Bahrain: Authorities step up offensive against journalists and websites

Reporters Without Borders is concerned about freedom of expression in Bahrain. In the past couple of months, two journalists have been charged because of what they wrote and the information ministry has stepped up Internet filtering.
“Free expression is under threat in Bahrain as a result of provocative measures and abusive judicial proceedings,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We urge the authorities to withdraw the charges against these journalists, who were just doing their job, and we call for the immediate unblocking of news and human rights websites.”
Abdulhassan Bu-Hussain of the daily newspaper Al Wasat was charged on 8 May with harming the Civil Service Bureau’s image in a series of articles from September to November of last year in which he accused the CSB of violating constitutional principles.

Lamees Dhaif, a reporter and columnist with the daily Al Waqt, was summoned before a court on 5 March and charge with public insult under article 216 of the criminal code, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison. She is awaiting trial. Around 600 websites are currently blocked in Bahrain and online censorship has become more extensive since 21 April, when the authorities ordered that access to the Washington-based news website, Ghada Jamsheer’s women’s rights blog Bahrain-eve and the blog aggregator should also be blocked.

Under a decree issued by the culture and information ministry on 5 January, the ministry can order the blocking of websites without referring to a court. According to article 3 of the decree, “telecommunication companies and Internet Service Providers are required to prohibit any means that allow access to sites blocked by the ministry, whether by Internet address, use of a proxy server or any other means.”

The websites of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (Hrinfo) have been blocked for more than two years. A total of 69 news websites are currently blocked in Bahrain.

Law No. 47 of 2002 empowers the government to close a publication or website that is deemed to have attacked the government, the official state religion, public decency or other religions in a manner likely to disturb the peace. Officials can order the closure without referring to a court first.

Article 5 of a new media law that is currently before parliament would protect Internet publications from summary closure by the government. Reporters Without Borders calls on the authorities and parliament to allow online media to benefit from this provision.

14 May 2009

Source: RSF