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Bahrain's 'sneaky' internet

Rights groups first recorded disruptions in June around street demonstrations that arose amidst a general economic slowdown, and directly followed the government’s decision to strip citizenship from a prominent cleric.

Advocacy groups say a nightly disruption of internet access in the Bahraini neighborhood of the prominent Shiite cleric Sheik Isa Qassim targeted in a government crackdown appears to be deliberate
Advocacy groups say a nightly disruption of internet access in the Bahraini neighborhood of the prominent Shiite cleric Sheik Isa Qassim targeted in a government crackdown appears to be deliberate

REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo

This statement was originally published on bahrainrights.org on 25 August 2016.

On 25 August 2016, a coalition of nearly 30 organizations from around the world called on authorities in Bahrain to restore the internet in the country. Citing complex disruptions to internet service that were recorded in the neighborhood of Duraz, the letter demands that the telecoms authority turn the internet back on and commit to transparency related to shutdown orders.

“It's clear that there is a coordinated effort across several ISPs to shut down mobile towers in Duraz at the same time every night, and deliberately degrade landline Internet traffic,” said Bill Marczak, co-founder of Bahrain Watch.

Rights groups first recorded disruptions in June around street demonstrations that arose amidst a general economic slowdown, and directly followed the government's decision to strip citizenship from a prominent cleric. The non-profit organization Bahrain Watch then conducted an in-depth technical study of the shutdown to understand how it was implemented, which turned out to be a more complex form than seen before.

“The newly established regulatory bodies have given the authorities additional powers to control freedoms over the internet,”, observed the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. “Through these bodies and the regulations it has imposed, the government has tightened the control and surveillance on the Internet – gaining easier access to Internet users thus having the ability for quick arrest and prosecution.”

The letter, which was delivered to the Telecommunications Reglatory Authority of Bahrain, among other agencies, makes specific recommendations to authorities, including canceling any “service restriction orders” to telecommunications companies that enabled the shutdown; providing transparency around such orders; and respecting the right of Bahrainis to freedom of expression.

The coalition signers of the letter are members of the #KeepitOn campaign to fight internet shutdowns around the world, and include groups from as far afield as Pakistan, Uganda, the Cook Islands, Lebanon, the United States, and Malaysia. Earlier this year UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai pushed back strongly against the use of shutdowns during protests, and in July the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution that specifically condemns internet shutdowns. The Global Network Initiative also joined the Industry Dialogue — which together include Facebook, Google, Microsoft, AT&T and Vodafone — to speak out against shutdowns. This statement was swiftly followed by a policy position from the GSMA, one of the world's largest technology associations, that laid out strict standards for orders issued to telcos to restrict service.

Read the full letter here.

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