Freedom House in 2021 Annual Report: Bahrain "Not Free", Activist Subjected to Spying, Attacks
2021-09-28 - 12:15 am
Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): Freedom House Organization said in its 2021 annual report, published on its official website, that "Internet freedom in Bahrain remains restricted. Authorities continued to block websites and forced the removal of online content, particularly social media posts criticizing the government."
"After the government normalized relations with Qatar, some websites were unblocked, but many online news outlets remained inaccessible, including Al-Jazeera. Other blocked websites include the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and the website of Lualua TV, as well as Bahrain Mirror newspaper which has been blocked repeatedly over the past few years," the organization stated.
It added "The Ministry of the Interior (MOI) continued to dissuade internet users from discussing sensitive topics online, such as the decision to normalize relations with Israel. Activists noted that while the government targets those who criticize its policies, it fails to act against hate speech directed at the opposition or Shiites, including posts calling Shiite citizens "garbage" and "dogs" and posts suggesting that political prisoners should be allowed to contract COVID-19."
According to Bahrain Mirror, "the only opinion that exists is that of the government loyalists and its mercenaries" and "the majority of the Bahraini people are... smothered and silenced by the political police who swallowed the public space and turned the country into an imprisonment camp where people are punished for whispering."
The report indicated that "the Instagram account @aljareesh, a Bahraini history account, was subject to heavy reporting that caused restrictions on its impressions. Besides, blogger and historical researcher Jassim Al-Abbas's post about a historical mosque was deleted from his Instagram account and from his blog, Sanawat al-Jareesh (Years of the Groats). The post mentioned a previous ruler of Bahrain before the ascension of the ruling Al-Khalifa family. Al-Abbas was arrested and charged with publishing wrongful information. However, he was released later."
Social media users were interrogated by security forces for their posts, and citizens were arrested and jailed for content posted online. The Ministry of the Interior (MOI) continued to dissuade internet users from discussing sensitive topics online, such as the decision to normalize relations with Israel.
The report indicated that the Bahraini electronic army has been posting messages discrediting Bahraini activists. Bahraini opposition figure Saeed Al-Shehabi was called an Iranian agent, while Sayed Yousef Al-Muhafdha was accused of corruption and dishonesty. A number of activists living abroad are subjected to cyber-attacks that target them, whether through emails or their social media outlets. Activists believe this "army" is sponsored by the authorities.
It noted that Twitter accounts from Saudi Arabia and the UAE have played a role in manipulating content about Bahrain on social media.
The organization confirmed that according to Article 72 of the new draft Press, Printing and Publishing Law, the court can order the blocking of a news site for six months if the chief editor or the managing editor is convicted of a crime committed through the website, and the blocking can last up to a year if the crime is repeated.
According to the report, journalists and activists who work online, including those abroad, continued to face extralegal intimidation, cyber-attacks, and surveillance by state authorities.
The organization added that "the Sunni-led monarchy dominates state institutions, and elections for the lower house of parliament are no longer competitive or inclusive. Since violently crushing a popular prodemocracy protest movement in 2011, the Sunni-led monarchy has systematically eliminated a broad range of political rights and civil liberties, dismantled the political opposition, and cracked down harshly on persistent dissent in the Shiite population."
"During the coverage period, at least 58 individuals were arrested, detained, or prosecuted for their online activities, including a woman who was deported and a lawyer whose license was revoked."
The organization pointed to a number of measures adopted by the authorities in Bahrain, including the government's approval of amendments to the press law, including more censorship and restrictions on material published by journalists and website owners, as well as criminal penalties, in addition to warnings issued by the Interior Ministry to Internet users who criticized normalization deal with Israel, after the Abraham Accord, and the authorities' censorship of activists and journalists, affecting internet freedom, especially after it was reported that in July 2021, Bahraini authorities had purchased Pegasus spyware from the NSO Group, an Israeli firm.
Freedom House ranks states in three categories according to their freedoms; "free states", which allow free political competition, and are dominated by an atmosphere of respect for civil liberties, political rights and media independence; "partly free states", which are states with limited respect for political rights and civil liberties and suffer from an atmosphere of corruption, weak law enforcement, racial and ethnic differences and uniqueness in power; and "Non-free states" which lack political rights, and where disrespect for civil liberties is widespread.