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Authorities block page of online group calling for demonstrations

(BCHR/IFEX) - 6 February 2011 - In a new violation of freedom of opinion, expression and publishing, and in a step that reflects a state of confusion, apprehension and anticipation, the Bahraini authorities blocked an online group on the social network Facebook, which calls on people to go out and protest against government policies, similarly to what has happened in Egypt and Tunisia.

Two days after the "Revolution of 14th February in Bahrain" was launched on Facebook, the Information Affairs Authority blocked the group's page. The group urges citizens to go down to the streets, demand social justice and protest against official policies of sectarian discrimination and continuous arbitrary arrests of those who oppose government tactics. The people behind the group are not known, but it has spread widely among the youth in Bahraini areas and villages that suffer from marginalization and discrimination. The group selected 14 February to be the start of the protests, which coincides with the 10th anniversary of the National Action Charter.

This is not the first time that the authorities have blocked websites, blogs or electronic forums. Many Bahraini bloggers and Internet users have had to resort to using pseudonyms in local online discussion forums. The government recently arrested some bloggers and online activists in an attempt to curb the wave of the use of technology in exposing violations. It arrested prominent blogger Ali Abdulemam, as well as the academic blogger Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace, and accused them of terrorism. It also prosecuted online activist Mohammed Al-Rashid due to information he published on forums.

While the government claims that it only uses censorship to block pornographic websites and those that incite violence and raise sectarian tension, reality proves that censorship tools are primarily targeted at suppressing the voices and opinions of those who oppose and defy its policies, or those which uncover its transgressions and violations of human rights. The websites of both BCHR and the Arab Network for Human Rights Information have remained blocked for years.

The BCHR believes that amidst the rapid development of technology it has become difficult for governments to entirely block all websites. However the authorities' insistence on blocking critical sites only strengthens its position on the black lists of authoritarian and undemocratic countries. Reporters Without Borders had already listed Bahrain among its Enemies of the Internet.

BCHR demands that the government of Bahrain:

• Lift the ban on all public, discussion, cultural, social, human rights, political and religious websites;
• Reverse all procedures that restrict freedom of opinion and expression or that prevent the transmission of information;
• Meet its international commitments by respecting all forms of freedom of expression, as is stated in international charters and covenants;
• Amend Press law 47 of 2002 in accordance with the international standards on human rights.

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