7th APRIL 2015 - Vol.XXXVIII No.018
Local News

Activists rap web clamp

BAHRAIN's new war on porn has been used as cover to silence a host of political websites containing non-sexual content, according to activists.

The Culture and Information Ministry has blocked access to a raft of pornographic websites since last week - including proxy sites that traditionally allowed users to bypass web restrictions.

A ministerial issued by Culture and Information Minister Shaikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa on January 14 informed all telecommunications companies and Internet Service Providers to prevent access to pornographic and unauthorised websites banned by the ministry

However, president of the now-dissolved Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) Nabeel Rajab claimed it went much further than that.

He said the ban included websites of local public discussion forums, popular committees, political establishments, human rights organisations, religious and non-religious groups, nationalists, electronic newspapers, news and advertisements sites and humour sites.

People trying to reach blocked sites are now directed to a page informing them that the website is banned by a ministerial order from the Culture and Information Ministry.

The BCHR claims the web clamp tightens the grip on freedom of expression and access to information.

"The BCHR believes that this act restricts the access of local Internet users to certain websites which cover subversive or unfavourable topics like the misappropriation of public lands, administrative and financial corruption, sectarian discrimination and favouritism," it said.

According to the BCHR, there are now 69 blocked websites that have nothing to do with pornographic material.

"The Bahraini government has to wake up and realise that it is the year 2009 and its latest actions will not block people from reality and truth," said Mr Rajab, who described Bahrain's online censorship as dictatorial and repressive.

He also claimed the order would not stop people accessing banned websites - adding that when the BCHR's website was banned at the end of 2006 the number of people accessing the site doubled within four weeks.

He said it now had more than five times the number of visitors than it did previously.

"With the technology of today the government won't be able to continue shutting websites, instead it will add to our deteriorated reputation in human rights and freedom of expression," said Mr Rajab.

"I don't believe this action will have any impact to stop people reaching the truth and realities.

"Bahrainis don't have problems in accessing them (websites) - they find solutions.

"A lot of people are giving solutions free of charge and human rights organisations are helping us today - they teach human rights activists how to get through, so it is not difficult anymore.

"We will launch a campaign against this ban, we think it is a backward step especially in a country which is a member of the Human Rights Commission."

The BCHR claim the actions of the Bahraini authorities violates freedom of expression as stipulated in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights signed by Bahrain on September 20 2006.

It is calling on Bahrain authorities to lift the ban on all electronic sites about public, cultural and human rights related to Bahrain and others.

Meanwhile, Mahmood Al Yousif - dubbed Bahrain's "blogfather" - said up until July 30 last year bloggers had identified 40 websites that had been banned by the old Information Ministry.

The ban was on various political and human rights sites, including one belonging to the government-registered National Democratic Action Society.

Mr Al Yousif said the recent ban went further and included a block not only on websites, but also on proxy sites.

But he said the move to block some websites wasn't logical, such as Google Translate - a free Arabic/English translation service.

Also blocked is the website of the UK's National Lottery, where people can check which numbers have been drawn.

An Information Ministry official confirmed a ban had been imposed on pornographic websites, but wasn't aware of bans on other websites and would not comment further.

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