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Dozens of websites and electronic forums blocked

(BCHR/IFEX) - 4 September 2010 - The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses deep concern over the Bahraini authorities' continuous actions against freedom of opinion and expression by blocking websites. The latest action consists of closing dozens of websites and online forums in an organized campaign aimed to consolidate media blackouts on political activists, religious figures, as well as defenders of human rights.

BCHR has received numerous complaints from owners of websites which were blocked without warning. Among the blocked websites is BahraniNet.net, which is known for its rapid media coverage and photos of protests and the instability in the country. It constantly follows up on news of arrests and publishes press statements by the opposition and human rights organizations. These are topics that the local press usually do not convey as a result of the regime's control over audio, visual and printed media.

Several other similar websites known for publishing oppositional views were blocked, as well as some religious and social websites. The majority of the recently-blocked websites are discussion forums that belong to Shiite villages; villages witnessing continuous nightly unrest, and ongoing protests for several months because of the discrimination they have suffered, and the constant political efforts to change the demographics. These villages have witnessed the takeover of land and the coasts by the king and his family, in addition to the arrest of many of the protestors in the villages.

Moreover, the Yemeni website "Taiz today", which concentrates on local Yemeni news and some news from the Arab world, was also blocked. It is believed that the reason for this is that the site has been publishing statements and reports by the BCHR.

This web crackdown coincided with appeals by parties close to the regime aired on Bahrain TV, where they called on the government to block websites. The parties claimed that some sites "spread poisonous ideas and damage national unity", incriminating several websites that publish documented coverage with photos and evidence of the violations of citizen rights' in Bahraini villages committed by security forces. In addition, the websites in question have been publicizing cases of kidnappings allegedly committed by the National Security Apparatus (NSA), and incidents of physical and sexual abuse by the NSA militias.

In the absence of independent press and media and with the governmental domination over all sources of information, these online forums and websites have become competitors with newspapers and local media in terms of the speed of news reports. They also discuss freedom of speech and sensitive and taboo subjects. The ability of these sites to document political and human rights issues is being curtailed by the authorities.

Among the recently blocked sites are:

Village of Sar: http://www.ahrarsar.com
Village of Sanabis: http://www.forums.sanabis.net
Public forum: http://www.alsarh.org
Village of Sitra Forum: http://www.satrawicool.com/vb/index.php
Village of Maameer Forum: http://www.maameer.org/vb/
Online news site: http://www.ezaonline.com/
Islamic Site: http://www.yamahdinet.net
Islamic Audio: http://www.mahdimedia.net
Public forum: http://www.omalbaneen.org/
Public forum: http://alqrayyamatam.net/vb/index.php
Village of Maameer Forum: http://www.maameerna.com/
Sitra Forum: http://www.sitraisland.net
Village of Malkiya Forum: http://www.malkiya.net/vb
Public forum: http://www.aljnoobonline.org
Village of Karzakan Forum: http://www.ahrarkarzakan.org

In addition to these sites, Google cached pages have been blocked.

The Committee to Protect Journalists had previously written a letter to the king of the country in 2009 expressing great concern about the web crackdown led by Bahraini authorities against independent and essential websites that discuss social, political and human rights issues. Yet, hundreds of websites are still blocked in Bahrain, including the BCHR website.

The recent blockage campaign coincides with the security and media campaign run by the Bahraini authorities. This is aimed at many political activists, religious figures and human rights defenders in an organized campaign designed to arrest and discredit them at the local and international level.

It also contradicts Bahrain's position as a member of the Human Rights Council and its claims to respect freedom of opinion and expression. The government's actions contradict Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Bahrain, which stipulates: "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."

Thus, the BCHR demands the following from the Bahraini government:

- To lift the ban and blockage against all public affairs, cultural, social, legal, political and religious websites.
- The withdrawal of all actions that would restrict freedom of opinion and expression, or prevent the transmission of information.
- To commit to its international obligations and respect all forms of freedom of expression as enshrined in international conventions and treaties.
- To amend Press Law No. 47 of 2002 and ensure that it is in line with international standards of human rights.

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