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Authorities ban Blackberry users from sending news bulletins

(BCHR/IFEX) - The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses its deep concern over the authorities' continued attempts to screen news and information that does not support its own political agenda. This was reflected in a recent decision by the Ministry of Information and Culture to ban the sending of news bulletins through short text messages by Blackberry users.

"Al-Wasat" newspaper reported that the Ministry of Information and Culture banned the exchange of news bulletins via mobile phones without permission from the ministry, and has threatened to punish those individuals and newspapers responsible for the messages with legal action. The ministry justified its position by claiming that the news bulletins had caused chaos and confusion among the public.

The Ministry of Information and Culture is headed by Sheikha Mai Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, a member of the ruling family. Since she became minister, Bahrain's position has declined in international indicators related to freedom of opinion and expression. Some activists have even gone so far as to name her the "guillotine" of the Internet because of the large number of electronic websites, forums and blogs she has shut down.

The Blackberry service provides its subscribers with several advantages that are not available on other phones, including the ability to send news bulletins or the latest updates free of charge to a list of subscribers. The feature has made these types of phones very popular among Bahraini youth. More than ten thousand individuals subscribe to the service. Some local newspapers as well as many political, cultural and religious organisations benefited from the service by using the feature to broadcast their news to a wide range of subscribers.

The BCHR believes that the Ministry of Information and Culture's attempt to block these news services is part of a move to control the types of news stories that reach people. However, it is difficult to impose prior censorship on this Blackberry feature, or to monitor the source of the broadcasts.

According to the BCHR, the ministry order is a violation of citizens' right to obtain news and information, and their freedom of opinion and expression, as stipulated in international conventions, especially Article 19 from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 19 states, "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."

BCHR demands that the Ministry of Information lift the ban on the Blackberry broadcasts and respect the public's right to obtain news and information. BCHR also urges the authorities to respect Bahrain's obligations as a member of the Human Rights Council.

BCHR further calls for a review of the laws restricting freedom of opinion and expression, in particular the Press and Publications Law of 2002, to ensure that they comply with international standards and conventions related to human rights.
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