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Bahraini court imprisons journalist for libel case

It is with utter sadness that I learnt that journalist Mr. Saleh Al-Amm was handed a 3 month prison sentence or payment of a fine as the court found him guilty of libel in a case brought against him by Ms. Fatima Buali, the ex-manageress of the Almanar Home for the Elderly.

This prison sentence is rather ominous, and will further stifle the already fragile freedom of expression in Bahrain and will push its press freedom index further down the list. This will ultimately affect the country’s reputation in international circles and might very well affect the level of trust internationals will have for doing business in Bahrain.

What the courts and the government should realise is that a free press is a major component of a modern society. With freedom of speech and expression societies can elevate themselves as it aids in the country’s and society’s development and transparency. A free press is not an enemy of the state, but quite the contrary, it is a full partner that contributes to the stability of the country.

Mr. Al-Amm is not the only one who was presented to the judicial authorities due to his exercising of his constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression, another journalist, Mr. Mu’ath Al-Mishari was also presented to court on another libel case.

I extend my full support to these gentlemen and shall stand with them against this unfair law and call, once again, for it to be retooled to fully reflect His Majesty’s vision of reforms for the Kingdom.

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2007 Press Freedom Survey

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It’s that time again; RSF released it’s 2007 Press Freedom Survey and Bahrain again does not fair well… their map of Bahrain is resolutely black in this area. Here’s what they have to say about us:

The monarchy’s progress towards democracy has not included decriminalising press offences and the regime continues to control the media.

The democratic reforms of Sheikh Hamad, a Sunni Muslim, since he came to power in 1999, quickly faded before the demands of the country’s Shiite majority for a voice. Journalists are increasingly critical of the regime, but the press laws, which allow prison sentences from between six months and five years, prevent normal working conditions, so self-censorship is still the best way to keep one’s job.

The supreme court banned the media on 4 October 2006 from mentioning in any way a scandal known as Bandargate, involving the royal family and some politicians, that led to the deportation of Sudanese-born British citizen Salah al-Bandar for distributing a detailed report on electoral fraud. Hussein Mansour, of the daily paper Al Mithak, and Mohamed al-Othman, of the daily Al Wasat, received anonymous phone threats in October for writing about the scandal.

The government had said in April 2005 that all Internet websites dealing with Bahrain would have to register with the information ministry, but the new rule, which was criticised by Reporters Without Borders, has not been implemented. However, access to many sites and political blogs was barred in October 2006, a month before parliamentary elections. The regime also censored online publications that mentioned Bandargate.
RSF :: 2007 Press Freedom Survey

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Honey, I’m hoooome!

unblock mahmood's den order - small

We’re back!

Thanks again… to everyone, and to Dr. Yateem, the undersecretary of the Ministry of Information and the Minister for proving that they are understanding and reasonable people.

I’m not sure how many countries in the world that a citizen can go and meet such high up people, discuss issues with them in a calm and open manner, while those officials knowing full well that that person in front of them has mercilessly criticized them in writing and on several occasions (the latest of which is just this morning!) and they still do not take things personally, but keep professional and find a to diffuse such a situation as this; but there couldn’t be many.

So regardless of our differences, I am honoured to have met these gentlemen and thank them once again for their efforts, and hope that they will continue to accept criticism without taking them too personally, for the good of Bahrain. And invite them, to jump in and comment and rebut any argument and article I put forth here, and hope that I too would be good enough to accept their criticisms with the same spirit.

So that page of our story is over… I’m now looking forward to the new page, one in which we can benefit from each other’s experiences, and can discuss matters which affect our country and our countrymen with the same understanding exhibited in this situation.

The next step for us, gentlemen, is to enact those 6 points suggested by the RSF which I have submitted to you and hope that they will be put into your consideration for any new legislation concerning the internet.

I am available to continue our discussions at your convenience.

Thank you, once again, to everyone.

Onward!

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Unblocked!

Not yet, but I am informed by a highly reliable source that Mahmood’s Den is to be unblocked!

I wish to thank each and every one of you who expressed support in any way, shape or form. I wish to expressly thank Mohammed and Esra’a for taking it upon themselves to establish sites and petitiona, and HAMSA for their efforts too, and the various human rights organisations as well as news reporters who have written about this subject. Your efforts have not been in vain.

I hope that this would have demonstrated to the Bahraini authorities that restricting access to information is not the best policy to pursue.

Let me also confirm that I have made some concessions to in order to lift the ban on the site; specifically, I have heeded the “gag order” issued by the High Court published on the 5th of October, 2006 restricting comments and further discussion specifically dealing with their case against Dr. Salah Al-Bandar. I have therefore temporarily removed four articles published in this stream which are held in a queue unavailable to site visitors. These articles will be re-published at the expiry of that gag order. All attendant comments on those articles are also unfortunately sequestered with their parent articles.

All articles and comments published prior to the gag order remain in place.

Based on this and our discussions, the Ministry of Information has agreed to lift the block on Mahmood’s Den and cancel the pending court case.

Finally, I wish to thank the Ministry of Information for the civilized way in which it held constructive meetings with me and listened to my points of view, as I valued theirs, and hope that this incident will result in a more constructive relationship between us bloggers and the Ministry.

I am truly humbled by the tremendous support and love you have demonstrated to me. This now places even more of a burden on my shoulders to be more responsible in my approach to this blog, and these feeling have also demonstrated to me how much bigger than a single person this Den has become which has grown to be a large community of friends and colleagues which I am truly privileged to belong to.

The block should be removed in the next couple of days.

Thank you all once again for your unstinting support.

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More sites to be blocked?

Bahrain - more sites to be blocked by MoI orderGood morning my friends…

It’s nice a sunny and cool day in Bahrain, slightly humid, but promises to get hotter as the day goes by, especially as far as personal freedoms and freedoms of expression are concerned.

I have received the following page from a friend, and as you can see, it is another order by the Ministry of Information to block some more sites; the common denominator it seems is that they mention the dreaded Bandargate scandal in one way or another after Oct 5th, 2006 when the gag order was issued. The ministry also claims that some of the sites blocked contain libelous material which they cannot condone, and in the interest of protecting citizens, they have taken it upon themselves to take appropriate action – in this case, blocking access to these sites from within Bahrain.

The worrying thing in there is that there is another thread of commonality in most of them: 5 our of 8 are Shi’i sites. One is an international Human Rights site, 2 are based out of Bahrain while the real humdinger is the order to block the only active liberal society (Wa’ad) which is contesting the forthcoming elections on too!

You can draw your own conclusions from my observations.

Much more importantly, it behooves all of us now to raise the bar against such intolerance which is permeating the Ministry of Information’s halls of power. They might be just an executive branch who are charged with implementing the law, but I think they have taken it upon themselves to go way beyond their mandate in being an dependent “Yes Sir” organisation with a few individuals who have taken it upon themselves to do nothing but scour the net for what they perceive to be offending material, and then make recommendations to the Minister to action a blocking order.

This situation denotes a variety of ills which must be corrected:

    1. The Ministry’s powers must be curtailed and such actions as blocking any source of information should be given, and with stringent provisos, to the judicial authorities exclusively.
    2. The Ministry’s role, if there is to be one in any case, should be limited to recommending closure of offending sites to the judicial powers which must be presented complete and with unambiguous documentary evidence to support their closure request.
    3. Before such recourse to the judiciary, the Ministry should exhaust all possible means to amicably resolve any situation with the website owners, possibly by face to face information meetings and/or sending them an initial warning email specifying what they find objectionable in the site, preferably with a link to assist the website manger in reviewing the offending material.
    4. The Ministry should adopt better, more friendly ways in communicating with website owners and moderators and work at maintaining a partnership relationship between them.
    5. The Ministry of Information should immediately establish an excellent website through which information would be easily accessible.
    6. To be part of the electronic publishing culture, the Minister himself should be encouraged to start his own blog, as well as all the top managers within the Ministry to better communicate with the public and to actually show them the value of having such a ministry in the first place.
    7. Restating the role of the Ministry of Information and moving it away from being the “information police” to that of the “information facilitator” and exert all efforts at increasing intellectual pursuits and dialogue, thus assisting the country in going forth into the knowledge age, rather than act as a seemingly continuous hindrance.

I hope that these points will be taken seriously into consideration, rather than resort to secretive machinations or resorting continuously to threats and the law to force compliance with what the Ministry deems appropriate or correct.

The sites given in this list have not been blocked yet. Although the order is issued on the 30th of last month, all of them are still available*. I strongly urge the minister to reconsider this policy and adopt and adapt some of the recommendations given above.

The new list includes:

    1. http://www.shahrakkan.org [*blocked!]
    2. http://www.hrinfo.net [*blocked!]
    3. http://www.bab-albahrain.net
    4. http://www.aldair.net
    5. http://www.alhiyak.net
    6. http://www.bintjbeil.org [*blocked!]
    7. http://www.althaqlain.com [*blocked!]
    8. http://www.aldemokrati.org [*blocked!]

The list of sites still blocked in Bahrain (please let me know should you come across more, or indeed if the situation of any of the sites listed below changes) are:

    1. National Committee of Martyrs and Victims of Torture – http://www.shaheedbh.com
    2. Bahrain forums – http://www.montadayat.org
    3. Wattani (the National ) Forums – http://www.wattani.net
    4. Tubli village forum – http://www.tubli.net
    5. Alsaheefa (the Journal) – http://www.alsaheefa.net
    6. Electronic Journal (Civilized Dialogue) – http://www.rezgar.com
    7. Ahrar Al-Bahrain – http://www.ahraralbahrain.com
    8. Bahrain times – http://www.bahraintimes.org
    9. Bahrain Center for Human Rights – http://www.bahrainrights.org
    10. Middle East news portal – http://www.Albawaba.com
    11. Mahmood’s Den – http://mahmood.tv**
    12. http://www.annaqed.com
    13. http://www.freecopts.net
    14. http://www.arabchurch.com
    15. http://www.kurdtimes.com

* – updated 1225 on 2 Nov, ’06
** – updated 1530 on 2 Nov, ’06

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Thanks Mohammed and Esra’a

I would like to extend my deepest thanks and appreciation for both Mohammed Al-Maskati (emoodz.com) and Esra’a Ahmed (mideastyouth.com) for their unstinting support they have offered and their trials to unblock my blog.

Their efforts, created websites, and brilliant creative ideas and passion demonstrated to protect the freedom of speech in Bahrain is a testament to their patriotism and humanity.

Thank you very much to you, and to everyone else in and out of Bahrain who have offered their much needed support at this time.

Thank you.

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Two things

The government is apparently using two things to prosecute websites:

Ok, fine. I wonder how the authorities will react if ALL blogs based in or concerned with Bahrain started writing about bandargate! Will they go ahead and prosecute us all?

How about it guys?

Do you want to register with them?
Will you write about the Bandargate report?

It would be fun to have 10s if not 100s of anonymous websites done by Bahrainis in or out of Bahrain doing that!

Just a thought.

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Step 2: Take Mahmood Al-Yousif to court

tocourt.jpg

And now you know what value it is to be an anonymous coward in this country, you will always be safe. But call a spade a spade, let people know your name, your address, your contact details, and criticize in the open and what do you get? You get dragged to court.

This is the value of being a concerned citizen.

This is the value of being courageous enough to stand behind your words and your criticisms.

In this country, it seems that the good old ’90s and underground political activism, or activism of any kind, is the only thing to do.

But come out in the open and you get this thrown at you.

Will YOU let this happen?

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Bahrain blocks Web sites over election case

MANAMA, Oct 31 (Reuters) – Bahrain has blocked several Web sites for violating a reporting ban in the case of a government adviser who was deported after alleging election irregularities.

Authorities imposed a ban on publishing information about the case of the adviser, British citizen Salah al-Bander, who was sacked and deported to Britain in September for what a minister said was an attempt to foment civil strife in the Gulf state.

The case, known as Bandergate, initially made headlines in the country which is due to hold parliamentary and municipal elections on Nov. 25. Officials say the reporting ban was imposed to ensure an impartial investigation.

“The information ministry has decided to close a number of Bahraini and foreign Web sites … These sites transgressed a legal decision prohibiting the discussion of the case of the accused Salah al-Bander,” Hassan Oun, director of press and publications at the ministry, said in a statement.

“The information ministry will refer the owners of these sites to the judges for not cooperating and complying with the law,” said the statement obtained by Reuters on Tuesday.

Among the blocked Web sites was popular Bahraini blog www.mahmood.tv which is often a forum for political debate and government criticism. It re-opened under www.alyousif.tv, with a photograph of site owner Mahmood al-Yousif wearing a gag.

“It’s unreasonable. Whether you like it or not, everybody is discussing the Bandergate issue,” Yousif told Reuters. “The main issue here is much bigger than Bandergate or registering Web sites. They’re trying to get us to rescind our public freedoms.”

An Information Ministry official, who declined to be named, said some sites were blocked because they did not register with the government. The official said the law requiring registration aimed to prevent misinformation and insults against the state.

Sectarian tensions often cast a shadow over politics in Bahrain, a U.S. ally which is ruled by Sunni Muslims but has a Shi’ite majority.

((Reporting by Mohammed Abbas; editing by Robert Woodward; +973-1752 4430; Fax + 973 17536194; Email: [email protected]))

The story is now on the wires, that means by tomorrow morning hundreds of papers will pick it up…

and I have just been informed that the Ministry of Information has submitted cases against “websites” with the Public Prosecutor who, in turn, started its investigation over the Ministry’s claims.

I fervently hope that the Public Prosecutor will show its independence by throwing the cases out, as they should be.

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