Another international publication contacted me to elicit my views regarding the Ministry of Information’s administrative order requiring all websites to register with them, and what actions are being taken by webmasters, if any, to counteract that order. He began by asking me if any blogger has actually registered with them so far, what you read below is my response to his questions.
None, as far as I know. Not a single blog or online forum has registered nor are any intending to do so, despite the insistence of the Ministry of Information that they have in fact received “a number” of registration applications. I would like to see those numbers, I would guess they will never produce those, the Ministry of Information is not known for its transparency.
As to the actions I proposed, number 1 (non registration) seems to be a universal agreement between all webmasters I know. The government would probably produce some at the end of the 6 months drive. Although I didn’t notice any ads, educational campaign nor anything to suggest that there is indeed a “drive”.
I’m considering the petition route, but judging how petitions in this country riles up the government with mass incarcerations and the increase in volume of its stooge press (Al-Ayam, Akbar Al-Khaleej (Arabic) and Bahrain Tribune (English) and until very recently the GDN) which happily brand anyone standing up for rights as an insurgent at best, and an outright traitor at worst, I’ll have to be careful. I do not relish spending any time in prison, which is a very very real threat. Especially if they throw the full weight of The Press and Publications Law 47 of 2002 at you.
Due to our reactions (the bloggers and the GDN columnists) , the Ministry has come out and categorically said (via the undersecretary Mahmood Al-Mahmood) that registration is no longer “mandatory”, however a couple of days after that, another undersecretary at the same ministry, Dr. Abdulla Yateem, the press and publications undersecretary, commented on an article on Al-Wasat Newspaper with fire and brimstone [Al-Wasat, Arabic] where the whole registration process is to (1) protect the authors’ copyright, (2) hold people liable for what they write and to (3) protect against child pornography and (4) “immoral” sites being created in Bahrain. Any moderately observant person would find complete contradictions in these goals. Not, apparently, anyone at the ministry of disinformation of course.
What comes next is anybody’s guess. We are determined not to register, especially that “they” declared that it is not mandatory, however, you can rest assured that they will try to close EVERY site that does not register by taking us to court for anything that we have written which could even in the slightest be considered libelous. The cut-off date is October 1st, 2005. If it comes to that, obviously a lot of people will have their arms twisted or you will see the death of the internet as far as non-anonymous posting is concerned, the whole movement will be driven underground and will mushroom completely out of their control. You will probably find that most IPs blocked completely, so it would be worth our while NOW to investigate proxy services through which we can reach our sites. Incidentally, it seems that “they” with Batelco have blocked most if not all proxy sites recently, this is just 10 days ago, which should be a harbinger for what is to come.
There have been (shy) protests mainly in support of Ali Abdulimam and the government’s refusal to remove his (and his colleagues) travel restrictions and more importantly not dropping the case against them. The last protest also was to protest against the registration drive. You can view full coverage of Ali’s demos etc at Chan’ad’s blog and also Free Ali blog which is an aggregate of all the articles Bahraini bloggers have written about the subject as well as some pertinent press articles.
What are the lessons learnt? NONE! As far as the government is concerned it cannot be seen to lose face, so even if one of its morons brings out a completely ludicrous administrative order such as this one, they will not back down. So, they put their wagons in a circle and gerrymander everyone to “see their way”.
As far as bloggers are concerned, the lesson learnt is: BLOG ANONYMOUSLY!