Tag Archives human-rights

A light-bulb faintly goes on

From this morning’s GDN

Webmasters are free to register

WEBMASTERS will not be hounded into registering their sites with the Information Ministry, authorities said yesterday.

Information Under-Secretary Mahmood Al Mahmood said although the rules state that Bahrain websites must be registered with the ministry, it will not be actively pursuing them.

“Our goal is to encourage people to follow the legal way and a large number of websites have already registered. But we will not be actively pursuing all websites that are not registered,” he said.

“It’s the same as registering a car. If your car is not registered and no one hears about it, then you won’t get into any trouble. But if the authorities hear about it, then you could.”

A six-month campaign has been launched to register all Bahraini websites.

Webmasters face similar laws to newspapers related to libel, public decency and ethics. Just as a newspaper editor-in-chief is held responsible for what he publishes, so will a webmaster.

Ministry printing and publishing director Jamal Dawood said the ministry has an application form that people can pick up and fill.

“They will be issued with a registration number which they should put on their home page.”

Mr Dawood said no one would face prosecution merely for failing to register. He said registration was in the webmasters’ own good.

Rights

“We cannot protect people’s intellectual property rights without having them registered.”

Mr Dawood said people cannot register online at the moment because his directorate doesn’t have a website. For more information, he said people can call 17717525 or email [email protected]

Meanwhile, the ministry’s new policies were blasted by Bahrain’s first web blogger Mahmood Al Yousif who said if they weren’t going to be enforced properly, they are meaningless.

“This means that the law is going to be applied unequally and if it will be applied haphazardly, then it is useless.”

Mr Al Yousif, who runs www.mahmood.tv, said this policy will only victimise people who are courageous enough to reveal their identity on the Internet.

“There are many ways of disguising your identity on the Internet. Since these people cannot be identified, the law cannot be applied to them,” he said.

The Internet blogging community, said Mr Al Yousif, has its own way of dealing with irresponsible bloggers.

“The blogging phenomenon, which has been sweeping the world for the past few years, has done wonders for progressing and protecting democracy because it’s about normal people putting down their thoughts without having to go through the traditional editorial process.”

This piece was by Tariq Khonji whose site http://tariqkhonji.com is well worth a visit.

This to me is progress, in as much as they (Dawood and Al-Mahmood) seem to have realised that they’re getting into deep water here so it’s best to find a way out. It is unfortunate however that they chose to unequally apply the law – which in their minds is a legitimate thing!

And pray tell us Mr. Al-Mahmood and Mr. Dawood, how is it that you want to “regulate” the internet and you don’t even have a website?

For this very fact, and for the fact that you RUN the Ministry of Information I hearby un-libellously brand you morons of the month!

related articles:
Freedom of Speech my big toe!
How to blog anonymously

Bloggers’ Code of Ethics document & discussion. Please participate.

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Website clamp a step backwards

It is disturbing news that Bahrain has decided to clamp down on websites, just as the country celebrates World Book Day.

Yesterday’s stern warning to all webmasters to either register their sites or face legal action, has sent shockwaves down my spine.

To camouflage a law bent on infringing on the rights of people to express their opinion with clichés like protecting public freedom and safeguarding the rights stipulated in the 2002 reforms initiated by His Majesty King Hamad, is worrying.

It makes me and many others wonder what type of democracy we want to tell the rest of the civili-sed world we have.

Do we have a real democracy, or a tailor-made one under which people can do, say or think anything they want, as long as it falls in with the official line?

Instead of taking the opportunity of World Book Day to encourage people to read and write, express themselves and expand their horizons, the Information Ministry has now appointed itself as custodian of the worldwide web (www) and has created new restrictions to a service which provides people with information and entertainment at the click of a button.

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Webmasters clamp ‘can prevent libel’

New rules asking webmasters to register their sites with the Information Ministry should not be used to stifle freedom of expression, political activists said yesterday. Some were totally opposed to any registration, saying it could be the beginning of a slippery slope which could lead to further restrictions and unfair legal action to be taken against webmasters.

Others said the registration rule should only be used to prosecute people for libel and similar crimes and that there should not be an attempt by government officials to control the content of websites.

National Democratic Action Society board member Ebrahim Alsayed said this development is the latest in a series of moves designed to stifle the population.

“It follows recent proposed anti-terror, gatherings and political societies laws, which are examples of backward steps being taken following Bahrain’s previous democratic reforms,” he said.

“It fits into a bigger scenario of the government controlling society, limiting freedom of expression, freedom of organisation and the ability of the public to put pressure on it.”

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Al-Dhahrani’s at it again

Our illustrious Parliamentary Chairman not content with the state of our own laws, now suggests that we should import others from our giant neighbour (arabic); Saudi Arabia, especially as they pertain to the family, legal age and of course laws that would further demonstrate his complete “respect” for women.

It is done of course to “protect” women and minors. Nothing else you understand, and these laws will in no way impinge on their personal freedoms nor will they affect their way of life.

It’s not a big deal really, the laws he wants to pass are:

1 Restrict minor traveling without a parent or guardian’s approval. The age of majority in Bahrain is 21.
2 Restrict women (no age limit) from traveling unless approved by their legal guardian, be that their husband, father, brother or son as the case may be.

Can anyone spot a stupid moron in the house? Will you vote for him again? (Riffa are you listening? You’ve gotten more morons into this parliament and we want to make sure that you do so again next year!)

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Codifying Personal Status Law

There are big discussions doing the rounds in the papers this week regarding the uncodified nature of the Personal Status Law spread primarily by two national polls; one sponsored by the Supreme Council for Women executed by the Bahrain Centre for Studies and Research while the other more arbitrary by Al-Wasat using SMS responses to questions posed in the paper.

The bottom line is that Bahrainis generally want to codify Personal Status Law for various reasons, one of which is the inordinate amount of time that family cases take in the court system, and the unsatisfactory nature of judgements as they are made by a judge’s personal interpretation of Islamic Shari’a Law rather than written down code and rules.

The Personal Status Law covers marriage, engagement, marriage rights which include dowry, divorce, legal separation, alimony, child-rearing, wills, inheritance, and other aspects of family existence.

The results of the poll commissioned by the Supreme Council for Women were released on October 23rd, 2004 – 1,300 persons polled from various walks of life and locations in the 5 governates in Bahrain (meaning covering both Sunnis and Shi’as.) The results are interesting:

1. 41.2% of Bahrainis do not know enough about family laws and rites
2. of those who favour the codification of Personal Status Law 56.08% were women and 43.92% were men.
3. However of the people opposing such a law, 64.38% were men, and 35.62% were women.

As to the method and sources of this codification, 97% of people polled agreed that Personal Status Laws should be based on Islamic Shari’a Laws. 53.6% want a committee of clerics, religious scholars, lawyers and noted civilians to codify these laws, while 45.9% want that role to be restricted only to clerics and religious scholars.

The Al-Wasat SMS poll is quite interesting too. They didn’t publish their readership demographics but we can assume that most of their readership are Shi’a communities and it is also reasonable to deduce that this SMS poll in its respondents majority were Shi’a.

They received around 500 messages for their poll. The questions put were

1. Accept codifying the Personal Status Law through the parliament (19%)
2. Accept codifying the Personal Status Law through the parliament ONLY WITH the religious scholars’ blessings (35%)
3. Do not accept codifying the Personal Status Law through the parliament (44%)
4. Unsure (2%)

It’s quite interesting to see that the majority of respondents are actually WITH codifying Personal Status Law (19% + 35% = 54%) and even giving parliament the right to do so, albeit with the blessings of the scholars, but the essence is that the majority see the need for such a law as very necessary.

The fly in the ointment of course is that various Muslim sects have interpreted Islamic laws differently. But at least as far as this issue is concerned, there seems to be a consensus by the Sunnis with their 4 sects who have formulated a single law that they all are subjected to and have agreed to abide by that law. It still has to go through parliament championed by the Al-Menbar Islamic Bloc.

The Shi’a (clerics and scholars) on the other hand are very widely split (from Al-Wasat’s poll we can reasonably deduce that the Shi’a people have no problem accepting such a law). Four forces rule the Shi’a roost in Bahrain: Shaikh Essa Qassim, Shaikh Hussain Al-Najati, Shaikh Hameed Al-Mubarak and Sayed Abdulla Al-Ghuraifi.

Against the codification are Essa Qassim and Abdulla Al-Ghuraifi, correctly stating that in Shi’ism a person can decide who they want to “emulate,’ that is, which of the Shi’a marja’iah they follow and based on that decision, the rules and laws applying to that Shi’a person might be different than another person following another marji’. And as both Qassim and Al-Ghuraifi refuse to be part of the court system, the only way for them to influence their congregation and people is through their sermons.

The four scholars have made attempts in the past to sit together and come out with a unified stance as to the Personal Status Law issue, but it seems that their differences were too much to even out, hence the issue was left hanging.

Al-Menbar’s Dr. Salah Ali did visit Qassim at his residence after Oct 15th when the latter launched a very spirited attack on the Personal Status Law and specifically his complete objection that parliament is to formulate it stating that the only people capable of doing so are clerics and scholars as they are more cognizant of Islamic laws and interpretations, rather than a parliament of civilians. He went as far as threatening that if the parliament dared to do so, then he will declare it (in not so many words) apostate and that it serves people other than the people of Bahrain.

MP Mohammed Al-Shaikh toed the line and further suggested in an interview with Al-Wasat newspaper that if parliament was allowed to codify Personal Status Laws, then what guarantees are there that at some point in the future Socialists get into the parliament and change the law as they wish? Far fetched but Al-Shaikh is famed for theatrics.

Al-Menbar have now given up their attempts to convince the Shi’a to be included in the dialogue and come out with a single set of rules for both major sects, and they’re going it alone for the Sunni sect where their formulation of Personal Status Laws will not apply to Shi’a or Ja’afari Courts.

And the loser in all this? Women! Men have nothing to fear, we just divorce, go to court and waltz out with ridiculous judgments like alimony set at BD30 ($79) per month, keep the children if they’re over 7 years old, don’t have to provide a home to the ex-wife and her children and the likes of this. There is almost no way for a woman to divorce her husband, there is no way for her to keep the children against the father’s wishes, there is no way for her to demand a higher alimony.

Yet, we find that women are actually AGAINST such a law! 35% of the people opposed to codifying the Personal Status Law are women! Is this a case of chopping off the nose to spite the face? Or did they just not understand? Or even worse, they completely agree that men are better than they are, hence should be exempt from these familial responsibilities?

I just cannot understand this at all, and I am joined by non other than Amira Al-Hussaini who have written about this subject in today’s GDN. (click “read more” at the bottom of this article to see her comment.)

In conclusion, I fully support the codification of Personal Status Law, and as soon as possible. I have seen and heard of horrific stories of irresponsibly of ex-husbands basically torturing their wives but walking away from it with hardly a slap on the wrist. I have heard of judges abusing their power, even as far as granting a woman a divorce only if she agrees to marry them for a few days (short term marriage in the Shi’a faith is acceptable and legal, this is called muta’a and is highly contentious even between Shi’as themselves.) Apart from all this, and more important, as there is no written code, judges are left to decide cases on their own basing their decision on their own personal interpretation of the law which invariably create a multitude of unsatisfied and bitter families. Now put this power of interpretation in the hands of incompetent or corrupt judges and you have a recipe for disaster.

It is high time that this situation is corrected.

If the scholars (that includes the above mentioned four gentlemen as well as surprisingly Adel Al-Mo’awdah who came out in support of Qassim during his Friday sermon a couple of days ago – wonders will never cease!) have a problem with that, then why not let people themselves choose at the time that they marry what authority they want to be subjected to? Religious Shari’a courts or Civil Courts and be done with it?

I think that the scholars might well have a point in that they are afraid that people will muddle up Islamic laws and norms because they don’t know how to interpret them very well, but what’s the alternative if they themselves can’t get their act together and get the code written? Not doing anything and keeping the current status quo is criminal and completely out of touch of today’s world.

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Bye privacy… welcome totalitarianism

The government is going to introduce a national ID card next year that will further control our lives, expose our most private details: any and all financial transactions, every time we travel, obtain health care, work, rent or buy a house yet no one asked us, the people, if we support such a totalitarian measure. They didn’t even explain how information is stored and retrieved from the card nor who is authorised to view our private details.

For example, when one uses the card, is all the information contained in it exposed or will there be sub-levels of access? That is, will the doctor only be able to see our health record? The bank our financial transactions? The traffic police our traffic related offenses only? Or will anyone with an appropriate card reader be able to drill down every conceivable private detail stored on the card? Giving our consent to whoever is going to read our details by scanning our thumb-print is not enough if that will result in an unrestricted view of the contents.

The government from what I’ve read so far is selling the concept of convenience. I don’t buy it. To me, this looks much more like total control of an individual’s life.

Consider the case of using a credit card for instance: when this card is used, the authorisation software does much more than merely check the identity and available credit. Before getting an authorisation number a credit card number is transmitted to a central computer which performs a large number of transaction: is the card on the system? Has it been reported lost or stolen? Does the account have adequate credit for the current transaction? It goes further: it checks the transaction history, the nature of the current transaction and compares it with the current proposed transaction to see if this transaction fits the customer profile and compares all of that with profiles of fraudulent transactions stored on the system. Once this operation is complete it assigns a “core”to the prospective transaction which it uses to determine whether or not to authorise the transaction.

I can see the national ID card to follow the same path should strict controls not be specifically introduced.

Say you go to a doctor and some software glitch happens in the myriad of equipment and software, will you be satisfied by the rejection of provision of medical aid because of this glitch? What if you want to buy a ticket for a concert and you give your ID number to a distant clerk on the phone who then taps your number on his terminal and not only knows your full home address, but now also when you’re NOT going to be at home? Can the government vouch for the honesty of every clerk? Or will the information be restricted for that type of transactions? If so, what will that clerk have access to?

The proposed card is a huge invasion of privacy, and privacy is one very basic human right. Do we give this away as citizens without question? Why is the government so insistent on knowing every detail of our private life when we see a whole continent like Europe almost doing away with passports? Why does the government want to track every aspect of our lives?

We should at least let Parliament examine these issues closely before even starting such a pervasive scheme. What I’ve heard so far is everyone applauding a clearly “big brother” scheme without any thought given to the real effect that such a card will introduce, whether we like it or not.

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