Tag Archives freedom-of-speech

The Hostility of the Middle East to Freedom of Expression

The Hostility of the Middle East to Freedom of Expression

Here’s a riddle: if you heard the following, which country of region or the world would immediately jump up at you?

A female artist and activist serving a 12-year prison sentence is facing additional charges, including “indecent conduct,” after shaking her male lawyer’s hand.

South America?
China?
Belarus?
Georgia?
USA?

No. I bet the region that popped up in your mind was the Middle East. As to the specific country, it most probably was either Saudi Arabia or Iran. Okay, I’ll throw in Afghanistan in there too.

Atena Farghadani

The correct answer, of course in this case, is Iran.

Why is this region so afflicted with this disease of needing to control everyone and mould them into unthinking and unfeeling automatons beyond their own officially sanctified propriety? Aren’t the perpetually descending freedom indices enough to jolt the region’s officials to a state of utter alarm coupled with a clear realisation that the people of this region have had enough Big Brotherly oversight and repression and they’re rebelling against the chains? Don’t they realise that peoples’ aspirations have now changed beyond their recognition and broke out of their moulds? That what people now want is the plentiful bounty of choice that is available to their fellow human beings elsewhere? And that the continued application of unfair and unjust laws that curtail personal freedoms will achieve nothing but an all out ugly rebellion that might well lead to civil wars?

The Middle East is by almost any reckoning the world’s worst region for freedom of expression. Reporters Without Borders, a press freedom lobby, puts war-torn Syria 177th out of 180 countries on its latest annual ranking, in 2014. Iran is 173rd, Sudan 172nd, Yemen 167th, Saudi Arabia 164th. The highest any of the region’s countries make it is 91st, with Kuwait, which has a democracy of sorts. According to the Pew Research Centre, a think-tank, as of 2012, 14 of 20 Middle Eastern countries criminalise blasphemy and 12 of 20 make apostasy—leaving Islam—an offence. [Unholy Silence – The Economist]

Almost every country in the Middle East imprisons political activists, artists, journalists, writers, bloggers, and anyone else who dares to oppose official views or simply criticises any official body using draconian and malleable laws that will ensure their silencing and also make them examples to deter others from treading their paths.

The ludicrous story of the Iranian artist Atena Farghadani embodies all that ails this region of the world. She expressed her opinion of the political situation in her country by drawing Iranian parliamentarians as animals. That opinion got her more than twelve years behind bars in the country’s top security prison. When she shook the hand of her male lawyer, they slapped an additional prison sentence for public indecency and they both can receive over 70 lashes for their courtesy on top of the prison sentence.

“The laws on the books in Iran are a kind of arsenal or tool kit always available for use by the authorities in their efforts to suppress any form of expression they don’t approve of,” Elise Auerbach, Iran country specialist at Amnesty International, told The Huffington Post.

How are these laws allowed to be legislated in the first place? How can parliamentarians continue to have any respect for themselves after allowing such legislation to pass? Don’t their conscience and honour question their actions or lack thereof?

Of course, the practical effects of this suppression are manifold; chief amongst them is the killing of innovation and creativity. People cannot be creative and innovative if they’re continuously looking over their shoulders and censoring themselves. This creates such a corrosive and unproductive environment which enforces subservience to foreign products, workforce and talent. This situation will ultimately unbalance the very foundations of a sustainable society and put whole countries at the mercy of the external powers they are beholden to. The local disenfranchised population will of course lose hope, lose their kinship with their own country of birth and might well stand on the sidelines while its resources continue to be plundered because they would be unsure whether they are empowered to act to protect the resources. Under these conditions, there is no doubt that governments will ultimately lose the support of their own people and chaos will ensue.

The great Mark Twain once said that “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it”.  Judging by the acceleration in arbitrary arrests, the fashioning of even more opaque laws whose sole purpose is for their use against any form of opposition or dissent, the further choking of freedoms of expression and penalising almost any form of criticism, that governmental support across the Middle East is declining to a level that open rebellion – small as it may currently be – is begining to be witnessed on a daily basis.

There is a way out of this, of course. Paradoxically, Bahrain once provided the guiding light for how things can be reversed and corrected. Just look at what its RSF Press Freedom Index was in 2002 and compare it to every year since. What did Bahrain do in 2001 that warranted that huge increase in its press freedom ranking and all other freedom of expression indices?

Here’s a brief, courtesy of 2002 report from Freedom House:

Bahrain’s political rights rating improved from 7 to 6, and its civil liberties rating improved from 6 to 5, because of political reforms that set the stage for the establishment of an elected legislature, abolished emergency laws and courts, released political prisoners and allowed exiles to return, granted nationality to bidoon (stateless peoples), and improved political debate and freedom of association.

Sheikh Hamad ibn Isa al-Khalifa ended almost a decade of civil unrest in February 2001, when he presented Bahrainis with the opportunity to vote in a referendum on a new national charter. The charter, which calls for the establishment of a partially elected legislature, an independent judiciary, political rights for women, equality for all citizens, and a body to investigate public complaints, addresses the key grievances of Shiite-led opposition groups. Ninety percent of Bahrainis turned out to vote in the referendum, and 98 percent of them approved the new charter.

Although the 2002 Freedom House index for Bahrain rates it as “Not Free”, it does recognise that some solid steps have taken place that warranted that upward change in ranking. In fact, the effect of those changes were clearly seen from 2003 – 2009 when the country’s status changed to “Partly Free”, which is a big achievement.

From a practical level, I remember the heady days of 2001 when people stood up straighter, looked each other in the eye, had fruitful debates without resorting to hushed tones and continuously looking over their shoulders and political lectures and workshops were aplenty. We actually started to understand what “debate” actually was rather than resort to the usual accusations of treason, or lobbying choice epithets at people we disagree with. The whole country was abuzz and business was booming. Everyone had an air of accomplishment and a sense of worth and pride.

That feeling is a universal requirement for a healthy and effective Middle East. Unfortunately it has disappeared, or at least, it got lost in the interim. For our own survival and our much needed growth as effective nations, we need to get that sense of self-worth back.

How the people of this region might go about this will not be easy. The road will require sacrifices to re-establish trust between all parties. Shared goals need to be set that have national interest fully in sight and which transcend personal aggrandisement and selfish benefit. I personally believe that this can and must be achieved. I can’t give up on more than 400 million people and neither can the world for that matter.

We all individually have a part to play, no matter how small, to achieve that much required correction to rejoin a world, without terrorism, wars or strife. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to try.

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The Return of the “Traitor Circles”

The Return of the “Traitor Circles”

This is very troubling:

Crackdown on cyber defamation

Posted on » Monday, September 10, 2012

THE Interior Ministry is set to crack down on defamation against national and public figures on social media networks, the acting general director for combatting electronic and economic crimes revealed yesterday.

He said anyone can report violations with details of the websites and eForums involved to the ministry website.

He said the ministry had received complaints by personalities who demanded an end to such acts.

“Online smear campaigns are tarnishing the reputation of national and public figures,” he said, warning that violators would be prosecuted.

He stressed that legal procedures wouldn’t mean curtailment of the freedom of expression but to deal with cyber crimes.

No matter how well intentioned this move is, some will take full advantage of it to continue to sow the seeds of discord in this country. This will be their ready and preferred method of exacting vengeance by levelling baseless allegations against those whom they don’t agree with. It will of course waste a lot of the authorities’ time who will be required to following up those allegations. At best, this move will see the return of the “traitor circles” this society has been suffering to this day for the past 18 months.

This is a very dangerous, not well thought out and completely unnecessary escalation that will further relegate Bahrain’s already damaged reputation to the very back of the various press, human rights and freedoms indices around the world.

The timing of announcing and enacting such a scheme is very wrong too, just days before Bahrain has to face the music in front of the UN Human Rights commission. Regardless, we have enough problems to contend with, why add one completely avoidable issue on an already heaping plate? A reboot and a grounded rethinking is very much required, gentlemen.

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Bahrain’s Shame

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I love it when our enlightened officials use the severely broken record of “we’re a democracy” while they literally sign off on the destitution of their own countrymen for daring to exercise their democratic rights. To add insult to injury, even when the land’s King orders, orders their re-instatement, they completely ignore that royal order as if it’s not important and not worth of the slightest consideration. What and whom are they following exactly to be this belligerent?

So far, according to (a much rejuvenated Al-Wasat) 2,593 have been unfairly fired. I say and emphasize the word unfairly as the only reason for losing their jobs was due to their exercising of one of their basic human rights. 2,593 from 199 companies and the public sector. 1,643 from eight entities who have trampled their very own lifelines, their employees in a race the end result of which is to ensure the starvation of the largest amount of families of their compatriots as possible! Those who have excelled at this vocation are now inducted in a particular hall of shame that Bahrain will never forget. That hall of shame belongs to ALBA, Bapco, Ministry of Health, Gulf Air, Batelco, Ministry of Education, Khalifa Port and the Ministry of Municipalities all of whom account for the misery of 63% of all of those unfairly dismissed.

Put in another perspective, according to the secretary general of the Bahrain Labour Unions those despicable 199 entities are directly responsible for the hardships that 13,000 Bahrainis find themselves in with their breadwinners out of a job.

What the hell are they thinking?

Doctors, engineers, teachers, tradesmen and a plethora of other worthy individuals are out of jobs. Do those companies not have any balls whatsoever as to stand their ground and refuse to enact orders relayed by midnight callers? Ok, we know that they don’t, they’re afraid for their own positions and benefits, but why the mad chest beating rush and which-hunts? Don’t they realize the extreme damage that this situation can do to the health of their own companies? What would the remaining employees think of the company and its management? I bet that every single employee within those despicable entities cannot help but think that their own turn will come! It might not be for the same reasons, but if they see that other employees are so summarily and unfairly dumped, regardless of their length of service nor their deserved excellent local and international reputations, how easy would it be to dispense with them too? And for whatever infantile and ludicrous reason?

For those who are dancing on their co-workers’ graves, those who snitched, poked and stabbed their own brothers and sisters to be put in the literal firing line, where is your humanity? Where is your dignity? Where is your self-worth?

13,000 of my countrymen are at the risk of missed opportunities and continuous nightmares for doing nothing but expressing their views.

Know this; though, I bet that when they get used to the nightmares they will turn into a more belligerent and more extreme force that might very well rock the country, even more than what it’s at now, and those 199 entities as well as the government who is complicit in this, are directly responsible for this phenomenon. So thank you for destroying yet another generation.

What’s to be done, then? Like other great events in history, this is the time for a brave and responsible man to stand and take the helm. That man should not wait it out, because time now is the mortal enemy. The future of this country and its people are hanging in the balance and only strong, just and resolute decisions will rescue this country from the brink. This is where actual and much needed political, financial, labour, education and societal reform starts. And they all need a strong man with vision who is not afraid to step up on deck and take the helm in story seas. That journey is long and hard and won’t resolve overnight. But the country and its future children deserve the trouble.

To those 199 entities and the witch hunters. Your legacy will be shame, and you will be forgotten. Parasites that you are.

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The Dialogue: Freedom of Speech

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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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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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Barack is a TERRORIST!

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Barack is a TERRORIST!

Barack is a TERRORIST!, originally uploaded by malyousif.

We happened across this woman protesting in front of a Starbucks cafe yesterday morning. Her message is interesting; she contends that:

“Barack Hussein promised “change.”

What type of change?

Black Supremacy.

This is worse than September 11, 2001. Black Panther Islam unite to destroy whites & those who side with whites!

Obama is a TERRORIST.”

I don’t agree with her views, but having the opportunity for a lone protestor not to have to get an approval from a government agency which must be presented with five signatories who reside in the area she wishes to protest and having to do so at least 72 hours before the event and is contingent on many other factors is very refreshing.

Nothing charged me up, ever, like being on this trip to Washington, DC and New York (particularly). I am convinced that the more of us Arabs visit this great country and others like it who espouse the values of democracy, the faster we too will adopt them.

It is very hard to explain democracy to people who never experienced it. They will never appreciate it and will almost always revert back to rhetoric that “our way is better”.

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Free Bashar!

Some very sad news from Kuwait, a neighbouring country which we in Bahrain – and I suspect the whole Gulf – regarded until now as the beacon of democracy with the longest serving parliament in the region. A country where we celebrated their new Press and Publications Law which we again held in high regard and wished that we in Bahrain could just approach the freedoms it contains, a country who we fought for each in his and her own capacity when it was overrun by that criminal Saddam and opened our houses and hearts to our Kuwaiti brothers and sisters, a country which we deeply share our destiny and culture with much more than any other Gulf country. It is therefore very sad to hear of the news that their security forces have not only detained online publishers, but also tortured them simply for having an online presence and are being held to account for an anonymous comment left on their publication they had nothing to do with, and for daring to take pictures of the apprehension.

This is much more than a black day for the freedom of speech in the Gulf as that restriction has come from the doyen of free speech in this area, one that we have held in very high regard, until now.

I ask the Kuwaiti security forces to immediately and unconditionally release our friend Bashar Al-Sayegh and offer reparations to our friend Jassim Al-Qamis.

Shame on you Kuwait.

Free Bashar Al-Sayegh - Kuwait blogger abducted by the secret police in Kuwait

Bashar and Jassim, you have my full support and I know that this incident will never diminish your patriotism and love for your country.

إنشاءالله تعدي بخير

references English: SBGSavior MachineThe KuwaitiQ8 SWSShurooqForzaQ8 • The Stallion
Arabic: Al-AanAl-JareedaAl-OmmahSahat Al-SafatMa6googelkootKuwait Unpluggedbel Kuwaiti Alfasih

Bashar Al-Sayegh released by the State Security police in Kuwait

update [email protected]: Bashar has been released on his own recognizance by the State Security police. Welcome back Bashar! More on Al-Aan (arabic) and the various websites above.

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World Press Freedom Day

Today marks the annual commemoration of the World Press Freedom Day. This occasion of course is not a celebration, not by any means, but is an occasion for all of us to reflect about what dear price journalists and opinion writers pay to bring us news and thoughts which makes us more aware of the world around us, and even allow us to make informed decisions. And for that, they generally get kidnapped and imprisoned. It is unfortunate too that the Arab world in particular seems to be the most hostile to not just the basic human right of freedoms of expression, but to other personal freedoms too via restrictions imposed by rulers cloaking their discriminatory decisions with religious dogma and shroud them with the need to preserve our culture.

In Bahrain, our king repeatedly came out in support of press freedoms, while the very law that he promulgated in 2002 is still used to silence and criminally penalise journalists, the cases against whom I am told now average at least one case a week brought against them for libel or any of the plethora of other charges, all designed to silence criticism or to seemingly try to force the aura of respect (or probably subordination) to public officials’ and their positions, refusing to collectively recognise the power of good that a free and responsible media could enact in communities and countries.

To commemorate this day, I shall put my hand firmly with those in the Bahraini press today and stand with them at a token demonstration in front the parliament building this afternoon at 5pm. I shall also remember Alan Johnston and Kareem Sulaiman and their like and extend them my thanks for their courage in speaking their mind and doing their job.

Press Freedom Barometer - RSF - 3May07

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Case Deferred

Posted on

We went to the court this morning with a number of people already present and offered their support. But due to the main judge’s family bereavement, for which I would like to offer my sincere condolences to Shaikh Mohammed bin Ali on the passing of his mother, the case has been administratively deferred to be heard on May 8th.

I would also like to sincerely thank everyone who was present and all of those who called, emailed and texted their support as well.

In particular I would like to thank the lead advocate Ms. Fatima Al-Hawaj and the legal team offered by the Bahrain Human Rights Society to assist Ms. Al-Hawaj in the case, Lawyers Nawaf Al-Sayed and Lo’ay Qarouni; Tawfiq Al-Rayyash, Nabeel Rajab of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, the head of the Bahrain Journalists Union Mohammed Fadhel, journalists Mohammed Al-Sawwad from Al-Waqt (who was involved very recently in a similar case), Mohammed Aslam of the GDN, Mohammed Abbas of Reuters, Sandeep Singh Grewal from the Bahrain Tribune and Adel Al-Shaikh from Al-Wasat.

I would also like to sincerely thank my family who have always stood by me. My wife Frances, my brother Jamal and sister Maha as well as my children. I am sure that if my other siblings were in Bahrain they would have not hesitated an instant by being present to offer their support.

The legal team have asked for the case’s documents for their review and preparation, and we await the new court’s date to present our case before the High Criminal Court.

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Thoughts on tomorrow

Thank you all for your unstinting support. I truly appreciate it.

What I want to emphasize, if I may, this is not really a case against Mahmood Al-Yousif as much as it is a case against the tenets of the freedom of expression.

We, the people, should not be cowed into a status of never questioning or criticising a government official no matter how high that position is. They have to realise themselves, or be made to realise that the positions they occupy being called “civil servants” is no accident of nomenclature, but fact.

Unfortunately, both the Penal Code and the Press & Publications Law specifically not only discourages this civic responsibility of criticism, but glaringly criminalise it!

Is it any wonder that these very officials have risen within their own spheres to a status of demi-gods, inviolate, unapproachable and completely disconnected with the very people they are sworn to serve?

Parliament, on the other hand, continues to prevaricate and hasn’t even scheduled discussions on a retooled Press & Publications law which will elevate freedoms of expression in all its forms, concerning themselves more with perceived sorcerers and witches!

No, this is not a case against Mahmood Al-Yousif and never was. What I have written is rather mild when you consider it. This is a case purposefully levied to silence criticism.

Today it is me. Tomorrow it is everyone who dares to even glance “wrongly” at a public official, even if that official happens to be a janitor.

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