtering system, the Bahraini government has been indirectly enforcing its filtering policies to all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the country through orders from the Information Affairs Authority (IAA) and the Ministry of Interior, which the ISPs are obliged to follow in order to maintain their licenses with the TRA. However, with the new centralized system, the government will take direct control of the filtering process, allowing government agents  to block content they deem undesirable.

It is believed that this new centralized filtering system is linked to the recently-awarded USD$1.2 million tender awarded to the Canadian company Netsweeper for a “national website filtering solution” in February 2016.

Hundreds of website are blocked in Bahrain. On the pretext of combatting terrorism, authorities have blocked websites critical of government policies and actions, including news sites, human rights organizations homepages, and Shia religious websites. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights’ (BCHR) website has been blocked since 2006. Recently, the authorities have also blocked BCHR’s alternative website addresses created to circumvent the government Bahrain. On the other hand, many websites affiliated with Da’esh (ISIS) can be easily accessed in Bahrain.

The TRA is a governmental body whose members are appointed by royal decree. Its main responsibilities are to regulate mobile phone services and ISPs. The TRA is also responsible for licensing telecommunication providers. Although ostensibly a purely regulatory agency, the TRA is used by the government to monitor activists and restrict the freedom of expression. In February 2016, the TRA revoked the license of the telephone and Internet services provider 2Connect for alleged failure to comply with national security obligations, including not providing a plan to allow security units’ access to the calls data and access related information sent over the provider’s network. 

We believe that the authorities are escalating restrictions on freedom of Internet in order to silence free, critical voices. BCHR’s President Nabeel Rajab was arrested in June and is being tried over charges related to tweeting and retweeting remarks regarding credible allegation of torture in Bahrain’s Jau prison and human rights violations in the war in Yemen.

We, the undersigned, condemn these repressive measures, and call on the government of Bahrain to cease its restrictions on digital freedom and provide a space for its people to practice their rights to freedom of expression and opinion.

 

Signatories:

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy (BIRD)
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
Justice Human Rights Organizations (JHRO)

Update: Further Deterioration in the Health of Nabeel Rajab

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is alarmed about information received regarding the further deterioration of the health of its president, leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, in detention.

As reported by his wife, Sumaya Rajab, on 4 August, Bahraini authorities delayed urgent hospital appointments until early September. Rajab was scheduled to attend a consultation with specialists at the Bahrain Defense Force Hospital in order to discuss an operation for the removal of gallstones and an operation to treat an ulcer on his back.

Prior to his arrest on 13 June 2016, the SurgiCare clinic in Bahrain had recommended that he have surgery for the ulcer following treatment to clear a related infection with antibiotics. According to information received by BCHR, this ulcer has now worsened to the level of bleeding due to the poor conditions in detention. Rajab has requested his wife to provide bandages for the bleeding.

In addition, the Bahraini authorities have also postponed a further consultation with a blood disease specialist, who is supposed to treat Rajab’s immunity problems which are caused by a low white blood cell count, a condition that Rajab had not experienced prior to his detention.

Since his arrest, Rajab has been placed at West Riffa police station in solitary confinement and under extremely poor conditions. The living conditions in his cell are highly unsanitary, as the toilet and shower are unclean, unhygienic, and filled with potentially disease-carrying sludge. There is either no or very little water in the bathroom. Rajab has occasional contact with other inmates for no more than a few hours or overnight. The effect of these poor conditions is clearly resulting in his deteriorating health as he has requested painkillers to treat severe headaches and lower back pain, which have been provided by his family.

On 28 June 2016, he had been transferred to hospital on an emergency basis due to irregular heartbeats. This was his only access to specialist medical treatment since his arrest.

Despite Rajab’s poor health condition, the judge of the high criminal court refused to release him on 2 August 2016. The government has already placed a travel ban on Rajab, and his continued detention - at risk to his health – can be considered punishment for his human rights work.

In addition to being a founder and the President of BCHR, Rajab is the Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Deputy Secretary General of FIDH, and a member of the MENA Advisory Board of Human Rights Watch.

Rajab is facing up to 15 years in prison for a number of charges related to tweets and retweets concerning torture allegations at Jau Prison and the Saudi-led war in Yemen. His trial is ongoing despite lack of evidence by the prosecution.

BCHR is deeply concerned about Nabeel Rajab’s well-being. We therefore call on the international community to press for his basic human rights to be respected, for his immediate and unconditional release, and for an end to the government of Bahrain’s reprisals against human rights defenders.

For updated information please see: http://www.bahrainrights.org/en/updates-arrest-and-detention-bchrs-president-nabeel-rajab

Bahrain 'internet curfew' for village, say activists

Nightly mobile network disruption has been detected in a Bahraini village at the centre of recent protests, an advocacy group has said.

Bahrain Watch has published a report in which it describes disruption to 3G and 4G networks in the village of Duraz.

Anti-government protests have been held in Duraz, which is home to Shia Muslim cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim.

Phone calls and SMS messages functioned normally during tests by Bahrain Watch, but data services were not available.

Read full article here.

Foreign Office Accused Of “Covering Up” Bahrain Torture Allegations

A Foreign Office minister has been accused of “covering up” an alleged case of torture in the state of Bahrain, a key Middle Eastern ally whose prisons system has received millions of pounds worth of support from Britain.

The statements by MP Tobias Ellwood concern the case of Mohammed Ramadan, a 32-year-old airport policeman who was arrested for involvement in the killing of a police officer in February 2014 and subsequently sentenced to death. Activists say he confessed falsely to the crime after being tortured.

On 19 April this year, Ellwood submitted an answer to the House of Commons in which he said British embassy officials had been in direct contact with Bahrain’s prison ombudsman and that the watchdog, which is part of a programme that receives £2 million worth of support from the Foreign Office, had told his department there had been “no allegations of mistreatment or torture” in relation with the case.

Read full article here

REPORT: INTERNET DISRUPTION AT BAHRAIN RALLY SITE DELIBERAT

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- The nightly disruption of internet access in a Bahraini neighborhood home to a prominent Shiite cleric targeted in a government crackdown appears to be deliberate, an advocacy group said Thursday.

With independent news gathering growing more difficult in Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, the report suggests the internet slowdown is intended to disrupt protesters in the Duraz neighborhood. That's where protesters have held a sit-in and demonstrated in support of Sheikh Isa Qassim, who lost his citizenship in June over government allegations he fanned extremism

Locals in Duraz have complained about poor internet connectivity in recent weeks, as well as heavy police presence. Each night around 7 p.m. and lasting until about 1 a.m., online traffic there slows to less than a crawl on mobile phones and some fixed-line internet connections, Bahrain Watch said.

Read full article here

Nabeel Rajab Trial Postponed a Second Time, Faces 15 Years Imprisonment Over Tweets

2 August 2016 - The High Criminal Court in Bahrain today postponed for the second time the trial of prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab until 5 September 2016. The charges against Rajab amount to a serious violation of his right to freedom of expression. The judge again refused a request made by Rajab’s lawyer for his release on the basis of his poor health and the lack of evidence presented by the prosecution. The undersigned NGOs strongly condemn the ongoing harassment of Nabeel Rajab and the further extension of his detention.

The Government of Bahrain first arrested Rajab on 2 April 2015, charging him in relation to to comments he shared on Twitter concerning torture at Jau Prison and the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Authorities initially released him on 13 July 2015, but they did not drop the charges. Less than a year later, on 13 June 2016, the government once again incarcerated Rajab on a separate and new charge of spreading “false or malicious news, statements, or rumors”.

According to Rajab’s representation, government security forces kept Rajab in solitary confinement since his arrest under very poor conditions, thereby causing his health to seriously deteriorate. His lawyer has stated that government security forces regularly subject Rajab to harassment in detention. In addition, government officials closely monitor his conversations during family visits, thereby violating his right to privacy. The government recently denied compassionate leave after the death of a close relative.

Rajab will remain detained at least until his next trial date, which the courts continue to postpone. The High Criminal Court in Bahrain first postponed Rajab’s trial on 12 July, where the court first heard all charges made over a year ago, and his lawyers learned of an additional charge related to insulting Saudi Arabia.

Rajab faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of spreading “false or malicious news, statements, or rumours” under article 133 of Bahrain’s penal code. If convicted under article 215 of the penal code for “offending a foreign country [Saudi Arabia]” for tweets related to the Saudi-led war in Yemen, he faces a further two years imprisonment. He faces an additional three-year sentence if convicted of “offending a statutory body” under article 216 of the penal code for comments relating to Jau prison in Bahrain. In total, Rajab could serve up  to 15 years imprisonment for his statements over Twitter.

The Government of Bahrain must end its continued reprisals against human rights defenders. We call on the international community to speak out strongly against the arrest of Nabeel Rajab. We further demand that the Government of Bahrain immediately and unconditionally release Rajab, and begin respecting his basic human rights.

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy (BIRD)

European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)

Justice Human Rights Organizations (JHRO)

Index - Why is Nabeel Rajab a repeated target of the Bahraini authorities?

Nabeel Rajab, the Bahraini human rights activist and Index on Censorship award winner, is due to stand trial on 2 August over comments he made on Twitter criticising government institutions. In Bahrain, such comments can land you in jail, as Rajab has seen before, having spent two years behind bars for tweets made in 2012.

Read the entire article here.

NGOs to Sec. Kerry: Send US Ambassador to Nabeel Rajab’s trial

1 August 2016

The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Kerry,

We write to raise our serious concerns with the Government of Bahrain’s continued repression against peaceful dissent, including the renewed prosecution of Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR). The State Department Spokesperson recently noted the Government of Bahrain’s detention of Nabeel is “not consistent” with its promise to implement human rights reforms. In June, Vice President Biden called King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa to express “strong concerns regarding recent negative developments” in the country, while you, yourself, recently stated that Bahraini authorities’ recent actions “undermine Bahrain’s cohesion and security” and threaten broader regional stability. Yet, the crisis in Bahrain is continuing to worsen.

On 13 June, the Bahraini government arrested Rajab, the country’s most prominent human rights defender. He is the Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Deputy Secretary General of International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and a member of the MENA Advisory Board of Human Rights Watch (HRW). The Public Prosecution subsequently charged him with allegedly “spreading false news and rumors about the internal situation in a bid to discredit Bahrain,” in connection with two television interviews. While in jail on this charge, he was then sent to trial for a previous charge related to two tweets he posted in 2015. If he is found guilty in the latter case, Rajab may face up to 13 years in prison, merely for exercising his right to freedom of expression.

Since Rajab’s arrest, authorities have subjected him to solitary confinement and unsanitary living conditions. Rajab has lost approximately 15 pounds and suffers from a number of health conditions, which have worsened since his arrest. Bahraini authorities have postponed his trial, and refused his defense lawyers’ request for release pending his court appearance.

Rajab’s arrest comes amid a deepening human rights and political crisis in Bahrain, in which the government has moved to close nearly all space for civil society and peaceful dissent. The Bahraini government has shut down the largest opposition political party in the country, more than doubled the prison sentence of that party’s leader for his peaceful speech, and revoked the citizenship of Sheikh Isa Qassim, the preeminent spiritual leader for Bahrain’s Shi’a community.

The United States, as a close ally of Bahrain, must demonstrate a firm commitment to human rights in Bahrain and show that further steps to silence peaceful dissent will not be overlooked. Therefore, we call on you to direct the U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain, William Roebuck, to attend Rajab’s trial tomorrow, 2 August, as an international observer. His presence will help demonstrate that further moves toward repression in Bahrain only undermine the country’s stability and strain the bilateral relationship.

Sincerely,

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy (BIRD)
European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR)
Human Rights First (HRF)
Justice Human Rights Organizations (JHRO)
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR)
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Solidarity Center

Bahrain: Detainee Dies of 'Medical Condition' in Custody

A detainee being held in the Gulf island kingdom of Bahrain has died while in custody, authorities announced Sunday.

The Ministry of Interior said in a statement that the unidentified detainee died of natural causes after being taken to the Salmaniya Medical Complex. It gave no further details on the circumstances of his death other than that he was suffering from an unspecified "medical condition" and had been referred to a doctor. Questions sent to the ministry seeking clarification went unanswered.

Bahrain's Sunni-led government has faced years of low-level unrest following its crushing of a 2011 Arab Spring-inspired uprising led by the country's Shiite majority. Authorities have intensified a crackdown on political opponents and activists in recent weeks, and earlier this month ordered the country's main Shiite opposition group, al-Wefaq, to be dissolved.

Opposition activists and rights groups have previously alleged that some detainees face torture in the country, which hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. The government says it is opposed to any kind of mistreatment.

Read the entire article here.