Reporters Without Borders deplores the Bahraini culture and information ministry’s ban on using a chat application available on Blackberry mobile phones to share local news. The ministry threatened to prosecute violators when it announced the ban on 7 April.
As a result of the prohibition, local journalist Muhannad Sulaiman has had to suspend his “Urgent News,” a daily service of briefs from six leading dailies which he distributed free of charge via Blackberry.
“This is an act of censorship and a direct attack on freedom of information,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is not the first time the Bahraini authorities have violated press freedom and they seem to be coming up with all sorts of inventive ways to censor the media. We urge them to stop their permanent harassment of Internet users and now mobile phone users. The fact that this ban affects a mobile phone application is very disturbing and shows the lengths to which the authorities will go to control the circulation of news.”
The culture and information ministry’s assistant undersecretary for press and publication, Abdullah Yateem, said the ban was needed because of the “chaos and confusion” such news was causing and because the individuals and agencies that were distributing the news did not have permission to do so.
The Blackberry chat application has become very popular in Bahrain. People have been using it to swap information on such subjects as the state of traffic, radar speed controls, cultural exhibits and religious information. The “Urgent News” alerts had 11,000 subscribers.
Until now, the authorities limited themselves to blocking websites. More than a thousand sites have been blocked since the start of 2009, including the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and Google Earth. Facebook and Twitter pages have also been rendered inaccessible.
Bahrain is one of the “countries under surveillance” by Reporters Without Borders because of its attitude towards the Internet: http://en.rsf.org/surveillance-bahrein,36665.html