Bahrain Threatens to Extend Internet Repression
The Bahraini government’s recent declaration that it will prosecute persons who criticize “national and public figures” online is an alarming indicator that the government is extending its crackdown from the offline to online realm. Freedom House condemns this threat to severely curtail free expression online.
Bahrain’s interior ministry said it plans to address crimes related to defamation and abuse online after it accused citizens of abusing “national and public figures” online. Those users are “breaking the law,” said the interior ministry, and should face prosecution. It will launch a website to field “complaints” made online against public figures. The prime minister also announced the government’s intention to crack down on “unlicensed” demonstrations, on the grounds that they threaten Bahrain’s economic interests. These developments are part of a deepening pattern of repression and indicate that the government has no real interest in reform.
Bahrain is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2012, Freedom of the Press 2012 and Freedom on the Net 2011. Citizens have been broadly engaged in protests since February 2011, calling for a more representative government and denouncing ethnic-based inequities in a country run by the Sunni Al-Khalifa royal family where the majority is Shiite. The government has failed to implement meaningful political reforms, and rights groups have reported ongoing arrests, intimidation, and in some cases torture of those who speak out against the regime. The Bahraini government has also increasingly attempted to curtail internet use for disseminating and obtaining politically sensitive information, using press and defamation laws to curb the activities of opposition groups and restrict freedom of expression.