The Dialogue: Freedom of Speech

11 Jul, '11

I won’t talk about specifics of the sessions as I find that to be unethical. We’re all in there at the invitation of this nation to find way in which we can recoup losses, ameliorate passions and find a way forward for us all to live peacefully together. I will; however, share with you my submission yesterday through which I hope to have imparted the importance of protecting freedom of speech and everyone’s right to that freedom because I firmly believe that without it, unchecked power will corrupt, with all of what that entails.

I also related, other than what you’re going to read below, that apart from the Press & Publications Law currently under discussion in parliament – as it has been since 2002 – which is destined to replace the contentious Law 47 or 2002 and in it, we were assured, that it shall not call for the imprisonment of journalists, while the loopholes leading to the Penal Code are still to be ironed out – that we need to think of what happens beyond this to-be-promulgated law. We need a to think of a way beyond that still, version 3.0 if you will.

My contention is that with the frenetic speed of change in the media industry, we no longer need a strenuous and extremely detailed law which by definition of this pace of change will be obsolescent at best or obsolete at worst on release. What we probably need is the encouragement of self-regulation and an ombudsman charged from within the industry to oversee it.

If there were a law to be considered, then let that be a strong libel code to which journalists and bloggers or anyone else for that matter be held to account. That code must not condone imprisonment for expressing and opinion, but levy financial fines which will make people think much more seriously about libeling anyone. And calling someone stupid or swearing at them or something like that should never be counted as libel, improper social behavior, maybe, but libel, no! I personally think that this will be a much more effective way to limit intransigence and more importantly will improve and raise the level of journalism we currently are encumbered with.

I’m hopeful that a consensus will be reached in which freedoms will be seen as important and necessary through which society as a whole can be improved, and longer term thinking – certainly beyond Feb 14 – can be adopted in which a much better future is envisioned and is less restricted than what we currently have.

The submission:

Freedom of Speech

Our international metrics and rankings – particularly those concerned with freedoms of expression – have deteriorated significantly since 2002.

What started as a promise for freedom of expression in this country has now transformed into a nightmare.

Rankings in press freedoms have descended from an RSF high of 67 in 2002 – the best in the Gulf – to languishing now at 144 just ahead of Saudi Arabia, second last in this important international ranking. The latest Press Freedom Report ranks it even worse, ranking Bahrain at 159, rating it at 72 and giving it the status of “Not Free”.

The Internet Freedom indices have not faired any better. We are a highly connected country, ranked second in the Arab world, with multiple internet access providers with a rising Internet population from 40,000 in 2000 to around 500,000 in 2009, most of whom access the internet through broadband and a rapidly rising access rate through mobile devices. Yet with this quantum leap was faced not with an explosion of Internet-based businesses and a rise of innovation and discoveries, but with the Great Wall of Bahrain!

Thousands of websites are now blocked with just an administrative nod, but in order to rescind that ban, a website owner needs to resort to the judicial authorities. And for those who say that the block notice page has a function to send an unblock request, I suggest they try it. You’ll end up in a 404 loop! It continuously results in submission errors strengthening the opinion that there is absolutely no intention to communicate with the public, nor is there any intention to actually entertain any unblock requests.

All of this has not gone unnoticed by the international community. Freedom House has bestowed a ranking of 62 on Bahrain, with a status of “Not Free”.

Is this “Business Friendly Bahrain”?

Do you think that with this attitude that Bahrain will breed any Internet innovators? Can we expect that a Google, or Facebook, or a Yahoo!, or a Twitter, or even a Maktoob to be invented here? How can we expect that anyone would bother thinking of Internet businesses or innovations in a country where there is no guarantee that your business venture won’t be shut down arbitrarily?

Personal freedoms have even reached an all time low recently with people being dragged off in the middle of the night or at dawn to languish in unknown locations for days, weeks or months for simply “Liking” a post on Facebook or re-Tweeting a message.

The main industry and wealth-building facet of countries now is knowledge-based, how can we join the journey if the state harbours such a hostility to the very essence of future growth?

We need to reverse that spiral of ignominy. We need to release the bounds hampering our growth. We need to remove the shackles to seeking knowledge. We need to transform that Great Wall of Bahrain into a bridge on which Bahrainis can reach a more conducive and constructive knowledge-based future.

Therefore; I propose the following:

  • do not jail journalists, bloggers or anyone else for that matter for simply expressing their opinions
  • enshrine and protect freedoms, especially those concerned with expression
  • allow people to reach the internet without restriction and regard this as a basic human right
  • remove all internet filters and screening software
  • should there be a need to ban a website, an order must be sought from a higher judicial authority rather than the ban be effected through an administrative order

In Arabic

الحوار الوطني – حرية التعبير و حرية الرأي – ١٠ يولو ٢٠١١

مما يؤسَف له أننا رأينا كيف تدهور ترتيب البحرين منذ العام 2002م تدهوراً حاداً في المقاييس العالمية للحريات و على الأخص منها تلك المتعلقة بحرية التعبير، فما بدأ لدينا كبادرة انفتاح تبشر بتأصيل حرية التعبير في مجتمعنا تحول إلى كابوس يجثم على الصدور.

في عام 2002 أحرزت البحرين المرتبة 67 في التصنيف العالمي لحرية الصحافة لدى منظمة “مراسلين بلا حدود” Ùˆ هو ترتيب متقدم Ùˆ كان الأفضل خليجياً Ùˆ إذا بنا نتراجع إلى المرتبة 144 Ùˆ هي مرتبة متأخرة جداً. أما في آخر تقرير لمنظمة عالمية أخرى Ùˆ هي فريدم هاوس فالوضع أسوأ بكثير فقد تراجع ترتيب البحرين إلى 159 Ùˆ حيث حازت على تقييم 72 مما يضعها في خانة الدول الـ “غير حرة”.

و أذا أتينا لتصنيف حرية الانترنت فلم يكن أداؤنا بأفضل حالاً. فرغم أن البحرين تعد الثانية عربياً في انتشار الانترنت فيها، فلدينا عدة مزودين لخدمة الانترنت وقد ارتفع تعداد المتصلين بالانترنت في البحرين من أربعين ألفاً (40000) في عام 2000 إلى نصف مليون تقريباً في 2009 و معظم هؤلاء يتصلون بالانترنت عبر شبكة البرودباند السريعة ، مع تزايد في ارتفاع أعداد من يتصلون بالانترنت عبر الهواتف و الأجهزة المحمولة ، لكن هذا الارتفاع العددي لم يقابله ارتفاع مواز و مماثل في معدل التجارة والأعمال التي تعتمد الانترنت كبيئة لعملها و لم نر ارتفاعاً في الابداع و الاكتشاف في هذا المجال ، بل قابله جدار منيع أشبه بسور الصين العظيم.

فـبـ”سور البحرين العظيم” تحظر الآلاف من مواقع الانترنت ØŒ Ùˆ يتم ذلك الحظر بقرار إداري ØŒ Ùˆ إذا أراد أحد أي يطلب رفع المنع عن موقعه فعليه اللجوء إلى القضاء ØŒ Ùˆ أقول لمن يزعمون أنه يمكن إرسال طلب إلكتروني لرفع المنع أن حاولوا ذلك بأنفسكم لتروا إن كانت رسالتكم ستصل لأحد! إن عدم توفير طريقة لطلب رفع المنع إلكترونياً لهو أمر يقوي لدينا الظن بأن الجهة المعنية بالمنع لا نية لديها أصلاً للتواصل مع الجمهور، أو النظر في أي طلب لرفع الحظر عن المواقع الممنوعة.

هل هذا هو ما نعنيه بشعار‮ ‮ ‬Bahrain Friendly Business‮ ‬ ؟

هل نصدق أنه في وضع كهذا يمكن للبحرين أن تنجب المبتكرين أو المبدعين أو المبادرين في مجال الأعمال على الإنترنت؟ هل‮ ‬يمكننا أن نتوقع أنه‮ ‬في يوم ما يمكن أن ‬يخترع بحريني منتجاً مثل‮ ‮ ‏Google أو‮ ‬Facebook أو‮ ‬Yahoo أو‮ ‬Twitter أو حتى‮ ‬Maktoob؟

كيف‮ ‬يمكن لنا أن نتوقع أن أحدا ما سيكلف نفسه عناء التفكير في‮ أعمال أو ابتكارات الانترنت حيث لا‮ ‬يوجد ضمان انه لن يتفاجأ يوماً بإيقاف تعسفي‮ ‬لإستثماره؟

هذا وقد وصلت الأمور في‮ ‬الآونة الأخيرة لأدنى المستويات سوءاً ، فصار الناس‮ ‬يسحبون من بيوتهم في‮ ‬منتصف الليل و عند الفجر ليعتقلوا في‮ ‬أماكن مجهولة لفترات ليست بالقصيرة لمجرد التعبير عن آرائهم على الانترنت ، كأن يضيفوا‮ ‬Like‭ ‬على Facebook أو يعيدوا إرسال‭ ‬رسالة ‬على ‏Twitter.‬

إن الصناعة المعرفية هي‮ ‬الركيزة الأساسية للثروة الاقتصادية في‮ ‬العالم الآن‮. ‬فكل الميادين قائمة على صناعة المعرفة التي‮ ‬تعتبر الإنترنت و الكلمة الحرة عمودها الفقري،‮ ‬فكيف‮ ‬يمكننا الانضمام إلى هذه الرحلة إذا كانت أجهزة الدولة تَكُنّ مثل هذا العداء لجوهر النمو ‮‬المستقبلي؟

نحن بحاجة إلى أن نعكس تيار هذه الدوامة المخجلة، و لا يمكننا ذلك إلا إذا أزلنا الحدود التي‮ ‬تعوق نمونا و فككنا القيود التي وضعناها على طلب المعرفة.‬ علينا بإستبدال سور البحرين العظيم بجسر يساعد البحرين و أبنائها للولوج لمستقبل معرفيّ أفضل.

فلذا‮ ‬،‮ ‬أقترح الآتي‮ :‬

    1. عدم سجن الصحفي‮ ‬أوالمدون أو أيّ‮ ‬كان لمجرد التعبير عن آرائهم.
    2. تكريس و حماية الحريات‮ ‬،‮ ‬خصوصا تلك المتعلقة بحرية التعبير.
    3. السماح للناس بالوصول إلى مواقع الانترنت من‮ ‬غير قيود أو عقبات و إعتبار هذا حق جوهري من حقوق الإنسان.
    4. إزالة جميع مرشحات و فلترات الانترنت‮‬ التي إما تمنع أو تحصي على الناس ما دخلوه من مواقع.
    5. ‬إن كانت هناك حاجة لحظر موقع ما، فيستوجب ذلك الحصول على أمر من السلطة القضائية و ليس مجرد إصدار أمر أداري بذلك.

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Comments (8)

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  1. Yaqoob's Dome says:

    Thank you for your efforts in BahrainND and inshalla we’ll see a Publishing Law that protects the freedom of expression in Bahrain.

    Sorry to use your blog as advertising platform but I’ve been compiling a Twitter list of participants in Bahrain’s National Dialogue and I hope you can help me add more names

    http://twitter.com/#!/list/yslaise/bahrain-national-dialogue

  2. yqxo says:

    I’d still like to hear have you felt the dialogue is sincere? Is people being still dragged out at night for mere showing their opinions? What about reports that “half of the opposition leaders are jailed” which means the dialogue is nothing but a big show.

    As a foreigner like me the whole dialogue in Bahrain seems like smokescreen for international community and gullible people. Effort which aims merely to ventilate the anger of “thinking opposite” and in the end (we don’t know the end but I predict) the regime comes up with something useless that can be reversed over-time.

    I hope your efforts are fruitful, but I fear they are futile.

    Just look at what the Egyptians need to do to achieve basic freedom: Civilians should not be prosecuted in military court. What sort of revolution that aims to widen human rights have not achieved this yet! And they have constant demonstrations.

    All the SCAF has comes up (and this is months after their symbol has been removed) is “consider the demands”, pathetic!

  3. Dan says:

    The human mind works by processing information. In order for a person to be able to reason properly and to make wise decisions, a person must have as much information as possible. The best and ONLY way to assure this is to allow people to speak, write, and otherwise communicate their thoughts and ideas. Therefore, freedom of speech, freedom of communication, is a MUST. If freedom of speech and freedom of communication are restricted, so are wise decisions restricted.

    If someone publishes or airs lies and defamations of character, as proved in open public courts of law, these may be addressed under violations of rights and general torts thus providing remedies against fraud.

  4. Adrian says:

    Freedom of speech, a free press, ethical behaviour of the press and operating within the law has never been subject to so much scrutiny – and not just Rupert Murdoch’s News International but the World over.

    A free press holds rulers accountable, gives a voice for those unabe to express them and limits the ability for oppression. Ths is why its is such an important fabrici of society – provided it is used responsibly. How that responsibility is regulated is the question………

  5. ajax says:

    is that just me or the great firewall of bahrain has been shutdown’ed 😀

    Cheer friends

  6. milter says:

    I agree with you all the way, Mahmood.

    An often-quoted statement goes like this: “”Your freedom stops where other people’s freedom starts”. It was heard regularly during what became known as the Caricature Crisis.

    Will that statement still be a valid argument, or, should freedom of speech also allow for the right to express opinions that some may choose to consider hurtful?

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