The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to protest
deterioration of press freedom in Bahrain and your government's ongoing
campaign against critical or opposition Web sites and blogs. The
crackdown against those sites has resulted in dozens of them being blocked inside
the kingdom, according to local and international human rights and press freedom
CPJ is concerned about a campaign targeting independent or
critical Web sites that discuss social,
political, and human rights issues, especially with the backdrop of an
escalating crackdown on Shi'a activists, opposition figures, and human rights
defenders. In January, local media outlets published ministerial order 1/2009,
issued by Culture and Information Minister Sheikha Mai bint
Muhammad Al Khalifa, ordering
telecommunications companies to block
specific Web sites without warning or providing specific reasons when ordered to
by the ministry. Dozens of blogs, discussion forums, and sites
of local and regional human rights groups have been blocked since.
Authorities have described their campaign as one against
pornographic and socially inappropriate
Web sites, but CPJ research reveals that the sites of dozens of human rights
groups, opposition or independent bloggers, and political organizations have
been blocked inside Bahrain. Article 2
of the order states that "all telecommunications companies and Internet service
providers must block Web sites that are
pornographic or violate public
decency," but Article 1 compels those companies to block Web sites on order from the
minister, presumably even if they are
not of a pornographic nature.
Freedom of expression advocates have argued that before this
order was issued, Web sites
and blogs that the government deemed troublesome were blocked anyway. But multiple
sources told CPJ that the
number of blocked sites has risen exponentially as of late. The Ministry of
Culture and Information is using advanced technology
that can filter keywords and block sites, multiple sources inside Bahrain told
sites feature a screen that reads: "This Web site has been blocked for
violating regulations and laws of the Kingdom of Bahrain."
On February 11, the Ministry of Culture and Information told
Reuters that some Web sites had been blocked
because of technical problems and that this would be resolved. But many sites
blocked before February 11 are still inaccessible, local sources told CPJ.
For example, the Google Translation service has been blocked
for the last three months, sources told CPJ. Abduljalil Alsingace, who blogs at
alsingace.katib.org, told CPJ that
his blog was blocked on February 10, after he posted a petition by an
international group of intellectuals. Among the demands of the petition was the
lifting of a travel ban on Alsingace. Alsingace migrated his entries to alsingace.blogspot.com. Both of his blogs
remain inaccessible inside Bahrain,
he told CPJ. Mahmood al-Yusef's blog, Mahmood's Den, which covers political
and social issues among its topics, has been blocked for years within the country.
Most sources told CPJ that forums that discuss cultural,
social, or political matters perceived as sensitive by the government are the
most targeted Web sites. The political forum Multaqa al-Bahrain, the cultural forum
al-Bahrain, and the cultural and political forum
al-Sarh al-Watani have all been
blocked. In addition, the Web sites of the Bahrain Center
for Human Rights and the Arab Network for Human
Rights Information have also been blocked for long periods of time and remain inaccessible
inside the kingdom. Dozens
of sites that provide proxy services
are also inaccessible.
CPJ believes that Web sites and blogs must not be blocked arbitrarily. On the rare
occasions when blocking a site is justified, it is incumbent on the authorities
to make clear the reasons why. Without such a mechanism in place, as is
currently the case in Bahrain,
authorities have arbitrarily engaged in the censorship of critical voices by
simply blocking access to them under the cover of protecting decency or
national unity. CPJ research reveals that many sites blocked inside the kingdom
have been guilty of nothing more than addressing social, political, or human
rights concerns through a critical prism. That alone must not be grounds for
These acts of censorship contradict multiple provisions of
the Bahraini Constitution, which guarantees the right of freedom of expression.
They are also in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights, which Bahrain
ratified in 2006, which guarantees the freedom "to seek, receive, and impart
CPJ also wants to draw your attention to two lawsuits that
have recently been filed by government agencies against two independent journalists.
Maryam al-Shrooqi, a journalist for the independent
daily al-Wasat, is on trial for writing an article titled "Fake
on August 27, 2008.
The article examines hiring discrimination at the Department of Civil
Services supposedly based on religious affiliation. Al-Shrooqi told CPJ
article was based on interviews with multiple sources. Nevertheless, in
December 2008, the Department of Civil Services filed a criminal lawsuit
"insulting" it. Initially she faced two additional charges of
"fabricating lies" and "defaming" the Department of Civil Services, although
have since been dropped, al-Shrooqi told CPJ.
Al-Shrooqi said that she was advised by officials close to
the department to apologize and reveal the identity of her sources to avoid legal
action, but she refused. She has appeared in court four times so far and her
next hearing is scheduled for April 8, she told CPJ. If convicted, al-Shrooqi
could be banned
from writing, fined or imprisoned, she said.
In a separate though equally alarming case, Lamees Dhaif, a columnist
with the private daily al-Waqt
paper, is on trial for "insulting
the judiciary" in a series of five investigative articles published in February.
Titled "The dossier of great
the series was meant to expose alleged judiciary corruption, she told CPJ. Dhaif
said that an official asked her to write an apology or an article praising the
judiciary to avoid being sued; she
refused. On February 26, the Supreme Judiciary Council, the branch's highest
administrative organ, filed a criminal lawsuit against her. In early
March, the public prosecutor's office summoned Dhaif to appear in court as "an
ordinary citizen," to try her under
Bahrain's penal code instead of the press
law, under which she would be less harshly penalized, she said. She protested
the decision and demanded that she should be
charged under the press law. The prosecution
office accepted her demand. The case is still pending and no court date
has been set.
CPJ believes that both legal proceedings contradict the
spirit of an October 2008 speech by Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa
bin Salman Al Khalifa in which he encouraged the media to "benefit from the
climate of democracy and freedom available in the Kingdom of Bahrain" and "truthfully
speak on behalf of Bahrain's society, mirroring the reality of its daily life
and contributing with neutrality and objectivity to the search for adequate
solutions to its problems."
We respectfully call on Your Majesty to direct the Ministry
of Culture and Information to annul the ministerial order
calling for the blocking of critical Web sites. CPJ also calls on you to instruct the
relevant agencies to drop the politically motivated charges
against al-Shrooqi and
Dhaif without delay.
Thank you for your attention to these important matters. We
look forward to your reply.