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Internet censorship denies citizens access to popular public forums, news, alternative information, says BCHR

(BCHR/IFEX) - The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses its concern about the persistent measures taken by the Bahraini authorities to block the flow of information by preventing access to websites and popular online forums.

There are over 535 websites based in Bahrain, focusing on 25 different themes. One-hundred and eleven of these sites are public forums and 60 are allocated to villages and towns, whereas the websites of governmental organizations amount to 59. There are about 200 blogs, mostly operated anonymously for security reasons. In 2007, a well-known blogger, Mahmood Den, was taken to court by a government minister on charges of defamation.

The Bahraini authorities have often banned citizens from certain websites which cover "subversive" or controversial topics, such as: public lands misappropriation, administrative and financial corruption, or official discrimination and favouritism. After the exposure of what is locally dubbed the "Bandergate report", the total number of blocked sites, local and international, exceeded 26.

Bahrainis use online forums to swiftly exchange and debate news, as well as to download pictures and videos on topics which are either not covered, or not accessible through local media outlets. Furthermore, they avail themselves of the instantaneous reporting of events online, specially reporting on protests and public assemblies that are commonly repressed by special forces. Many civil organizations, registered or not, use these forums to communicate with the public through pubic statements, advertisements and reports on their activities.

Blocked sites encompass sites run by Bahrainis and by non-Bahrainis, including those of local forums (public or belonging to villages), popular committees, political organizations, human rights organizations, religious and non-religious groupings, nationalists, electronic newspapers, news and advertisements sites, and even humour sites.

Bahrainis use either proxies or indirect routes to access most well-known and active, but banned, public forums, such as Bahrainonline ( http://www.bahrainionline.com ) and that of Victims of Torture in Bahrain.

The censorship of these websites has been undertaken on the basis of the notorious Press Decree Code no 47 of 2002, which has led to over 14 Bahraini journalists being interrogated, prosecuted, or tried.

These actions by the Bahraini authorities violate the right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and are in breach of Article 19 of the CPPR ratified by Bahrain on 20 September 2006.

RECOMMENDED ACTION:

Send appeals to the Bahraini authorities:
- asking that they lift the ban on all websites related to public, cultural and human rights affairs
- urging them to amend Press Decree Code no. 47 so that it conforms to international human rights standards

APPEALS TO:

His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa, Cabinet Prime Minister
Mr Jehad Bu-Kamal, Minister of Information
Fax: +97 3 1 721 1363

Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

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