The Week That Was in Bahrain

Freedom of expression in Bahrain received yet another slap in the face this week with a government ban on what is the kingdom's most famous blog. The Ministry of Information issued a gag order, blocking Mahmood Al Yousif’s blog, among a handful of other sites for breaking publication laws.

The blocking of the site in Bahrain, though easily overcome by bypassing the proxy by using anonymizers, brought more attention to the blog and the level of censorship and freedom of expression in Bahrain than the ministry may have anticipated. In addition to bloggers decrying the unwarranted move, which the ministry withdrew a few days later, newspapers and journalists in particular rallied behind the blogger ridiculing the ministry's decision to block the site.

On October 29, Mahmood announced the gag order to his readers in a matter of fact manner.

“But if I go off the air for too long, you know the reason, and it’s not inconceivable that prisons will be used to silence criticism. You know what to do if this site DOES in fact become blocked… you know the required tools to unblock it,” writes Mahmood.

Fellow blogger Haitham Sabbah was quick to announce to the world the ministry's decision and reason or lack of reason for it.

“Usually, no explanation is given to the web sites owners about the reason their web sites are blocked. However, looking at the official memo, it refers the press law no. 47, passed in 2002, which then added further restrictions on freedom of expression including the prohibition of “defamation of the person of the king and royal family members.” On 24 April, 2005, the Information Ministry issued a decree instructing web site and blog moderators of any site that included information on Bahrain to register with the Ministry and to assume responsibility for all materials published online.

In the past, authorities have blocked access to a number of political sites, including those of opposition groups, because the officials claim that these sites incite “sectarianism” and contain “offensive content.” The criteria for making such determinations, though, are not clear. In some cases, the Ministry of Information claimed it blocked only sites that seek to “create tension between people and to provoke resentful sectarianism.” explains Sabbah.

It later transpired that Mahmood's blog has been blocked because the blogger continued to highlight the Bandargate Scandal, despite a high court order to forget about it.

To lift the ban, Mahmood said he had to make a few concessions to the authorities.

“I hope that this would have demonstrated to the Bahraini authorities that restricting access to information is not the best policy to pursue.

Let me also confirm that I have made some concessions to in order to lift the ban on the site; specifically, I have heeded the “gag order” issued by the High Court published on the 5th of October, 2006 restricting comments and further discussion specifically dealing with their case against Dr. Salah Al-Bandar. I have therefore temporarily removed four articles published in this stream which are held in a queue unavailable to site visitors. These articles will be re-published at the expiry of that gag order. All attendant comments on those articles are also unfortunately sequestered with their parent articles.

All articles and comments published prior to the gag order remain in place.

Based on this and our discussions, the Ministry of Information has agreed to lift the block on Mahmood’s Den and cancel the pending court case,” wrote Mahmood.

The ban was lifted on November 2.

Although Mahmood's blog is now available for the general public, the struggle is still far from over for others.

But rest assured, for Bahrain's bloggers are though cookies, who are demanding answers from authorities, who may in turn simply reply by blocking their sites!

“I'd like to point this out to whoever disagrees with our initiative or finds it too risky: We are not here to whine about the fact that these websites were shut down, we are here because we want certain questions answered. Why is the information provided in the blocked sites being kept away from us? We may very well disagree with everything any of the blocked websites represent, and unless it's the promotion of violence, racism, and general bigotry, we here at BHU feel that the authors should still be able to maintain the right to say it. That's all. We're not campaigning because we're part of their organizations or because we share their opinion, we're doing this to secure the free flow of information in and about Bahrain within the country itself. Is that so wrong?” say the authors of Bahrain-Uncensored.

It is no wonder then that Bahrain's ranking in the World Press Freedom Index stands at 111!

“In the fifth annual Reporters Without Borders Worldwide Press Freedom Index, in between 168 indexed countries, our beloved Arab countries makes sure to be among the worst.

Here is the list in order from “best” to “worst”:
Kuwait – 73
United Arab Emirates – 77
Mauritania – 77
Qatar – 80
Morocco – 97
Lebanon – 107
Jordan – 109
Bahrain – 111
Algeria – 126
Egypt – 133
Palestine – 134
Sudan – 139
Tunisia – 148
Yemen – 149
Libya – 152
Iraq -154
Syria – 153
Saudi Arabia – 161
Oman – ?,” laments Haitham Sabbah.


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