Reporters Without Borders deplores the directive which the information ministry sent to Internet Service Providers on 14 January ordering them to block access to certain political and commercial websites and warning that only the information ministry could take the decision to unblock a website. At least 25 sites have been blocked since the directive was issued.
“Even if the blocking of a political website is nothing new in Bahrain, this directive confirms that the government wants to retain its power to censor the Internet,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The fact that the Internet filtering is also targeting human rights websites indicates that this order is a first step in the reinforcement of online surveillance. We urge the information ministry so rescind this order and lift the blocking.”
Proxy websites, which enable Internet users to sidestep censorship, have also been blocked since 14 January.
When Internet users try to connect to one the sites, they find a message saying: “Site Blocked: This website has been blocked by the order of the Ministry of Culture and Information based on Article 19 of decree Law No. 47, 2002 regarding the organisation of the press, printing and publishing in the Kingdom of Bahrain, due to the publication of prohibited content on the aforementioned site.”
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.
The list of blocked websites: