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Ministry of Information undersecretary orders blocking of 1,040 websites

(BCHR/IFEX) - The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is alarmed to learn that a further grip by the local authorities was introduced on electronic sites, in continuation of a Ministry of Information campaign initiated earlier in 2009 by Ms Mai Al-Khalifa, a member of the ruling family.

On 24 August 2009, Mohammed Albanki, the newly appointed Ministry of Information undersecretary, sent a letter to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) in Bahrain ordering the blocking of a further 1,040 sites, based on a January 2009 ministerial resolution, regulating the blocking of websites. The letter from Albanki referred to Article 2 of the resolution, which states that "All telecommunications companies and Internet service providers shall block pornographic websites that breach public morality", thus giving the impression that the blocked sites are of a "pornographic" nature. Detailed information on the targeted sites, including server names, the sites' IP addresses and the originating countries, was also attached to the undersecretary's letter.

Since the Ministry of Information initiated and led its website regulation campaign, hundreds of websites, inside and outside Bahrain, have been blocked and banned within the country. These include many electronic public forums belonging to villages, religious, cultural and political establishments, as well as opposition and human rights organizations. The campaign did not exclude bloggers and specific pages in the Facebook and YouTube sites. The common element among these sites is that freedom of expression is respected and many subjects, which are considered subversive by the authorities and not favoured, are reported and discussed freely.

"We are appalled by this approach of abrupt silencing and the abusive use of power to block access to the Internet. The said shameful Ministry of Information resolution early this year has resulted in the blocking of any sites which speak about public affairs without being controllable by the authorities," BCHR President Nabeel Rajab said. "This is not acceptable and has resulted in laying down Bahrain in the black list of countries (which are) against the use of technology . . . People can still access websites, irrespective of the wealth and expertise spent on the web blocking campaign," Rajab continued.

"If the authorities have an issue with these sites, they should revert to the judiciary, not administrative orders," Rajab added.


RECOMMENDED ACTION:

Send appeals to the authorities urging them to:

- lift the block on all websites related to public, cultural and human rights affairs in Bahrain or other countries

- respect the country's vows and commitments to international conventions, of which Bahrain is a signatoree, as well as the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review, which includes amendments of legislation which violates freedom of expression and access to information

- cease using administrative orders to block sites and revert to the judiciary, while at the same time ensuring that this does not violate basic rights


APPEALS TO:

His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa
King of Bahrain

Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa
Cabinet Prime Minister
Fax: +97 3 1 721 1363

Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

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