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Another site blocked in Bahrain

Another site blocked in Bahrain

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With the strange blocking of Silly Bahraini Girl, I can no longer speculate as to what the government’s policy, standards or strategy employed other than a heavy handed approach in stifling speech and them hoping – or actually believing – that such methods actually work in this day and age.

Amira Al-Hussaini’s blog’s content is varied but none of it threatens national security. Unless of course the escapades of Persian kittens are constituted as such!

Amira is one resounding voice in and of the Arab world. Being the Regional Editor for the Middle East and North Africa for Global Voices, a published Huffington Post contributor, she has a resolute finger on the pulse of the Arab world. Apart from her being previously a journalist for some 17 years with the Gulf Daily News, the English language national daily in Bahrain, one would be hard pressed to find a better person to represent Bahrain as well as the larger Arab world. As to her character, all one needs to do is read some of the comments her readers enter on her articles, or read what her peers think of her. Apart from her writing, she is frequently involved in international symposiums and workshops as a leading feminist, journalist and writer.

So one is put to task to think of a logical reason for such a move by the government. Is it a genuine mistake by a functionary who wrongly entered this particular blog into the burgeoning blocked sites list? Or is it another concerted effort at censorship? Or is this a message being sent to Amira: be careful! The problem is, when they block a site, they never tell the webmaster, blogger or author why the block has happened. And why should they? Legally, they do not have to explain their reasoning to anyone. All it takes is a ministerial order. There is no reason to use the legal framework that this country continues to do a big song and dance about. They don’t need to get authorisation from a public prosecutor nor do they need to submit reasons to a judge. The fallacy of a “state of laws and institutions” continues, and because of this oft-repeated statement, the lie is transformed into an abject truth. Freedom of expression be damned, and so are human rights.

However, assuming the best and giving the government the benefit of the doubt, again, I clicked on that link to submit a request for unblocking the site, and entered my reasons for doing so:

Hoping for the best, a clicked the “Unblock” button. But in a demonstration of misplaced trust and undeserved benefit of the doubt, I got this:

Due to the fact that I have been faced with the exact same result when requesting the unblocking of every site I visited which presented me with that asinine blocked screen since its inception a few years ago, I am left with no alternative but to think that the unblock link is just decoration and the requests will never be taken seriously. They are there for cheap eye-candy and to fool the simple.

But even the simple if faced with a hurdle thrown in the path of their destination will find a way to circumvent it, and it’s oh so easy to do now that the vast majority of Internet users in Bahrain already have various tools to circumvent these idiotic blocks.

So who benefits? Who benefits from the government spending millions of much needed currency on filtering technologies? Who benefits from the installation of filtered caches which attempt to create a block but the only thing they succeed in is the delayed access to stale information? Who benefits from the anger these blocks generate, and who benefits from the utter frustration that drives much needed investment – both local and foreign – away due to archaic application of blanket punishments? And who benefits from the uncertainty of censorship haphazardly and unnecessarily applied?

I’m certain it’s neither the government, nor the people of this great country.

It’s possibly a few misguided ancient megalomaniacs for whom the basic of redundant communication that is the Internet is all about.

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Sites to be blocked, and become famous

Ban something and suddenly everyone wants to know why so they would do whatever is possible to get through that ban. It’s human nature. Just like rubber-necking a car crash. So why would anyone in their right mind think that the answer to correct a wrong is simply just to block the source is beyond me. It’s like that perennial image of burying one’s head in the sand and pretending that the situation simply does not exist.

This method simply does not work on the Internet, as the network itself is built with the central premise of resilience and redundancy. It was designed originally even to withstand a nuclear attack; therefore, imagining that a simple URL, keyword or IP block would suffice in eradicating the underlying problem is hardly going to work. Alternate routes will immediately spring up and people will tread those routes with alacrity to at least see what the big deal is. The downside of course is that these blocked sites audiences will probably be distilled into their central support units who might very well use the imposed semi-isolation to propagate even more hate and spread even more sectarian poison without the possibility of people engaging them and ameliorating their fervour. They will flourish in their own vacuum. Hence, the block will simply aid rather than hinder.

Blocking Internet sites is simply not the answer. And doing so administratively without judicial intervention goes against the human rights and press freedom codes the government has ascribed to. At best, these blocks will aid in Bahrain’s further descent in the international freedom indexes, at the expense of sending an impotent political message that this is the only way the government has at its disposal.

Although I don’t agree with a lot of the content of the three sites to be blocked, I don’t believe that blocking them is the correct method which should be used to deter them from spreading sectarian thoughts and hatred.

The sites to be blocked are Awaal.net, Shams Albahrain and Mamlakat Albahrain Forums.

ed: wrong url given originally for Shams Albahrain, this has now been corrected. Apologies.

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