12 March 2012

Campaigns and Advocacy

On World Day Against Cyber Censorship, BCHR calls for action from authorities

Mixlr.com/wefaqlive, an audio live streaming website, was broadcasting a mass rally of opposition groups when it was suddenly blocked
Mixlr.com/wefaqlive, an audio live streaming website, was broadcasting a mass rally of opposition groups when it was suddenly blocked
(BCHR/IFEX) - 12 March 2012 - On the occasion of the World Day Against Cyber Censorship, Bahrain continues its violations and repressive measures against netizens and internet freedom, with the help of western technologies.

Amid last year's events, many websites were reported blocked due to their reporting on casualties among protestors and uploading photos and videos of peaceful protests being brutally attacked by security forces. Website administrators were arrested and tortured.

In 2012, more websites are being blocked for covering political events in Bahrain. Witnessbahrain.org - a group of international observers, primarily from the United States who launched the website in February 2012 to monitor and report human right abuses and suppression on the events of the one-year anniversary of the Bahraini pro-democracy uprising on the ground - had been blocked in Bahrain a day after its launch. On 4 February 2012, the live streaming website live973.info/live.php?ch=1 and audio live streaming website mixlr.com/wefaqlive, which were broadcasting a mass rally of opposition groups, were blocked within hours of the start of the rally. They are added to the list of popular live streaming websites that have been blocked since last year, including bambuser.com, ustream.tv, justin.tv, twitcasting.tv and twitcam.livestream.com. The iphone/ipad app of the website Live Station, which broadcasts multiple TV channels including the Bahraini opposition's channel “LuaLua Tv”, has been blocked (connection error) since 7 February 2012. According to published reports, American technologies are being used by the Bahraini regime to block the internet.

While freedom of speech is at high risk in Bahrain after last year's crackdown, bloggers are still targeted with arrest and detention. To only name a few: Zainab Al Khawaja was brutally arrested in December 2011 and again in February 2012 and is currently standing trial; Hassan Al Jaber and Naji Fateel are in detention awaiting trial; Ali Abdulemam was sentenced by a military court to 15 years and his whereabouts are still unknown; and Abduljalil Al Singace was given a life sentence, also by a military court, and was reportedly tortured in detention.

One netizen, Zakariya AlAsheeri, an online forum administrator, died in prison under torture April 2011. One year has passed but those responsible for the torture are still enjoying impunity. The military court has acquitted the guards responsible for torturing AlAsheeri, and they are currently going through a show trial in the civil courts.

The government of Bahrain announced that it has dropped charges related to free speech. However, trials and arrests running counter to free speech continue on a daily basis in Bahrain. Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights was charged for “indicting protests using twitter” after he was arrested and detained for around eight hours on February 14, 2012. This was not the first time he faced interrogation regarding his online tweets.

The Bahrain center for Human Rights expresses its concerns over the deteriorating level of internet freedom and increased censorship, which contradicts Bahrain's commitments as a member in the Human Rights Council and as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In particular, Article 19 of the ICCPR states that "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice."

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights believes that, in light of the accelerated evolution of technology, it has become difficult for governments to block all websites completely, but by insisting on the policy of censorship, it strengthens its position in the black lists of authoritarian and undemocratic countries. BCHR also expresses its concern regarding the western companies which continue to supply the government of Bahrain with censorship technologies, despite its worsening record of human rights and the severe level of violations of freedom of expression.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights demands that the Bahraini government:

- Immediately cease the prosecution of all internet activists and bloggers and the release of all those detained immediately.
- Bring to justice, before an independent and impartial judicial authority, all those accused of torturing detainees as well as those who ordered and authorized such acts.
- Lift the ban on all public websites which encourage cultural dialogue, social and human rights, as well as social and religious expression.
- Cancel all measures that would restrict freedom of opinion and expression, or prevent the transmission of information.
- Fulfill its international commitments and respect all forms of freedom of expression that are a part of international covenants and treaties.

BCHR extends its call to the governments of the United States and the European Union to stop the sale of surveillance technologies to Bahrain. Export controls should target specific technologies, such as content filters and spyware, which serve the primary purpose of limiting flows of online information and monitoring private digital communications.


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