Amnesty and the IAA:
Respecting or Restricting Freedom of Expression?
□ The President of the Information Affairs Authority
(IAA): we have licensed the publication of 1000 newsletters and
journals, and we always strive to develop the law in line with openness
and freedom of opinion and expression.
□ Blocked websites promoted violence, encouraged
vandalism of public properties, and publicised methods of manufacturing
explosives, weapons and implanting bombs.
On 9 November 2010, Amnesty International issued a statement
following its recent visit to Bahrain, in which it criticised the
Bahraini Government for undermining freedom of expression. This
seems to be a harsh description of the state of freedom of expression
in the country.
Amnesty also expressed its concern regarding the closure of several
websites and publications, including those belonging to licensed
political societies. The statement also pointed to some Government
requirements, which restricted the freedom of expression guaranteed
by international human rights conventions, signed by Bahrain.
The statement also urged the Bahraini Government ‘to lift the
restrictions imposed on political associations’ websites and restore
the associations’ publishing licences and allow them to distribute
information freely in accordance with international human rights
law. Political associations should have the right to disseminate
information freely, including to the public, and that both laws
related to publication and political associations should be amended
and brought into full conformity with Bahrain’s obligations under
international human rights law’.
The View of the IAA
On 19 November 2010, the BHRM relayed these concerns regarding
freedom of expression to the President of the IAA, Sheikh Fawaz
bin Muhammad Al Khalifah, which he kindly responded to.
|The President of the IAA.
■ Why were some websites belonging to licensed political
societies blocked? Can you explain their breaches of the law?
Some of the websites you mentioned were blocked because their
contents breached the Press and Publications Law, and others had
used unlicensed electronic applications on their websites.
■ Who is responsible for the decision to close these
websites, and does this fall under the jurisdiction of the concerned
Ministry or the Court, and according to which article?
This was based on the Ministerial Decree No.1 for 2009 regarding
the regulation of websites, and in accordance to Articles 19 and
20 of Decree No.47 for 2002, regarding the organisation of press,
printing and publications.
■ Did the decision come gradually or without previous
warning? In other words, did you inform the owners verbally or in
writing to warn them of their transgressions? If so, could you provide
us with examples of your actions and the reactions of the owners,
The decision came in a gradual legal manner, as the owners were
first informed of the breaches, then they were sent an official
letter requesting the removal of the illegal material. This included
a warning that their websites would be closed if the matter was
not addressed, and we have copies of these correspondences.
■ Does the law allow the owners of these websites
to appeal to the courts, and according to which articles?
Yes, the Law allows this, in accordance with articles 19 and
20 of Law 47 for 2002, regarding the organisation of press, printing
■ How many websites were blocked? And how many of
these were pornographic, and how many were political and inciting
violence? Can you give us examples of this?
No opinion-based websites were blocked, only websites which contained
incitement and sectarianism, encouraged vandalism of public properties,
attacked public interests, destabilized the security of the Kingdom,
and spread lies and rumours. In addition, some publicised incitement
against the regime, and promoted violence to the extent that they
published methods of manufacturing and implanting bombs, smoke bombs,
magnesium and sodium and Molotov cocktails, among other explosives.
These websites incited youths to manufacture these bombs, and to
use them against the security forces and the police.
■ How many political websites are still blocked?
And why the ban has not been lifted? Is this the fault of the IAA
or the owners of these websites for not responding to the IAA’s
The ban was lifted from many blocked websites after their owners
modified their content.
■ What is the number of banned newsletters and to
whom do they belong? And was your decision to ban them also gradual?
Have the owners of these newsletters resumed publication? And was
the decision to close them made by the courts or the IAA?
Four newsletters were banned, and they belong to the following
parties: al Wefaq National Islamic Society, the Progressive Democratic
Forum Society, the National Democratic Action Society and the Islamic
Action Society. The publication of these newsletters was stopped
due to their violation of the laws and regulations, and the failure
to adhere to decision No. 2 for 2006. They were also banned for
their failure to adhere to the IAA’s conditions, according to which
they were granted licenses. The decision came after several warnings,
and the IAA also met the representatives of these societies, and
urged them to adhere to the laws and regulations. However, their
irregularities continued, which led to the ban.
■ If the IAA acted according to the current law,
which Bahraini civil society and international organisations as
well as a number of MPs have all criticised, what measures have
you taken to amend the law in order to be in line with the requirements
of freedom of expression, and in accordance with the international
conventions signed by Bahrain, as well as Bahraini regulations themselves
(the National Charter and the Constitution)?
The IAA has licensed around 1000 newsletters and journals, and
did not experience any problems with these, except for the four
cases mentioned above. The Press and Publications Law is currently
being discussed in the Bahraini House of Representatives, although
its articles conform with all international conventions, we always
strive to develop the Law, in line with the openness and freedom
of expression enjoyed by Bahrain.