BCHR website blocked by Bahrain government ahead of elections
Bahrain Center for Human Rights October 26, 2006
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights has learned today that its website (virtualbahrain.net) has been blocked by Batelco, Bahrain's main internet service provider (ISP). The BCHR is especially concerned that this latest move may be part of an attempt to stifle criticism of the government ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections, due to be held in less than a month's time. The Center demands that the website be unblocked and renews its calls for the government to end its long-standing practice of censoring the Internet for political reasons.
The BCHR has reason to believe that the move is an attempt by the government to prevent discussion or awareness of the recent Bandargate scandal, in which several government officials have been accused of forming sectarianism and planning to unfairly influence the upcoming parliamentary elections. Following the revelations of the scandal, the higher criminal court issued a press gag on all information, news or comments surrounding the issue (see BCHR Ref: 06100500) and the government has refused to make any comment on the allegations (see BCHR Ref: 06101300). In the following week, a number of activists and journalists who had been highlighting the Bandargate scandal received anonymous phone threats to cease their activities (see BCHR Ref: 06101201). Despite the press gag and the threats, the BCHR continued to highlight the issue, so this may be one of the reasons for the government's decision to block the website.
In addition to the BCHR's site, it should be noted that at least eight other Bahraini news and discussion websites are already blocked by Batelco (for the full list, see here). This latest move comes less than three months after the government attempted to block the Google Earth and Google Video services (for details, see BCHR Ref: 08080600 and BCHR Ref: 12080600). Also, in February 2005, three moderators of Bahrain Online (bahrainonline.org), a popular online discussion forum, were detained because of messages posted on the site that were critical of the government.
The BCHR recalls that Article 23 of the Constitution of Bahrain and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantee the right to receive and impart electronic information without hindrance. These obligations should be all the more apparent to the government, as Bahrain currently sits on the United Nations Human Rights Council. We therefore call upon the government to:
- Immediately unblock the BCHR website, as well as all other blocked sites, and permanently end its practice of censoring the Internet.
- Lift the press gag on the Bandargate scandal, and guarantee the freedom of speech on all issues ahead of the upcoming elections.
- Launch a transparent investigation into the allegations of the Bandargate scandal, and punish all officials who are found to be guilty. (For detailed recommendations see BCHR Ref: 06101300)