Internet in Bahrain

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Bahrain has been connected to the internet since 1995, and made it readily available to its citizens.[1] The country's domain suffix is '.bh'.[2] A 2004 study showed a liberal filtering system is used in Bahrain, one which can be easily bypassed, however more recent events have shown more sophisticated and pervasive filtering.[3]

In January 2009, Bahrain has started blocking a vastly increased number of sites through the Information Affairs Authority (IAA). The new filtering has had a noticeable impact in internet access speeds for all traffic.

As of 2010, there were about 694,000 internet users in Bahrain, or 55% of the population.[4]

Internet penetration and usage[edit]

The growth in fixed telephone lines and the Internet has made Bahrain a regional information and communications technology leader. The country's connectivity score (a statistic which measures both Internet access and fixed and mobile telephone lines) is 210.4 percent per person, while the regional average in the Gulf States is 135.37 percent.[5] The number of Bahraini Internet users has risen from 40,000 in 2000[6] to 250,000 in 2008,[7] or from 5.95 to 33 percent of the population. The telecom market witnessed a remarkable development in November 2008 when Mena Telecom launched its nationwide WiMAX network, a service that provides high speed wireless voice and data services.[8]

To encourage creativity in domestic online content, in 2005 Bahrain launched an e-content award organized by the eGovernment Authority in Bahrain and the Bahrain Internet Society. The goal of the award is to select quality online content and to promote creativity and innovation in the development of new media applications in Bahrain.[9]

Bahrain’s online community is small but dynamic. As of January 2008, there were over 535 websites based in Bahrain, focusing on 25 different themes (e.g., public forums); 59 websites for governmental organizations; and about 200 blogs, the majority of which are anonymous blogs.[10] Internet users in Bahrain use the Internet to debate sensitive issues and to exchange content that is not available in the traditional media. The authorities have blocked a number of news, religion, human rights, and humor Web sites run by Bahrainis and by non-Bahrainis, but users manage to access them using proxies.[10]

Bahrain’s telecom market is regulated by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), which was established by Legislative Decree No. 48 of 2002 to protect the interests of subscribers and users and to promote effective and fair competition among established and new licensed operators.[11] As of 2008, the TRA has licensed 22 Internet Service Providers,[11] the largest of which is Batelco.

Internet Service Providers in Bahrain (ISP)[edit]

Batelco: Regional telecommunications company specialising in a broad range of communications services including mobile, national and international telephony, business network services, Internet and satellite services etc.[12]
Zain: Regional telecommunications company specialising in a broad range of communications services including mobile, national and international telephony, business network services, Internet and satellite services.[13]
Inet Email: E-mail service provided by Bahrain Telecommunications Company[14]
VIVA: Providers of mobile phone services in Bahrain; part of The Saudi Telecommunication Group; provides call, messaging, Internet, roaming, Blackberry services etc.[15]
Bahrain Internet Exchange (BIX): Body established by government decree to connect Internet Service Providers, in order to increase local traffic and content, as well as reduce the cost of purchasing international bandwidth.[16]
Etisalcom: Providers of fully integrated ICT solutions for consumers & businesses; offers ETISL IP telephony, More international calling cards, national & international connectivity, Internet, hosting, comprehensive ICT solutions etc.[17]
Mena Telecom: Telecommunications company based in Manama; services: carrier pre-select, two-way satellite, broadband applications, international prepaid calling cards, total communication solutions etc.[18]
North Star Communications: Providers of Internet, telephony & VSAT services in Bahrain; offers pre-paid & post-paid international call services, international calling cards, Internet leased lines, ADSL services, web site development etc.[19]
Nuetel Communications: Alternative telecommunications provider that offers converged services including voice, Internet & television over a single broadband connection; head office is in Amwaj Islands; strategic partners include Cisco Systems & British Telecom.[20]
Lightspeed Communications: Lightspeed Communications is Bahrain's first alternative fixed-line telecommunications operator, offering value-added and innovative services for residential and business customers. Services offered includes voice & Internet ; head office is in Almoayyed Tower in Seef; strategic partners include Jordan Telecom.[21]

Surveillance and filtering[edit]

Users who try to access a blocked webpage see this message

The Ministry of Information has established a special unit which monitors Web sites for possible blocking. The government has indicated an interest in setting up a commission to monitor the press and Internet content to "report any incitement to confessionnalism."[22] Government efforts to monitor Web sites have also been confirmed by media reports that cite an official source saying that in addition to Web sites being monitored on a daily basis, the use of circumvention techniques to update banned Web sites is also being watched. Telecommunication Regulatory Authority - Kingdom of Bahrain, “Legislative Decree no. 48 of 2002 Promulgating the Telecommunications Law,”[23]

Results from first 2008-2009 test runs found limited blocking of pornographic and LBGT content and proxy and anonymizing services. However, after the January 2009 Ministerial decree, which ordered ISPs to implement an official filtering system, ONI found that the filtering of content in officially prohibited categories has become pervasive, which is an indication that the ISPs have started to use a commercial filtering system. Also, the ISPs have started to serve an explicit blockpage with a reference to the Ministerial decree.

Mid-February 2011, start of the Bahraini uprising, Internet traffic dropped by 20% due to aggressive government filtering.[24]

Arrested bloggers[edit]

On April 9, 2011, blogger Zakariya Rashid Hassan al-Ashiri died in prison after being tortured. He had been arrested for “inciting hatred,” “disseminating false news,” “promoting sectarianism,” and “calling for the regime’s overthrow in online forums.”[25]

A number of persons have been arrested for posting online messages:[25]

  • Abbas Al-Murshid
  • Mohamed Al-Maskati
  • Ali Omid
  • Fadel Al-Marzouk
  • Hossein Abdalsjad Abdul Hossein Al-Abbas
  • Jaffar Abdalsjad Abdul Hossein Al-Abbas
  • Hamza Ahmed Youssef Al-Dairi
  • Ahmed Youssef Al-Dairi
  • Fadhel Abdulla Ali Al-Marzooq
  • Hani Muslim Mohamed Al-Taif
  • Ali Hassan Salman Al-Satrawi
  • Abduljalil Al-Singace
  • Ali Abdulemam

Social Media in Bahrain[edit]

Social media has played a role in fueling the unrest in Bahrain with "highly inflammatory" information, according to a report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).[citation needed]

The Commission stated that it was "aware" of the impact of the use of social media websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, has had on some major social and political events in the contemporary world.

"The commission found numerous examples of exaggeration and misinformation, some highly inflammatory, that were disseminated through social media," the report stated.

Another issue raised in the findings was that mainstream media in Bahrain ignored views of opposition groups.

"The lack of access to mainstream media creates frustration within opposition groups and results in these groups resorting to other media such as social media," stated the report.

This, it said, could have a "destabilizing effect" because social media outlets were both untraceable and unaccountable.

The commission recommended the Bahrain government to relax censorship and allow the opposition greater access to television and radio broadcasts as well as print media.

Errors

The BICI team also met officials from Information Affairs Authority (IAA), who provided a file concerning the involvement of the international media in the events of February and March.

The IAA alleged that there was incitement practiced by some foreign media against Bahrain.

It also stated that the international media made factual errors when reporting on events.

"Much of this material contained derogatory language and inflammatory coverage of events, and some may have been defamatory,"said the BICI.

"However, the commission did not find any evidence of media coverage that constituted hate speech or incitement to violence." [26]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

This article incorporates text from the OpenNet Initiative's August 6, 2009 Bahrain profile, which is released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.

  1. ^ "The Internet in the Mideast and North Africa: Censorship and Free Expression". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2007-09-16. [dead link]
  2. ^ "Internet domain suffixes". ComputerHope.com. Retrieved 2007-11-25. 
  3. ^ "Internet Filtering in Bahrain 2004-2005". Open Net Initiative. Retrieved 2007-09-16. 
  4. ^ "World Development Indicators and Global Development Finance". Google Public Data. World Bank. Retrieved 12 September 2012. 
  5. ^ "Arab Advisors Group reveals Bahrain's communications connectivity leading the region (press release)". AMEinfo. August 5, 2008. Retrieved September 12, 2011. 
  6. ^ "ITU Internet Indicators 2000". International Telecommunications Union. Retrieved September 12, 2011. 
  7. ^ "ITU Internet Indicators 2008". International Telecommunications Union. Retrieved September 12, 2011. 
  8. ^ Sutton, Mark (November 24, 2008). "Mena Telecom launches WiMAX service in Bahrain". ITP. 
  9. ^ "Bahrain eContent Award". Retrieved September 12, 2011. 
  10. ^ a b "Internet censorship denies citizens access to popular public forums, news, alternative information, says BCHR". Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. January 3, 2008. Retrieved September 12, 2011. 
  11. ^ a b "Telecommunication Regulatory Authority - Kingdom of Bahrain". Retrieved September 12, 2011. 
  12. ^ Batelco
  13. ^ http://www.bh.zain.com
  14. ^ http://www.inetmail.com.bh
  15. ^ http://www.viva.com.bh/
  16. ^ http://www.bix.bh
  17. ^ http://www.etisalcom.com
  18. ^ http://www.menatelecom.com
  19. ^ http://www.nst.com.bh
  20. ^ http://www.nue-tel.com
  21. ^ http://www.lightspeed.com.bh
  22. ^ Reporters Without Borders, “Press law amendments hailed but journalists still face jail and websites risk closure,” July 3, 2008, http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=27741.
  23. ^ http://www.tra.org.bh/en/pdf/Telecom_Law_final.pdf.
  24. ^ http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9210099/Bahrain_clamps_down_on_Web_traffic_as_violence_escalates
  25. ^ a b http://en.rsf.org/IMG/pdf/rapport-internet2012_ang.pdf
  26. ^ http://www.gulf-daily-news.com/NewsDetails.aspx?storyid=318481

External links[edit]