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Authorities prevent direct access to online forums

(BCHR/IFEX) - The http://bahrainonline.org and http://shaheed-bh.org websites are well known state-targeted public forums in Bahrain. Recently, for more than the tenth time since their launch, the authorities have prevented direct access to these public sites inside Bahrain. The administration teams of the websites have had to resort to providing different addresses for the public to access the sites.

Bahrainonline is one of the oldest and largest public forums in Bahrain, as well as the earliest to be targeted by the local authorities. It is an independent electronic forum and an easily accessible source of information and news exchange in Bahrain, as well as a host for articles and reports considered subversive by the authorities. During the first quarter of 2005, it was banned and its administrators were incarcerated and prosecuted by the authorities on charges of inciting hatred. After international and local protests, they were later released on bail, but were banned from traveling.

The Shaheed-bh ("Marytr") forum is dedicated to martyrs and victims of torture in Bahrain, and contains language considered to be offensive by the local authorities. As such, its administrators have sought anonymity. In addition to news and other information, the site contains archives of those killed during protests in the nineties, as well as a record of those detained and imprisoned in incidents that have taken place since December 2007.

Electronic sites, among them these leading forums, are used by opposition and human rights groups, as well as social organisations, to publicise their positions and advertise events. They are also considered an arena through which public views are influenced.

There are over 535 electronic sites in Bahrain, on 25 different themes, of which 111 are public forums, 60 are allocated to villages and towns and 59 belong to government organisations. There are about 200 blogs. Most of the bloggers operate anonymously for fear of attacks by the authorities. In 2007, blogger Mahmood Den was taken to court by the municipalities' minister on defamation charges.

BCHR expresses its concerns over the persistent measures undertaken by the Bahraini authorities to block the flow of information by preventing access to electronic sites and popular forums. The authorities' actions violate Article 19 of the ICCPR ratified by Bahrain on 20 September 2006.

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