Google Search churns out nearly half a million entries in 0.04 seconds when you enter Bahrain and censorship in that white space we all run to when our memory fails us.
Scary? Not really, because so far the government's censorship efforts have not totally shut up all those who want to freely express their opinions. With all the country's newspapers implementing ridgid self-censorship, citizens have turned to blogs, which have mushroomed overnight. But with a system bent on ensuring that ‘thou shall not speak your mind unless we say it is OK’, even personal blogs have to be registered with the kingdom's Ministry of Information – a rule which is yet to be implemented.
With the war on personal blogs in full throttle, authorities are also minding the world wide web. So far, online forums, the website of a local human rights organisation and that of a political society have been shut for breaking the rules of what many describe as being an oppressive Press and Publications Law. Also, three bloggers were detained briefly for operating a popular Arabic language online forum, which is still blocked in Bahrain.
Against this backdrop of repressive laws, one Bahraini blogger Mahmood Al Yousif has risen to the occasion everytime there was a stand off with authorities regarding freedom of expression, having decided to publicly call a spade a spade. He is one of a handful of bloggers who are actually brave enough to put not only their name but also their face and weight in a blog.
But this fame didn't come without a pricetag. Despite enjoying the Godfather of Bahraini Bloggers status, Mahmood's blog was also blocked by authorities for steering into murky topics I am too afraid to venture into as I am planning a trip back home soon.
His latest award for being an outspoken citizen is a summons to the Criminal Investigation Department this morning for “a chat”. It turns out that a minister has taken offence to an article he wrote and has complained to the police. Now Mahmood has to appear in front of the Public Prosecutor tomorrow morning!
“Well, a public figure has taken umbrage with what I have written against him, and rather than contacting me to complain, or even entered a public comment refuting what I have written, he went through the legal route and lodged a case against me with the police, which is fully his right of course; however, that is not going to change the subjectivity of calling someone “stupid” or any other adjective used to describe someone or change the fact of his performance in the previous Shura council nor the fact that he has had business cases levied against him at some point of his life,” writes Mahmood.
Will this shut him up?
“This action to me is nothing more than trying to shut his critics up by force of law – if any of these cases actually go to court in the first place – waste the courts’ time and efforts as they do have much more important cases going through them that take years, or at best terrorise his critics into submitting to never criticising him again! Well, this ain’t gonna work with me! I criticise to better this country as a concerned citizen, and shall continue to do so regardless of these frivolous cases.
“And why pick on me? Well, I am known! Hence, I am an easy target. I am sure I can bring out several comments and posts written by anonymous persons in the multitude of fora within and without Bahrain which he just could not touch; but Mahmood Al-Yousif, ah! he’s exposed! un-anonymous! known! and we have his full contact details, his family and his points of views, so let’s attack him! Let’s make an example of him!
“Further, I have suspected that ministers of the realm do not have the time of day to scratch an itch, let alone cruise websites and personal blogs routing through them with fine tooth combs looking for perceived libelous material against their exalted personalities. Judging by this incident, I know now that I am sorely mistaken. But as I have criticised other ministers over the lifetime of this blog, and none bothered to take me to court or lodge a complaint against me with the police, let me revise that assessment and not generalise but specify that maybe, actually in all probability, understand that only this particular minister is not being kept busy enough! Mr Prime Minister, can you give him more “portfolios” to fill his time? Please? Maybe then he would pay more attention to his job, better his ministry and staff to get them all (including himself) to provide the necessary services to the community with alacrity and expeditiously,” he explains.