Tag Archives censorship

The Ministry of Information is listening

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Bahrain's Press & Publications department at the Ministry of Information blocking websitesWell, it’s more than listening. They can actually read and also visit this blog from time to time. I am honoured and well chuffed. Extremely. And this particular page has become their official home page!

How would I know? Well because I do. They have used some of the information there to issue yet another block order, number 2008/197 signed by the failed parliamentary contender and current head of their Press and Publications department just yesterday to block the alternate URLs to bahrainonline.org and re-inforced (he thinks!) the block on wattaninet.net by demanding the specific block on a subdirectory of that site: wattaninet.net/forum! Shows that not everyone who can read actually is educated enough to understand what they’re doing, doesn’t it?! 😈

So the official blocked websites in Bahrain, thanks to the valiant efforts of the Misery of Thought Control and THE Protector of the Kingdom of Bahrain’s Honour remain the same, but the blocked URLs leading to those sites have increased by 2 (the /forum doesn’t count, go read more about the Internet and its related technologies to find out why!)

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Your Uncle is Deaf

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Or as we say in Bahrain: 3mmek asmakh, an epithet normally reserved for situations where no matter how much advice one gives, even very reasonable and much needed advice, the receiver of such words of wisdom is completely and utterly deaf to those words. Such is the situation with the Ministry of Information, or at least maybe specific parts of it who still think that they should be affiliated to the Police forces or the CID instead. Maybe they have to come to the realisation that as most countries in the world have done away with such an edifice, they are padding their nest and preparing themselves for different future pay-masters.

Here’s the proof:

Hamad Al-Mannai, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Information, accuses webmasters who did not register their websites as unpatriotic and are uncivilised
Bahraini MoI undersecretary calls unregistered webmasters unpatriotic and uncivil
INFORMATION MINISTRYS UNDER-SECRETARY HAMAD AL MANNAI SAID THE INCREASE OF REGISTERED WEBSITES WAS STRONG CIVILISED SIGN OF THE AWARENESS OF THOSE IN CHARGE OF THESE WEBSITES OF THE IMPORTANCE OF ADHERING TO THE POLITICAL LEADERSHIPS DIRECTIVES ON THE FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION WITHOUT HARMING UNITY.
INFORMATION UNDER SECRETARY SAYS REGISTRATION OF WEBSITES ON RISE – bna

Apart from leaving you to notice the obvious spelling mistakes in the nugget above which is taken verbatim from the Bahrain News Agency’s website, another organ that employs 78 people to churn out releases like the good stuff above, a fact that in itself raises a multitude of questions (the Ministry might want to explore replacing those 78 with 5 kindergarten students who might have a better grasp on both reality and language skills, thus saving the country its sanity, reputation and its coffers a few bushels of dinars) I resent the fact that the honourable undersecretary of (dis)information is labeling all of those who choose not to register their websites as uncivilized, unpatriotic and disloyal, given that the respected gentleman should know – owing to his position – that website registration is completely voluntary. Unless, of course this is yet another reversal of government position on the freedoms of expression that we most certainly lack and now continue to restrain us from our rights especially by his emphasis of the tripartite committee put in place to subjugate any intellectual dissent by threats of imprisonment and shutting down of websites and other forms of expression under the ubiquitous raised flag of their own special brand of social mores and patriotism, forgetting that this is a wholly unconstitutional pursuit in their haste to trip over each other to please their own masters not hesitating for an instant that their positions dictates the delivery of good advice which is sometimes counter to the instructions they are given.

Let me go back again to this idiotic press release, if you would allow me to, by highlighting the fact that the respected undersecretary does not offer any substantiation whatsoever in the way of numbers or even comparisons of those who charged through his exalted offices begging to register their websites. Not that they actually have a published list on the internet that shows such registrations of course, so we should really be excused for thinking that they might well be pulling hares out of their collective empty hats to impress – well, not us, certainly – but some gullible idiot who actually believes their tripe.

WHY are they so hung up on registering websites? And WHY do they time and again come back to the same lost cause with pedantic abandon is simply beyond me. Is someone somewhere actually winding them up like toys every time the stupid bunny stops his racket because they just like the noise? Or is this a calculated step to continue to keep the country busy with these mundane and trivial pursuits rather than concentrate on actual human and institutional development so that we too can at least attempt to catch up with those who have barged into futures of their own making as evidenced by the huge numbers of growing middle class families while ours atrophy to the point of disappearance?

Well, Mr. Al-Mannai, with all due respect of course, THIS website will NEVER register with your ministry, even if your wishes become law. I would rather abandon it altogether than acquiesce to such an idiotic, unproductive and unwarranted request which is completely devoid of even a smidgen of added value.

And yes, thank you very much, my patriotism and civility do not need nor require your approbation or affirmation.

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Witch hunt continues unabated

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7 more people have been detained by the Public Prosecutor under the guise of the recently announced “protecting our values” as determined by the Prime Minister. This time, 3 of those investigated are writers for Alwefaq’s political party’s publication, the remainder are connected apparently with the already banned sites.

Raise your hands if you think this is a clear abuse of power and yet another attempt at silencing criticism cloaked in “protecting our values” thingy.

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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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SHUT THEM UP!

You know you’ve lost the argument if all you have left to “defend” your cause is to demand that the other party be shut up, and use a desperately disparate parliament to encode that demand into law. What is stranger still, is that the party demanding the reneging on the constitutional right to free speech is a national daily newspaper!

Alwatan has entertained us with their brand of “investigative journalism” last week by publishing daily articles and interviews demanding the closure of the awaal.net news website, charging it with the dissemination of sectarian hatred and that it is the direct tool of the Ulama Council which is trying to destabilise the country by fostering hatred against the king and the ruling family.

I really couldn’t be bothered with either Alwatan nor Awaal.net and their own agendas. To me, they have the equal right to voice their opinions as long as they do not breech the sacred rules of not propagating hatred and condoning violence. They can both write whatever articles they like, discuss whatever event that crosses their sights and mount as much investigations as their editors feel comfortable with. If I or anyone else has a problem with any of their published content, then the avenues are certainly available to expose the errors and take them to task. So fight words with words, rather than words with swords or even mediocre and ill-thought of calls to legislation to bar the voicing of one’s opponents’ opinions.

I am very concerned by the campaign mounted by Alwatan and its sympathisers which is urging the Ministry of Information to take action against Awaal.net and “all illegal and unregistered websites in Bahrain”, calling for their closure and to penalise their webmasters. They have gone even further by demanding that parliament question the Minister of Information and enact legislation which would severely curtail the freedom of expression in the electronic media; actions which go against the excellent strides the new Minister of Information has taken to redress the continuous descent of Bahrain’s ranking in various international metrics, especially those concerned with freedoms of expression and freedoms of the press, and conveniently forgetting Bahrain’s position on the Human Rights Council and the various agreements it has become part of. Not to mention their trespass on basic human decency.

In Alwatan’s entourage of support for its despicable position are a bevy of MPs, all well known not only for their sectarian leanings, but also for their complete animosity to almost any kind of freedom enjoyed by Bahrainis. It is very evident that the ideology they subscribe to and their intellect cannot stand any form of criticism. They see criticism as a vendetta against them personally rather than their tenuous positions and tedious actions they adopt while representing the whole of Bahrain.

Bahrain continues to go through very rough turbulence, especially of late. We are faced with daily scandals and disasters, all of which of our own making, yet, our parliamentarians and some of our papers are not only ignoring these critical circumstances, but actually go out of their way to condone injustice and foment sectarian thinking rather than studiously find ways to ameliorate differences and concentrate on future development at this critical time in which almost every country in the region has surpassed us by bounds and leaps. So rather than them taking a principled stand against sectarian appointments in the parliamentary secretariat, we find them hoarsely barking in defence of those awry appointments, rather than immediately call for an independent board on enquiry and penalise those who chose to use the parliament as their own private farm to do with as they like! Instead of them standing for and with freedoms of expression, we find them calling for its complete demise and go even further by demanding the entrenchment of Big Brotherly attitudes.

Shame on Alwatan and those parliamentarians who sow the seeds of strife in this country. Shame on the Bahraini people for not taking a stand against them and demanding their resignation, and shame on all those who brought them into the sacred halls of parliament and now sit back and watch as our country is systematically being destroyed, one brick at a time.

Links: Alwatan’s campaign against awaal.net, pdf pages in Arabic: 8 June, ’08 · 9 June, ’08 · 10 June, ’08 · 11 June, ’08 · 13 June, ’08
Alwatan Newspaper · Awaal.net
To contact Alwatan, click here, to contact Awaal.net, click here

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Impaired vision, or just deaf?

Uh, do you guys see a glass hermetically sealed cage around his majesty in the following picture taken at the opening of the parliament’s second session on Oct 17th?

king opening 2nd session of parliament 17 oct 07

I only ask because maybe the government which he is its ultimate authority doesn’t seem to have heard any part of his speech, especially the words which confirm – once again – that he (as does our constitution) regards the freedom of expression as sacrosanct. He clearly said that the country needs “an enlightened press and publications law” unless of course – once again – my ears deceived me.

Why else would they ban the publications of not one, but two books immediately after the king’s speech?

I could only surmise; then, (and I submit that naive moi could very well have gotten it wrong) that the Ministry of Information’s Press & Publications Censorship Office are completely and unilaterally ignoring his majesty’s clear directives. Why else would they ban the publications of not one, but two books immediately after the king’s speech?

And get this: both books are just compilations of already published articles in the local press by their authors!

Taking this into consideration, and to save you – my dear readers – some effort, here are the links to the compilations of their articles. They are all in Arabic obviously, but I am sure you could use Mr. Google’s Rosetta Stone to avail of their contents.

Without further ado, here are the compilations of Dr. Nader Kathem and here are articles published by Mohammed Al-Sawwad.

is it any wonder that the output of the Arab world altogether in books is so despicably low?

With these draconian departments and personnel who are obviously not only deaf to the people’s wishes, but those of their king too, is it any wonder that the output of the Arab world altogether in books is so despicably low? Is it any wonder that although we constitute some 5% of the world’s population we only number 0.5% of the world’s Internet users? Is it any wonder too that our education system is virtually non-existent and hope – general hope – has almost but left the building?

Your majesty, they’re not listening. Maybe it’s time for a reboot?

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RSF gets a bit too Bolshy

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It looks like there is a new admin for this area for RSF… there must be, as their latest press release about Bahrain is a bit, well, unduly strong. I would have thought that they could be a little bit more politically cognizant and temper it down a bit.

Saying something like:

Determined to oppose the continuation of your current Internet policies, we hope you will take account of this new request to let your subjects express themselves online and allow the Internet to develop freely. We remind you that we already told you of our concern in April 2005 about your government’s adoption of a regulation requiring websites dealing with Bahrain to register with the information ministry.

my emphasis

will most definitely and resolutely burn any remaining bridges between the Bahraini government and RSF, rendering any good that RSF hopes to achieve to be close to zero.

I am not saying that our government’s policy as far as censorship (Internet or otherwise) is correct, far from it, in fact I totally oppose it, but for RSF to go to this level of Bolshiness is immature, inconsiderate and politically incorrect.

Much more important than that, they do our cause no good whatsoever by isolating themselves in such a matter.

I guess this is one situation where a champion turned into an ogre?

hat tip: Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace

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Haaq.org blocked in Bahrain

one of the first orders of the new minister is to block access within Bahrain to the Haq Political Movement website

If the policy of blocking Internet access to web sites in Bahrain falls on the shoulders of the Ministry of Information, one which I had ample hope and aspiration of its restructuring to the better by the appointment of a new minister recently, I am sorely disappointed. Because had this been the case then one of the first orders of the new minister is to block access within Bahrain to the Haq Political Movement website, presumably due to whoever it is within government – and it could very well be higher than the aforementioned hapless ministry – “running out of patience” with those “rabble rousers”.

Bukamal, Bahraini minister of information

This brings the tracked blocked websites to 23 (see sidebar). I don’t know the real number of blocked sites as it could very well be higher. If anyone has access to the full list I would appreciate receiving it, even anonymously. In the pursuit of the truth, I would love to discern a pattern from what the government deems “offensive” websites and unearth some sort of order which might indicate what the government – or an influential enough person/body within it – has no tolerance for. Not that recognising an itch would actually produce a soothing scratch!

Not that recognising an itch would actually produce a soothing scratch!

In the spirit of giving, as it is Eid after all, let me share with you once again how one might go around these various blocks and hopefully demonstrate to the powers that be that in this day and age and with the structure of the Internet, blocks on information does not actually work in the way they intend; unless of course their intention is to continue to sully the name of Bahrain in contrast to the very people of this fine country who have been diligently working to promote it.

TOR logoThe TOR project (The Onion Router) is probably the best you can use, especially when you combine it with Firefox as you will see below:

  • They can’t block TOR as it does not depend on a unique location, it is distributed and could be downloaded from thousands of sites. It’s a public and a not-for-profit project (yes, it’s free) and multi-platform.
  • Download the latest version of TOR for your platform, the download and installation instructions are rather straightforward; just go to the TOR download page and grab your version. If it does get blocked in a vain attempt at grandeur, use any of the peer-to-peer file sharing tools and search for it. You’ll get it in no time.
  • Once your package is downloaded, go ahead and install it by double-clicking the downloaded application and follow the instructions.
  • Now go to the Firefox extensions page and install Torbutton.
  • Restart Firefox.

TOR unblocks haaq.org

Now you will notice a small onion in your status-bar. Provided that the Tor application is running in the background, whenever you want to view any blocked site on the Internet, simply click the onion and it will temporarily change your proxy settings in Firefox to enable you to circumvent the blocking mechanism. How it does this is rather simple and ingenious, you might want to read more information about the method used which is available on the Tor website.

I hope that the government wakes up to the fact that censorship only hurts itself and its fragile reputation

I hope that the government wakes up to the fact that censorship only hurts itself and its fragile reputation nationally and internationally and that these draconian measures just do not have a place in this day and age.

This is not the way that things should be done, gentlemen. If one does not agree with another, a negotiation table is the best way forward, engagement, in other words, is much more conducive to solving our problems than having a childish foot-stomping-fist-thumping tantrum.

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It’s the UAE’s turn to imprisson online publishers

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Here we go again:

UAE online forum administrator sentenced to prison
Earlier this month, on August 8th, Mohamed Rashed al-Shohhi, an online forum administrator in the Emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah (UAE) has been sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of nearly US$ 13,600 (Dh50,000) for content deemed defamatory published by anonymous on the popular forum board he moderated majan.net (suspended).

It has also been reported that the department of e-government services managed to access the forum’s control panel looking for registrants email addresses. And it seems that this has led to the arrest, on August 19th, of a forum registrant, Khaled El Asli.
GlobalVoices Advocacy

Why is this, I hear you ask?

الدكتور هاشم الرفاعي مدير عام دائرة الهيئة الالكترونية في رأس الخيمة أكد ان المنتدى الالكتروني أغلق درءاً للمفاسد حيث كان يطرح بعض القضايا التي تمس الخصوصية والتدخل في الحياة الشخصية ناهيك عن السب والتشهير.

وأضاف الدكتور الهاشمي ان التقنية تحتاج إلى تنظيم والحرية تحتاج إلى توجيه، موضحا ان الجانب السيئ للجوانب التقنية يكمن في عدم تحفظها، وإدراكها للجانب الاجتماعي المدني وما يمكن ان يترتب عليه مضيفا ان إغلاق المنتدى جاء بسبب الحوادث الكثيرة التي اشتكت ضده مؤكدا ان العقاب يردع كل المسؤولين عن المنتديات الالكترونية ليتجنبوا تلك الطرق في طرح المواضيع مشددا على أن الفرد إذا أراد إيصال آرائه فيمكنه ذلك بطرق رسمية أخرى متاحة ككتابة رسالة أو إرسال فاكس أو عن طريق قنوات البث المباشر مؤكدا أن المسؤولين يتقبلون تلك الطرق ويولونها الأهمية.
الخليج – Google translation of full article

What is essentially happening is that an anonymous commenter entered a perceivably defamatory comment and the forum moderator got it instead. Making true the local adage that if you can’t handle the donkey, break the cart! Or in Dr. Hashim Al-Rifa’i’s words – who heads the eGovernment Department in Ras Al-Khaima, a small and almost forgotten emirate in the UAE – if you have a complaint, you had better write a letter or send a fax! I wonder what his “eGovernment” initiative is like, it must be better than the telex technology, don’t you think.

He must also fully believes in the Big Red Switch which he and his government must have been ecstatic at activating against this new fangled thing called the Internet.

The situation in the whole Middle East is quite tenuous now and publishing anything on the internet is getting quite scary.

Well needless to say that I support Mohamed Rashed al-Shohhi’s right to freedom of speech and that he should not to be held responsible for comments entered in his electronic publication; therefore, ask for his release and exonoration from those ridiculous charges he has been imprisoned under.

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