Tag Archives freedoms

DurazSiege True Stories: Day 301

DurazSiege True Stories: Day 301

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I was barred from walking through the checkpoint at Oxygen Gym to my house which is just 300 meters away last night due to the ongoing #DurazSiege.

The policeman insisted that it is closed for all traffic, including pedestrians, and I have to go to the main checkpoint at the entrance of Avenue 36. That is a roundabout walk of about 3km to gain entrance to the besieged area.

Where is the sanity in this?

Explaining to him that I have been walking through this very checkpoint every single day for 301 days without a problem was to no avail. He finally relented and let me through with a stern warning not to try to walk through this point again!

Welcome to my – and those of some 20,000 other souls’ – life.


To tattoo or not to tattoo

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Arabic-Tattoos-On-Rib-38Until today, I was ambivalent to against tattoos. I can tolerate them on other people’s skin as it’s their skin, not mine. It’s their personal freedom and nothing to do with me. But today… oh today… I am ALL FUCKING FOR TATTOOS AND WILL GET SOME ON MY SKIN. I’LL GET INKED. And to the right honourable parliamentarians who have nothing better to do than to ban things left and right without any regard to personal freedoms and choice, and as if the country doesn’t have enough problems for them to resolve – like the budget, political stasis, decrepit economy, dearth or education, really really bad health services, housing and the oodles of corruption both administrative and financial, I say do your worst. You ain’t getting me to NOT tattoo my body. Deal with it.


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.


Government admits the ineffectiveness of censorship

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With six international human rights organizations releasing stinging reports on the freedom of expression in the Arab world, Bahrain was not spared any of that wrath. And deservedly so for the thousands of websites which have been blocked over the past ten years, a campaign which has intensified especially over the last few years. The government remains unmoved by these criticisms for the large part; although I’ve noticed that two of my sites have mysteriously been unblocked over the last few weeks. “Just Bahraini” the anti-sectarian website I created in 2006 to offer a form of rapprochement is presently unblocked and the Bahraini blogs aggregator too has been unblocked. I look forward to restoring their content soon and bringing them back to life. This is probably as sign that the government has finally discovered that its blocking policy is ineffective and people’s determination to reach blocked content remains largely unhindered.

Bahraini human rights, health and social affairs minister Fatima AlbalooshiAnother admission of the ineffectiveness of that medieval policy comes from one of the darling ministers of the regime – and as she currently holds three huge portfolios: Social Affairs, Health and Human Rights, has been locally dubbed as Super-Woman or Super-Minister, and rightly so too. When the right honorable lady was interviewed in her Human Rights capacity regarding this particular subject, she issued forth the following priceless gem:

ولدى سؤالها عن المواقع المحجوبة، قالت وزيرة حقوق الإنسان والتنمية الاجتماعية فاطمة البلوشي، خلال لقاء مع منظمة حقوقية دولية إنها «ليست مشكلة… ويمكن استخدام البروكسي».

My translation: And when she was asked about the blocked websites, the Minister of Human Rights and Social Affairs responded during a meeting with an international human rights organisation by saying it’s not a problem… a proxy could be used [to gain access]” [source]

With that issuance, the right honorable lady has squarely killed two bulls with a single bullet; the first is her apparent lack of understanding of the Internet in general, and the second being her flippant admission that people do use proxies to gain access to blocked content; hence, admitting in print that censoring the Internet is useless and futile, and her government is wrong for doing so in the first place.

A friend commented on this situation thusly:

safybh: @mahmood they can use proxy is the new they can eat biscuits.


With ministers like the right honorable Ms Albalooshi, this country simply cannot go wrong.


Redressing the wronged employees

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In this country, over a thousand have been dismissed from their positions for doing nothing other than expressing their opinions. Quite a number were fired for simply being Shi’a. My head just cannot get around this. Disregard, for the moment, the fact the as many households have been disadvantaged directly due to this despicable practice, how on earth do those who have ordered this heinous crime to be committed and those who condoned such collective punishment dream of this helping their cause, let alone the country as a whole? And how can others expect that with just another stroke of the pen that the damage will be contained and things will go back to normal? How can they ever think that the poisoned and poisonous atmospheres which have been created ever be effective again without the root causes be addressed first?

Yes, the king has ordered those dismissed to be re-instated. Apart from the fact that his order being ignored initially, then very reluctantly implemented with various conditions and reservations attached, people who have gone back found that they were forced into different – sometimes menial – positions and they have had to accept and sign humiliating contracts and accept the loss of back-pay as well as rescind any labour or court cases they might have raised against their employers.

The question is: did those who’ve dreamt up this revengeful scheme ever think that they would be allowed to get away with it? Did they mistake the times we’re living in to be medieval with disconnected fiefdoms and whatever they as overlords wish shall be done with alacrity and without any consequences?

If they have – and it appears that some certainly did – then the life they’re living is an isolated one in their own minds, and is of their own making.

How can this mess be fixed now?

If the offered fixes follow the perennial methods which treat symptoms rather than the causes, then their efficacy will be wanting. Nothing other than addressing root causes will work; the legal employment structure must be re-examined especially in the public sector, and I suggest the heads of the Civil Service Bureau be relieved of their duties for not standing up for their employees in the first instance. Second, adequate compensation for the wrongful dismissals and for the trauma those actions have caused and most importantly those responsible for giving out those despicable orders and their attached witch-hunting committees must be held to account, publicly. They have done untold damage to this country and its society. As such, they must be penalized and made example of so that this abrogation of responsibility and revengeful and criminal behaviour is never allowed to happen again.

Resolution won’t happen until these matters are adequately and ethically addressed.


IAA dreaming?

Here’s a bit of news which does not add up:

Bahrain has been picked to host the headquarters for Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s new international Arabic news network despite months of unrest, according to the tiny Gulf kingdom’s media oversight authority.

Alwaleed’s channel, dubbed Alarab, will be based in the Bahraini capital Manama’s new Media City office complex, Sheik Fawaz bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa, a member of the Bahraini royal family and head of the country’s Information Affairs Authority, said in a statement late Tuesday.

The channel aims to focus “on the important shifts taking place across the Arab world, with an emphasis on freedom of speech and freedom of press,” Alwaleed said in September.[source]

The first huge question mark is that the IAA and the Ministry of Information have been a complete and utter failure at retaining such huge investments. They have chased out every single television channel which either have or wanted to establish itself in Bahrain. They have been instrumental in stifling freedoms of speech and have elevated that activity to an art form to be envied in the third world and beyond. None of the newspapers are free here and don’t get me started on the huge number of websites which have been blocked by their direct action, or if it’s not them – to give them their fair due – then it’s another arm of the government which has ordered the websites’ ban mostly through extra-judicial means. Even a service which can directly elevate the level of education in this country has been banned; try accessing the Google translation engine for instance. The end result is that this government has proven itself to be extremely hostile to any free speech.

So how can a supposed erudite, intelligent, iconic, uber-businessman who has been known to pick the right horse at the right time plonck potentially more than half a billion dollars to get such a news channel started? And how is he going to entrust the administration of his Rotana media empire to be run from a country which is and continuously has been at war with free speech?

Ok, leave that, how will the unfettered turbaned and bearded lot take to the parties, concerts and festivals which MUST be part of the deal in marketing Rotana and its products? Parliament – in its present form – and the nouvelles politiques a’la Almahmood an co will go ape-shit, and that’s putting it mildly.

Will the government actually allow such news and entertainment channels to exist and be free? I suspect that the news entity will be so curtailed that it will ultimately make the present Bahrain TV shine, and the black screens of censorship will make the other channels in the bouquet completely and utterly unwatchable. In fact, they will make test-bar screens more interesting.

The only reason I could fathom for Al-Waleed entrusting his millions to Bahrain without having iron-clad constitutional guarantees for hands-off non-molestation is that he’s in the game of losing money… and although a gambler he may be, stupid he most definitely is not.

So what gives?


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.


Domino effect continues… who’s after Egypt?

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With the collapse of dictatorial rule in Tunis and the running demonstrations in Egypt since 25 Jan with Friday the 28th culminating in the biggest series of demonstrations for decades, which other country could follow this popular domino effect?

The regular culprits and the most shaky governments seem to be Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Yemen, most of which witnessed significant demonstrations since the Tunisian popular uprising. Whether those demonstrations would be sustainable is anyone’s guess. The Egyptian situation certainly seems to have taken the officials there by utter surprise. I’m not sure why; with 30% illiteracy and some 50% of its population living with under the equivalent of two US Dollars per day, the massive amount of human rights variations visited upon them, they should’ve really expected it.

As I watch Al-Jazeera at the moment with it declaring the government issuing a curfew from 6PM – 7AM Cairo time, it seems that they now got the message, but they certainly didn’t read the situation on the ground very well.

With Egypt taking the opportunity of the first celebrated date after the Tunisian uprising to start their demonstrations, I can’t but postulate that others might use the same technique to illicit support for their causes and start the process of toppling their particular domino piece. A quick search of possible “flash dates” in the Arab world resulted in one very close to us; the commemoration of the declaration of these very islands of Bahrain to be a Kingdom. That date of course is Feb 14, just a couple of weeks away.

A smart government would tone down its celebrations at this particular time. A smarter government of course would immediately engage its populace and show them that the long promised reforms are immediately introduced in tangible forms in order not only to momentarily ameliorate their citizens’ senses, but to simply make good on its promises.

What do Bahraini citizens want? Live in dignity and have their basic human rights, and intellect, respected. Translating that into practical terms, I personally think the very first thing that should be enacted is the declaration of an impartial truth and reconciliation committee with all relevant powers, the rescinding of contentious laws, particularly 56/2002 and the enacting free press and respect for freedoms of association and speech.

Will the government be cognizant of these feelings and acquiesce to these reasonable requests? Especially when you consider that these very factors will strengthen their position and perpetuate their rule?

I don’t know. After ten years of promises, I feel its high time that those promises are enacted.

The last thing we need is even more strife in this country. We’ve had enough.


Who’s next?

Ali Abdulemam, the blogger and system operator of the banned BahrainOnline.org has been summoned to appear before the National Security accused of allowing his forum to broadcast wrong and malicious information.

Bahraini blogger and system operator Ali Abdulemam

Abdulemam joins tens, possibly hundreds, more apprehended Bahrainis all accused or charged with some malicious intent against the ruling regime. According to most operating human rights organisations in the country, they have had their rights violated and some even went as far as accusing the security services of applying systemic torture on some of those incarcerated.

I fear that this latest development further degrades the country’s reputation and gives some credence to the charges of it being an enemy of freedom of expression and that of human rights too.

I hope that Abdulemam gets released untouched soon. Like any other forum operator and blogger, he has no real control over his guests’ contributions. Sites like those offered by Abdulemam should be supported and allowed to freely operate as they serve an extremely important function in providing a place for citizens and others to voice their opinions. BahrainOnline.org is known to be a central venue for this, so much so that it is said that even ministers tend to log in first thing in the morning to find out what’s happening in the country rather than read the papers.

I would ask for Ali Abdulemam to be immediately released. As far as I could deduce, he has not done anything wrong.

Maybe it’s time to resurrect the Free Ali site and prepare a few more for other Bahraini bloggers and forum sysops?

Update [email protected]: This statement was released on the Bahrain News Agency‘s website in connection with his arrest earlier:


Manama Sep 05 (BNA) Following reports of the arrest of Ali Abdulemam, referred to as a blogger, Bahrain’s Ministry of the Interior released the following statement:

“Ali Abdulemam was arrested on Saturday 4th September as part of the ongoing investigation into the terrorist network accused of planning and executing a campaign of violence, intimidation and subversion in Bahrain. As part of this investigation compelling evidence emerged connecting Ali Abdulemam directly to this network. “Any assumption that Mr.Abdulemam has been arrested purely on the basis of any political views he may hold is entirely inaccurate and is connected solely to evidence of his involvement with senior members of the terrorist network. “On Saturday 4th September, Bahrain’s National Security Agency requested that Mr Abdulemam come in for interview. Following this request, Mr Abdulemam attempted to flee the country and was arrested at Bahrain International Airport under the Protection of the Community Against Terrorism Act 2006 and has been presented to the Director of Public Prosecution. “At present authorities are continuing to investigate the full extent of Mr Abdulemam’s involvement in the terrorist plot and his detention will continue to be fully in-line with international standards as well as in strict adherence to Bahraini law.” A H N BNA 1742 GMT 2010/09/05


Ah, Germany is not that free after all!

Ah, Germany is not that free after all!

I know, such a revaluation isn’t it?

I’m in Berlin as part of an excellent program by the German Federal Foreign Office. They invited a group of 15 international bloggers coming from countries spanning across from Costa Rica through to China. Part of the program is to meet with German bloggers and opinion makers to effect a cultural exchange of sorts. The program is not strenuous at all, not like the usual conferences and workshops I usually go to which cram a lifetime into 3 days. With those you invariably come out fullfilled to be sure, but completely sapped and exhausted too. Well this one is different on many levels. It’s spread over 10 full days with planned time-outs and cultural visits too. Yes, it’s a holiday with a purpose. Thank you Germany 🙂

Blogger Tour 13 May – 22 May 2010 List of participants

Mrs Eman Al‐Nafjan
Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Mr Mahmood Al Yousif
Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain

Mr Markus Balsiger
Bern, Swiss Confederation

Mr Cristian Cambronero
San José, Republic of Costa Rica

Mr Miloš Čermák
Prague, Czech Republic

Mr Ato Kwamena Dadzie
Accra, Republic of Ghana

Miss Nigar Fatali
Baku, Republic of Azerbaijan

Mr Elia Kabanov
Novosibirsk, Russian Federation

Mr Andrew Loh
Singapore, Republic of Singapore

Mr Nino Raspudić
Zagreb, Republic of Croatia

Mr Mahmoud Salem
Cairo, Arab Republic of Egypt

Mr Aliyu Usman Tilde
Abuja, Federal Republic of Nigeria

Mr Árpád Tóta
Budapest, Republic of Hungary

Mr Tulkinjon Umaraliev
Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic

Mr Michael Anti
Beijing, People’s Republic of China

We concluded the first day of the program yesterday where we listened to 4 excelent people talk about the German blogosphere, politics, laws and media environment. The one i felt most important was a presentation by a self-described “aggressive lawyer” whose daily job, again by his own description, is to aggressively go after bloggers! It’s ironic because he himself is a blogger too.

Yes, lawyers are supposed to be dry – and the first glance at this one’s text-filled slides sort of confirmed that adage. I know that my fellow bloggers were at first skeptical too. We were resigned to what we were about to receive wouldn’t be anything better than Death by PowerPoint. That mode – i could see around me – was fully engaged.

But the guy surprised us. He didn’t only know how to press our buttons, he was also lucid in his thoughts, methodical in his presentation and made the relatively dry subject of Internet & Press Freedoms interesting through his evident passion.

The gist of his presentation is this: be prepared to be sued if you libel anyone, and he (and other lawyers too) will come after you!

In German law, there is no distinction between a traditional journalist and a “pro” blogger; that is, if your content is “news-type” approaching the same standards as that of a traditional mainstream paper, then you’re not only regarded as an equal to a journalist, but also will be deemed to have met the prerequisites of enrollment in a journalist union and will have the same rights and responsibilities enjoyed by journalists.

Weird isn’t it? And some still choose to be nit-picky about what pigeon hole bloggers should reside in! My friends, the lines are most certainly blurred and there isn’t a pigeon hole big enough to stuff bloggers in.

German law also provides no distinction between slander and libel and guarantees both freedom of expression and the freedom of the press.

Article 5 of the German Constitution (Basic Law) states:

Every person shall have the right freely to express and disseminate his opinions in speech, writing, and pictures and to inform himself without the hindrance from generally accessible sources. Freedom of the press and freedom of reporting by means of broadcasts and films shall be guaranteed. There shall be no censorship.

These freedoms are further backed up by several other basic rights such as the guarantee of private property and the right to freely choose and exercise any profession.

It also emphasises that all citizens are generally free to run a publishing company or offer opinions – critical or otherwise – and information in any form to the public by starting a blog – for example – without any kind of governmental approval.

The proviso is that one has to be conscious of the limits of freedom, that is, one’s freedom ends where another’s begin.

This is taken to levels which could be considered by others as extremes; for instance, one has the full right to walk in the street, any street in Germany, fully naked! Regardless of gender. And no one can force that person to dress-up because they individually think that that behavior is “unsavoury” or “disgraceful”, that – I suspect – is an individual’s opinion which is open to interpretation. However, if someone complains that a person’s nakedness “disturbs” him, than and only then would it be considered as impinging on that person’s freedom and the naked person is made to dress up.

The press in Germany is independent of governmental control to the extent that governments (there are 16 of them in this Federation) are forbidden to issue or get involved in the issuance of Press Cards as those are solely the responsibility of the professional bodies such as Press Unions.

Herr Jon Mönikes, the vigorously aggressive lawyer warns us though, that you have to stand behind your words. In what to my mind is a contradictory and unconstitutional requirement, he says that publishers must declare their names and addresses on their blogs, this is to demonstrate responsibility in allowing people easy access to communicate with them should they need to, and for the lawyers to know where to send the summons or the law suit to! Doesn’t that contradict with the Constitutionality of anyone is allowed to have a publishing company, let alone a blog, and not to have to register it with the government? Thinking about it now, I don’t think so and it makes sense. A publisher must stand by his publication. However I’m unsure that this condition is a government requirement, I suspect it’s not but is required possibly by the Unions.

Upon notification from his clients of an infringement in a blog or any other type of media, Herr Mönikes investigates the situation and if there is merit he would lift the phone to talk to the publication’s owner and demand the alteration, removal or retraction of whatever is published. If they choose not to, he takes them to court, something he proudly states that he has done hundreds if times. And here in Germany, the loser in any civil court must pay the lawyer’s and court fees for the case, so it could get very expensive, especially for bloggers. Most, of course, comply.

Publishers are ultimately responsible for whatever is published on their blogs. Even comments! Yes, that was a revelation to me and a lot of my fellow bloggers in the room. But, there are limits of course… If you do not exercise moderation, that is, if you don’t approve the comment before it is displayed on your blog, then you are not responsible. However, the government or the lawyer has the right to force you to declare the commenter’s identity and IP address if available! That seriously freaked me out!

The advice? Well, don’t read the comments! But if you do and if you find that the comment might warrant a case against you, then you are beholden by law to remove it! If you don’t, then get prepared to be dragged into court. When notified, “professional” bloggers must remove the offending material within something like 24 hours of notification, amateurs however get quite a bit more leeway and get to remove it in a week or so, and of course, as theirs is not professional, then the roles and responsibilities assigned to journalists do not apply to them.

Article 5 continues to say:

  • These rights shall find their limits in the provisions of general laws, in provisions for the protection of young persons, and in the right to personal honour.
  • Accordingly, limis to the freedom of expression are:
    • general laws (including opposing constitutional rights of third parties) – general laws are federal and supersede local governments laws
    • youth protection – child pornography, certain types of violence depictions, etc
    • right to personal honour – libel, slander, etc

    Probably the only no-negotiation law in Germany which even supersedes freedoms of expression is Holocaust Denial. Germans take this very seriously and if you do, then off to prison you go at the happy expense of the German government and citizens for 5 years. Full Stop.

    So don’t deny the Holocaust happening and don’t display swastikas and other Nazi symbols. And oh, you can’t sell Mein Kampf here either. You can own it if it’s handed to you or you found it, but you cannot sell it, and by inference, you won’t be able to buy it.

    Regarding the Holocaust, you CAN question its situation, the numbers involved and do academic research into it, but you just cannot deny it’s occurrence.

    So how is this all different from the laws in Bahrain and other Arab countries? It seems even stricter than what is coded in our own countries.

    Thinking about these issues since yesterday, I think the differences are quite apparent. While in Germany (and other democracies) the law is applied fairly, it is backed up by an independent judiciary and above all it is applied with good will. With us, unfortunately, regardless of how good the laws are on paper, they are applied with ill will for the most part, with an eye on a hidden or declared agenda.

    Will this situation change in the future? I hope so. But it won’t happen on its own accord. It requires people to stand up and vigorously demand their rights, rather than just be the usual acquiescents we normally are.