Bahrain

Not Free
30
100
A Obstacles to Access 16 25
B Limits on Content 8 35
C Violations of User Rights 6 40
Last Year's Score & Status
29 100 Not Free
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free)

header1 Overview

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, during the coverage period. After the government normalized relations with Qatar, some websites were unblocked, but many online news outlets remained inaccessible, including Al-Jazeera. 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. Journalists and activists who work online, including those abroad, continued to face extralegal intimidation, cyberattacks, and surveillance by state authorities.

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.

header2 Key Developments, June 1, 2020 – May 31, 2021

  • No internet shutdowns were reported, and both the app and website for messaging service Telegram appeared accessible during the reporting period (see A3).
  • In December 2020, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) fined service providers that failed to comply with data collection or registration regulations (see A4 and C4).
  • In April 2021, the cabinet approved amendments to the existing 2002 press law. The amendments include provisions that would further restrict and control online content by journalists and website hosts, and includes criminal penalties for violations (see B3, B6, and C2).
  • Following the restoration of diplomatic ties with Israel, the MOI warned internet users to refrain from criticizing the deal online (see B5).
  • 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 (see C3).
  • State surveillance of activists and journalists continued to impact internet freedom, and in July 2021, after the reporting period, it was reported that Bahraini authorities had purchased Pegasus spyware from the NSO Group, an Israeli firm (see C5).

A Obstacles to Access

A1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections? 6.006 6.006

There are no infrastructural limitations to the internet in Bahrain, where internet penetration stood at 99.7 percent, according to the most recent report from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).1 There were 1.7 million mobile subscriptions at the end of 2020, representing a mobile penetration rate of 119 percent. Broadband penetration stood at 137 percent, with 2 million subscriptions, 93 percent of which were mobile broadband subscriptions.2

Internet speeds have increased in recent years. In June 2021, Speedtest ranked Bahrain 27th globally for mobile internet speed, with an average download speed of 74.17 Mbps, almost double the average speed recorded last year, which could be linked to expansion of fifth-generation (5G) networks across the country.3 Bahrain was ranked 60th globally for fixed broadband speed, with an average download speed of 73.02 Mbps.4 A 2019 TRA audit found that 100 percent of the population was within reach of 3G and 4G mobile networks.5 Batelco, a state-controlled internet service provider (ISP), began offering “superfast” 500 Mbps speeds to residential subscribers in 2016,6 and fiber-optic broadband internet became available from providers STC and Zain after the centralization of wholesale services under the Bahrain National Broadband Network Company (BNET) in October 2019 (see A3 and A4).7 Meanwhile, 4G long term evolution (LTE) mobile subscriptions have been available since 2013. By January 2021, Bahrain achieved full national 5G network coverage with average speed of 600 Mbps from three providers (Batelco, STC, and Zain).8,9

Internet access is widely available in schools, universities, and shopping malls, as well as coffee shops, which often provide complimentary Wi-Fi.

A2 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons? 2.002 3.003

Internet access is affordable for the majority of the population.

Prices for mobile broadband are among the lowest in the region, with one provider offering 10 GB of data per month for 7.35 Bahraini dinars ($19).1 With the increase in companies providing services like fiber-optic broadband (see A1), more competitive packages have become available.2 Fixed-line broadband subscriptions with a 20 Mbps connection cost 15.75 dinars ($42) per month, less than 1 percent of the average Bahraini’s monthly income, with similar prices for mobile services.3 Packages with fewer calls and data—for example, one costing 7 dinars ($18) for 8 GB per month—are affordable to Bahrain’s many low-wage migrant workers.4 Although these packages have no content limitations, the more expensive ones offer higher speeds.

A3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity? 4.004 6.006

Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 because all Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services are accessible in Bahrain. The messaging app Telegram, which was blocked by some ISPs in 2016, is now available.

Until 2019, Bahrain had no centralized internet backbone, though all ISPs are indirectly controlled by the government through orders from the TRA (see A5). Service providers connect to numerous international cables and gateways provided by Tata, Flag, Saudi Telecom, and Etisalat, among others, making the country less prone to unintentional internet outages.1

In October 2019, Batelco, a state-controlled ISP, launched BNET, which manages the single fiber-optic broadband network in Bahrain. BNET provides these services to other operators in the country in line with instructions from the TRA to implement the Fourth National Telecommunications Plan, which includes a framework for a single infrastructure network (see A4).2,3 This development means the country’s entire fiber-optic broadband network can be restricted or shut down from one switch. Bahrain has a national Internet Exchange (BIX) board appointed by the prime minister with the objective of improving connectivity in Bahrain.4,5 However, only a few organizations use the BIX service, while major ISPs connect directly to the international internet infrastructure or work with other internet exchange providers.6,7 In February 2021, the TRA appointed a consultancy agency to determine the best model for an internet exchange.8

Bahraini authorities do not restrict or block social media websites or VoIP services. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, and other platforms were accessible in Bahrain as of the end of the reporting period.9 Telegram was blocked in 2016; however as of June 2021, users reported renewed access to the service.10

No cases of connectivity restrictions were observed during the coverage period. The most recent restriction lasted for over a year, from June 23rd, 2016, to July 30th, 2017, when authorities implemented an “internet curfew” in Diraz after security forces besieged the town following a sit-in around the house of Shiite cleric Issa Qassem. The sit-in continued until May 23rd, 2017, when a violent crackdown left five dead and dozens injured. 11 The TRA failed to address consumer complaints about the shutdowns, despite widespread criticism from the media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).12,13

A4 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers? 4.004 6.006

There are some obstacles to service providers seeking to enter the market, related primarily to acquiring the approval of various government bodies, as well as installation of the required systems that facilitate government content controls and monitoring.

Batelco, Zain, and STC are the three mobile network operators, and also serve as the main ISPs.1 As of February 2020, the TRA was not accepting applications for mobile licenses, but was for ISP licenses.2 In total, around 11 ISPs operated in mid-2019.3 The government has a controlling stake in the largest ISP, Batelco,4 while other ISPs are owned by investors from the private sector, including non-Bahraini financiers.

The requirements for establishing a new ISP are published by the TRA and the Commerce Ministry on their websites and include the submission of a “lawful access implementation plan” that would allow security personnel to access subscribers’ data (see C6). The initial registration fee is relatively inexpensive, though operators also need to purchase the filtering system mandated by the TRA (see B1). Both the ISP infrastructure and employees must be located in Bahrain. 5 Approval by the General Directorate of Criminal Investigation is also required.6

In December 2020, the TRA fined STC 27,500 dinars ($72,500) for provisionally breaching subscriber-registration SIM card regulations and 37,500 dinars ($98,900) for not providing a Lawful Access Capability Plan for its fiber-optic services (see C4).7 Similarly, in September 2020, the TRA fined Kalaam Telecom 36,300 dinars ($95,700) for breaching the 2020 Telecommunications Law, failing to update the TRA with customer information, and failing to submit consumer identity information to the National Security Agency (NSA) by the required deadline. Kalaam was also ordered to deactivate all lines allocated to numbers outside Bahrain.8

In October 2019, Batelco was split into two entities, and a new company, BNET, was launched. BNET owns the fiber-optic broadband network infrastructure and provides wholesale services to the licensed telecommunications operators.9 BNET is still owned by Batelco, of which the government is the largest shareholder (see A3).10 The split followed a TRA national communications plan to establish a single infrastructure network.11

A5 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner? 0.000 4.004

Bahraini national regulatory bodies are effectively controlled by the monarchy. They have revoked licenses of operators that failed to install monitoring and filtering systems required by government authorities and are indifferent to user complaints about internet controls.

Mobile service providers and ISPs are regulated by the TRA under the 2002 Telecommunications Law. The TRA is responsible for licensing telecommunication providers and for developing “a competition-led market for the provision of innovative communications services, available to all.”1 The Information Affairs Authority, which regulates the press,2 merged with the Ministry of Information Affairs (MIA) in December 2016.3

Although the TRA is theoretically independent, in practice its members are appointed by the king, based on cabinet approval, through a royal decree published in the official gazette.4 As of March 2021, one board member and three members of the agency’s executive management team were royal family members.5,6

In February 2016, the TRA revoked the license of the small mobile and fixed-line provider 2Connect.7 In December 2017, the TRA revoked the license of another small ISP, Bahrain Broadband, following a notice period, for failure to comply with several TRA regulations (see B3).8,9 There were no reported instances of ISPs being denied registration permits or having their licenses revoked during the reporting period.

B Limits on Content

B1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 1.001 6.006

Authorities ramped up censorship after the 2011 prodemocracy protests, in which online media played an important role, and heavy-handed censorship has persisted since. Political content is widely blocked. While YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and international blog-hosting services are freely available, authorities have blocked a number of international news websites and those hosting political content.

In December 2018, the website of independent Bahraini news outlet Awal Online was blocked a month after its launch.1 The news site, operated by anonymous editors, said the block occurred in the wake of critical reporting on a government minister. In November 2020, the MOI stated that it blocked a website for publishing fraudulent information about efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.2

In January 2021, as a result of a deal to restore ties with Qatar,3 Bahraini authorities unblocked some Qatari websites, including Qatari outlets Al-Sharq and Al-Raya. Other websites, including those belonging to Al-Jazeera and Qatar Airways, have remained blocked since May 2017, when Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) cut diplomatic ties with Qatar.4 Other blocked websites include the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and the website of Alualua TV.5 A popular news site, Bahrain Mirror, has been blocked repeatedly over the past few years. 6 Despite efforts to circumvent the blocking by changing their URL, Bahrain Mirror’s internet archive was again blocked in November 2020.7

Websites rarely get unblocked, though some were during the coverage period. Telegram’s website, which has been blocked since 2016, became accessible during the reporting period. In late January 2021, the website of Al-Quds al-Araby, a London-based newspaper that was blocked since 2011, became available on at least one ISP.8 Some mobile live-streaming services that were popular in 2011, including Ustream and Bambuser, remained blocked during the coverage period.9 Many Bahraini sites that were blocked in 2017 have forgone their web presence and, in some cases, moved exclusively to social media. These include the websites of the Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society and the Islamic Enlightenment Society (Al-Taweya).10

In August 2016, the TRA ordered all telecommunications companies to employ a centralized, TRA-managed system for blocking websites.11 The order was related to a $1.2 million contract awarded that year to Canadian company Netsweeper to provide a “national website filtering solution.”12 That September, Citizen Lab reported that Netsweeper was identified on the services of at least nine ISPs and filtered political content on at least one.13 Websites hosted overseas are less vulnerable to being removed at the behest of the government and remain accessible to Bahrainis with access to censorship-circumvention tools.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 0.000 4.004

Content deemed critical of the government is regularly removed from websites, and authorities employ pressure on users through intimidation, interrogations, and arrests to force the removal of content.

Content is removed from government social media accounts when it is deemed controversial or triggers unwanted criticism. In a practice observed during this and previous reporting periods, parts of recordings of sessions of the Shura Council, the parliament’s upper house, were removed by the administrator of its YouTube channel before footage was uploaded.1 In August 2020, the Shura Council issued a press release regarding Speaker Ali Saleh al-Saleh’s condolence message to Lebanese parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri after that month’s port explosion in Beirut. The press release was withdrawn from local media outlets two hours after it was released. There were no official condolences from King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa or other top officials, which could explain the removal.2 In April 2020, comments from Shura Council member Fatima al-Kooheji about punitively revoking a citizen’s nationality were removed.3 In December 2020, the Education Ministry deleted posts from its Instagram account showing families receiving laptops to facilitate remote learning. The images were criticized as humiliating to those families.4

Users exploit platforms’ reporting mechanisms to remove comments critical of authorities and to suspend accounts operated by activists and independent journalists.5 In September 2020, two legislators, Abdulnabi Salman and Zainab Abdul Ameer, reported that their Instagram accounts were temporarily suspended due to a reporting campaign.6 In August 2020, the Instagram account @aljareesh, a Bahraini history account, was subject to heavy reporting that caused restrictions on its impressions.7 In May 2019, following MOI calls to avoid interacting with “malicious” accounts (see B5), the president of the Social Media Club in Bahrain called to block and report malicious accounts, stating it was a “national duty.”8 In October 2020, the new Twitter account @Bahrain_AN (Bahrainis Against Normalization with Israel) was temporarily suspended for “suspicious activity.” It was suspended again later that month for “violating Twitter rules.” The account is currently accessible but not active as of March 2021.

Social media content that criticizes the government is often removed. In July 2020, journalist Fadel Mansi was pressured to delete a tweet in which he questioned the continuous provision of work permits to Bangladeshi recipients. Shortly before the tweet was deleted, the Labor Market Regulatory Authority replied to it, threatening the journalist.9

In January 2020, blogger and historical researcher Jassim al-Abbas’s post about a historical mosque was deleted from his Instagram account10 and from his blog, Sanawat al-Jareesh (Years of the Groats).11 The post mentioned a previous ruler of Bahrain before the ascension of the ruling al-Khalifa family.12 Al-Abbas was arrested and charged with publishing wrongful information (see C3).13 His blog was temporarily suspended,14 but was activated again after he was released in February 2020.15

In January 2020, several Twitter users were summoned to the Department of Cybercrimes for tweets regarding the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, some of which had sympathized with Soleimani or been critical of the assassination. The Twitter users were released only after deleting their tweets.16 The MOI claimed that the deleted tweets could “harm the general order,” and issued a statement warning of legal action against those who use social media to violate “public order” (see B5).17

According to their transparency reports, neither Google nor Facebook received any requests to remove content from Bahraini authorities in first half of 2020.18 Twitter received three removal requests in the second half of 2019 and complied with one of them.19 In the first half of 2020, Snapchat applied “content enforcement” on 5,496 pieces of Bahraini content for violating site guidelines.20

In April 2019, the MIA published a guide titled, “How to use social media for government entities,” which includes guidelines on posting and account management. It also directs account managers to delete “all abusive comments, or incitement of hatred, or those violating the law.”21 In previous years, authorities have employed a variety of other, more heavy-handed tactics to force the removal of online content. Through arrests, prosecutions, and torture, security forces have coerced many online forum moderators to permanently shut down their websites.22

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process? 1.001 4.004

The decision-making process and government policies behind the blocking of websites are not transparent.

Multiple state organizations, including the MIA and MOI, can order the blocking of a website without a court order. The MIA blocks websites that violate Articles 19 and 20 of the Press Rules and Regulations, which prohibit material judged as “instigating hatred of the political regime, encroaching on the state's official religion, breaching ethics, encroaching on religions and jeopardizing public peace or raising issues whose publication is prohibited by the provisions of this law.”1 The publication of false news is deemed a crime according to Article 70 of the law.

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 (see C2). Under Article 78, the court can also order the website to be blocked during the investigation and trial period if it has published something that is considered a crime, or for threatening the public order. Under Article 85, the court can order the blocking of a news site for one year if the website “serves the interests of a foreign state or body that its policies are inconsistent with the national interest of Bahrain,” or if it has obtained aid from any foreign country or entity without permission from the MIA.2

Authorities regularly send updated lists of blocked websites to ISPs, which are instructed to “prohibit any means that allow access to sites blocked.”3 Licenses of ISPs may be revoked by the TRA for failing to cooperate with the MIA’s blocking orders (see A5).4 The government’s frequently updated list of blocked websites is not available to the public, and site administrators do not receive notifications or explanations when their websites are banned. When trying to access a blocked site, users are only informed that the website has been “blocked for violating regulations and laws of Kingdom of Bahrain.” There is an apparent link within the blockage message to a government website on which unblocking requests can be made, but clicking the link leads to an error message.5

There are no official regulations outlining an appeals process for content restriction, and, in the absence of official publications of blocking orders, it is difficult to appeal through the court system. A 2009 MIA blocking order stated that no site could be unblocked without an order from the information minister.6

Additionally, the government frequently reminds users not to follow or interact with controversial accounts on social media (see B5).7 Some human rights activists and journalists have been named as owners of these “malicious” accounts, but a decision was not supported by any court orders, and the individuals had no opportunity to appeal the decision (see C7).8

Website administrators can be held legally responsible for content posted on their platforms, including alleged libel. Article 74 of the new draft Press, Publishing and Printing Law defines the website managing editor as the accountable person who would be punished for offending content.9 The dissemination of false news that damages national security or public order is a criminal offense punishable by up to two years in prison.10 In February 2016, the MOI stated that WhatsApp group administrators may be held liable for spreading false news if they fail to report incidents that occur within their groups.11 In April 2020, the ministry stated that reposting, forwarding, and retweeting false news also subjects individuals to the same legal actions.12

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship? 0.000 4.004

Internet users exercise a high degree of self-censorship. Most people use pseudonyms on social media for fear of being targeted by the authorities.1 Even opposition news sites based outside Bahrain rarely publish the names of their editors.2

Intimidation tactics and investigations of users’ online activities have increased self-censorship.3 In a Twitter survey conducted in June 2020, 73 percent of participants said they fear legal repercussions if they comment on local issues.4 Users commonly warn each other about posts that could draw negative attention from authorities.5 In September 2020, Bahraini news account @Deertybhr removed a tweet voicing opposition to the decision to normalize ties with Israel after another user called for its deletion, stating “we have no opinion beyond the esteemed decision of His Majesty the King.” 6,7 Similarly, Nasser al-Fadhala, a former parliamentarian, deleted a tweet in October 2020 criticizing the “brokers of normalization” after he received criticism from other users for insulting the authorities.8

Activists often stop tweeting following detentions and interrogations, and those who return to Twitter after being detained frequently avoid controversial subjects such as direct criticism of the king and other topics the MOI warns against (see B5). 9,10 In November 2020, lawyer Fatima al-Hawaj announced that she was closing her Twitter account after she faced a legal case for a post (see C3).11 In May 2019, exiled journalist Adel Marzooq said he lost 180 Twitter days after the MOI described his account as malicious and warned users not to follow or promote his messages.12 Other activists have reported losing followers immediately after the MOI issued general threats against following accounts that incite “sedition.”13

Self-censorship on Twitter has become acute, with users expressing increasing fear of facing prosecution for discussion of anything beyond sports, lifestyle topics, and political views in line with those of the regime.14 Mohsen al-Saffar, a Bahraini satirical writer, caustically asserted in April 2019 that “before posting any tweet, one must present it to a lawyer to ascertain its legal status, and to a cleric to ascertain its religious status, and to a diplomat to ensure that it is in accordance with international norms, and to a security expert to make sure it doesn’t support terrorism, and to an economist to make sure it does not destabilize the country's economy.”15

B5 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest? 0.000 4.004

Government authorities and progovernment trolls work effectively to manipulate the online information landscape in Bahrain.

Authorities issue official statements warning against the discussion of certain subjects and the “misuse” of social media.1 In October 2020, the MOI threatened legal action against users who “defame” ties with Israel.2 In August 2020, the MOI warned users about interacting with social media accounts run by Bahraini political groups operating abroad, specifically naming the Al-Wefaq Society and Al-Wafa Movement.3 In May 2019, the General Directorate of Anti-Corruption and Economic and Electronic Security (GDACEES) declared several accounts tied to journalists and activists malicious,4 and warned social media users that following such accounts could result in prosecution (see C7).5 In January 2020, the MOI again warned against interacting with accounts that “stir strife, threaten civil peace and social fabric, and undermine security and stability in Bahrain,” claiming that such accounts are managed from outside the country.6 Similarly, the Education Ministry issued public statements warning its employees against publishing information or articles from unknown sources or those that were offensive to the government, contained defamation, violated public morals, or were offensive to people and religions, threatening legal and disciplinary action against employees who misuse social media.7

Research from 2013 revealed connections between the Bahraini government and “extremist” accounts on Twitter and Facebook that advocated violence against both the government and citizens.8 It also emerged that the government impersonates opposition figures on social media in order to send malicious links, such as internet protocol (IP) trackers, to anonymous government critics that can be used to identify and prosecute them (see C5 and C8).9 In March 2021, a Twitter account impersonating Abbas al-Alawi contacted Bahraini users to try and hack their WhatsApp accounts.10 In July 2020, activist Hasan al-Sitri said that an Instagram account was impersonating him and trying to interact with others.11

Online trolls have become increasingly present on Bahraini social media platforms. Organized progovernment trolls have been active on Twitter since 2011, when hundreds of accounts suddenly emerged to collectively harass and intimidate online activists.12 In November 2020, a group of progovernment users announced the establishment of a “Bahrain Electronic Army,” an organized group of users aiming at “defending Bahrain.”13 The accounts promote hate speech against human rights activists and spread disinformation about their activities.14 The government took no action to disband the group. The @BahrainCyber account was suspended for violating Twitter rules in February 2021. Activists believe this “army” is sponsored by the authorities.15

Twitter accounts from Saudi Arabia and the UAE have played a role in manipulating content about Bahrain on social media.16 In September 2020, Bahrainis used the hashtag #Bahraini_against_normalization to express opposition to the country normalizing ties with Israel. However, Saudi trolls attempted to manipulate the original meaning of the hashtag by sharing the hashtag along with posts that express support with the government decision.17

In August 2019, Facebook announced the removal of 217 Facebook accounts, 144 Pages, and 31 Instagram accounts originating in Saudi Arabia that were coordinated to post manipulated content focused on the Middle East, including Bahrain, and that were using false identities.18 Similarly, in the first quarter of 2020, Google terminated two advertising accounts, one AdSense account, and 99 YouTube channels, and banned one Google Play developer account for coordinating efforts to influence the online environment by posting content supporting Bahrain while opposing Iran and Qatar.19

B6 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online? 1.001 3.003

Regulatory restrictions limit the ability of users to publish online content, while government censorship creates indirect economic constraints that leave many outlets dependent on personal funding.

Newspapers must obtain licenses from the mass media directorate in order to disseminate content on websites or social media, according to Decree 68/2016.1 The law does not detail what criteria are used to grant or renew one-year licenses. Furthermore, outlets must provide a list of their social media accounts and website addresses, as well as the names of those who oversee them, as part of the license application, exposing employees to possible monitoring and coercion. Under the existing press law, those publishing without a license face six months’ imprisonment, a fine of 5,000 dinars ($13,200), or both.

In August 2019, the Information Affairs Authority (IAA) suspended the license of Manama Voice, a news site operated by Bahraini journalist Hani al-Fardan, without a clear reason (see B1).2 Al-Fardan continues to report using his Instagram platform, as social media does not currently require an IAA license.3

Under Decree 68/2016, newspapers may not post videos over two minutes in length and are forbidden from streaming live video. The law also stipulates that electronic media must reflect the same content as their printed counterparts, limiting multimedia content.

In April 2021, the cabinet approved amendments to the draft Press, Publishing and Printing Law and referred the amended draft to the parliament.4 The law would not apply to personal social media accounts or government news sites, but would otherwise impact online journalism, news reporting, and broadcasting (see B3 and C2). Under Article 44, affected sites must register with and obtain MIA approval to operate. Under Article 67, website owners must not have faced previous bans on exercising political rights.5 Site moderators must be citizens and must not have previous convictions, potentially excluding thousands convicted in political and conscience cases over the past decade. Article 13 bans newspapers and electronic media sites from publishing content that conflicts with national interests or the constitution. Website owners can lose their licenses for failing to update websites for at least two months or violating the law’s personal-eligibility criteria under Article 67. Under Article 85, websites receiving support from a foreign state or entity or serving foreign interests in a way deemed inconsistent with government aims can lose their licenses. Under Article 57, operating an unlicensed news site is punishable by a 3,000 to 10,000 dinar ($7,900 to $26,400) fine, website blocking, and the confiscation of equipment used for operating the site.6 According to Article 86, continuous publishing of a website after a blocking order can be punishable by a fine in addition to the deletion of site content.7

There are some government restrictions on online advertising, but several opposition websites continue to operate nonetheless. While it is difficult for blocked websites to secure advertising, some popular blocked sites such as Bahrain Mirror operate with limited resources and are often self-funded.

B7 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the online information landscape lack diversity and reliability? 1.001 4.004

The internet remains the main source of information and news, as well as the only space for open discussion for many Bahrainis. Many Bahrainis get most of their news from social media.1 Additionally, social media offers space for discussion on issues not typically presented in traditional media such as local affairs, religion, gender issues, and migrant workers. Only outlets that operate from outside Bahrain can report on local politics freely, and many independent foreign-based sites are subject to blocking within Bahrain (see B1).

Online content restrictions are disproportional and inconsistent, leading to lack of diversity of online content, especially around political issues. For example, in May 2020, authorities banned discussions criticizing the normalization of relations with Israel,2 yet there were no restrictions on content promoting the deal. In March and April 2020, 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,3 including posts calling Shiite citizens “garbage”4 and “dogs”5 and posts suggesting that political prisoners should be allowed to contract COVID-19.6 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” (see B4).7

The introduction of the audio platform Clubhouse in Bahrain has provided an additional opportunity for users to have live discussions on political issues, human rights concerns, and social and cultural topics, all while connecting the diverse opinions of activists living inside and outside Bahrain. While the government has yet to take action against these Clubhouse discussions, commentators believe they will inevitably face questioning for their activities on the platform in the future.8

Despite the government’s stringent information controls, blocked opposition websites and Bahraini news outlets based outside the country continue to receive traffic from users within Bahrain through the use of proxy services, dynamic IP addresses, and virtual private network (VPN) applications. The government used to block access to Google Translate and Google cached pages, which could be used as circumvention tools, but they were both found to be accessible in May 2020.9

B8 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues? 4.004 6.006

Activists rely heavily on digital tools, particularly social media, to draw attention to protests and human rights violations. However, due to the threat of arrest, prosecution, and other consequences for online activity, many users are wary of participating in political discussions over social media,1 and often use pseudonyms (see B4). In the past, authorities have blocked some tools used to mobilize or campaign, such as Telegram (see A3 and B1).

Even as its users increasingly self-censor, Twitter remains a key platform for mobilization. Users often use it to report on the status and conditions of detained activists and to call for their release.2 In April 2020, Bahraini users organized several Twitter campaigns calling for the release of prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic. A related hashtag continued to trend for several months. The campaign again gained popularity in March and April 2021 when cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in prisons. The online campaign was simultaneously accompanied by street protests.3 The government did not respond to the calls to release prisoners.

In June 2020, a Twitter campaign against executions in Bahrain using the hashtag #No_to_death_penalty trended, and some international media outlets mentioned the hashtag in their reporting about the death sentences against political prisoners.4 The same hashtag trended again in July 2020.5 In September 2020, a Twitter campaign to express opposition to the normalization of ties to Israel trended,6 though the government alleged the campaign was run by fugitives outside Bahrain and warned citizens against posts that criticized ties with Israel (see B5).7

In recent months, feminist activism has been more noticeable in online discussions and on social media. Internet users have taken to social media to raise awareness of gender-based violence (GBV) and promote woman’s rights.8 Campaigns to help provide support for lower-income families are also popular on social media. In November 2020, the #help_hasan campaign, meant to support a young Bahraini man seek medical care in the United States, raised 75,000 dinars ($198,000) within one hour of its launch.9

C Violations of User Rights

C1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence? 0.000 6.006

A variety of laws place restrictions on free speech, and the compromised judiciary does not uphold protections that do exist.

Article 23 of the constitution guarantees freedom of expression “provided that the fundamental beliefs of Islamic doctrine are not infringed, the unity of the people is not prejudiced, and discord or sectarianism is not aroused.”1 Article 26 states that all written, telephonic, and electronic communications “shall not be censored or their confidentiality be breached except in exigencies specified by law and in accordance with procedures and under guarantees prescribed by the law.”2 The 2002 Press and Publications Law promises free access to information “without prejudice to the requirements of national security and defending the homeland.” Bahraini journalists have argued that these qualifying statements and loosely worded clauses allow for arbitrary interpretation and, in practice, the negation of the rights the provisions claim to uphold.3

The Bahraini judicial system is neither independent nor fair.4 Serious crimes have been committed against internet users, including torture (see C7), and impunity for these offenses prevails.5

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 0.000 4.004

Multiple laws, including the penal code and terrorism laws, criminalize free speech and online activities.

Criminal penalties for online speech are currently enforced under the 2002 Press and Publications Law,1 which does not specifically mention online activities but has been applied to digital media. The law allows for prison sentences from six months to five years for publishing material that criticizes Islam, its followers, or the king, as well as material that instigates violent crimes or the overthrow of the government.2 Article 70 of the law penalizes certain types of content, including “false news” that undermines public security and criticism of presidents or states with which Bahrain has diplomatic ties.3 In addition, the 2002 Telecommunications Law contains penalties for several online activities, such as the transmission of messages that are offensive to public policy or morals.4

Those tried under the penal code or antiterror laws can face longer sentences than under the 2002 Press and Publications Law—especially for social media activity, where the press law is not applied.5 Article 290 of the penal code stipulates that “intentional misuse of telecommunication mediums” is punishable by up to 6 months’ imprisonment and a 50 dinar ($132) fine, but it is regularly combined with other articles for more severe punishments. Under the penal code, any user who “deliberately disseminates a false statement” that may damage national security or public order can face up to two years’ imprisonment.6 Under Article 309, “expression against one of the recognized religious sects” or ridicule of their rituals may be punished by a fine of 100 dinars ($260) or a prison term of up to one year. In May 2019, the king ratified an amendment to Article 11 of the terrorism law that criminalizes propagating, glorifying, justifying, favoring, or encouraging acts that constitute terrorist activities, with a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment and a 2,000 to 5,000 dinar fine ($5,300 to $13,200).7 Activists and lawyers warned social media users that commenting, retweeting, liking, or forwarding content could fall afoul of the amendment.8

Under the new draft Press, Publishing and Printing Law, which was referred to the parliament for review,9 online news reporters can receive fines for publishing content that is deemed to fall into a list of vaguely worded categories including “false news, insulting the monarchy, subjecting it to criticism, or imposing responsibility on it for the actions of the government, undermining the regime, [or] news that will affect the value of the national currency” (see B6).10 In a positive development, the law abolishes the jailing of journalists, though they can still be penalized under the penal code.11

In July 2020, the cabinet approved an amendment to the Civil Service Law that prohibits government employees from “criticizing government policy and decisions by any means” and prohibits them from publishing personal opinions if they foster “discord in society” or “affect national unity.” The law sets disciplinary actions ranging from salary cuts to dismissal from service in cases of multiple violations.12

In October 2019, the cabinet endorsed an updated draft amendment to the penal code that would increase the maximum prison sentence for posting private news, comments, or images deemed defamatory from one year to five years and would increase the maximum fine for doing so from 500 to 3,000 dinars ($1,300 to $7,900).13 However, the amendment was still under discussion by the Council of Representatives at the end of the reporting period.14

C3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 2.002 6.006

Individuals are frequently detained and prosecuted for online activities, and those convicted typically receive prison sentences.

Between June 2020 and May 2021, at least 58 people were arrested, detained, or prosecuted for their online activities. Six internet users received prison terms for their online activity during the coverage period. In one particularly harsh case, an Omani woman was deported after serving six months in prison, despite having a Bahraini husband and children in Bahrain. She was arrested in November 2020 for a WhatsApp comment regarding the death of the country’s first prime minister since independence, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa.1 She was deported in May 2021 after serving her sentence.2

In July 2020, the GDACEES director general said that “dissemination of false news” and “challenging the state’s efforts to confront the COVID-19 pandemic” have been the most prominent “cybercrimes” in months.3 According to prosecutors, there were 1,771 criminal cases of “misuse of telecommunication mediums” in 2020.4 In March 2020, the GDACEES’s cybercrime department stated that a unit of 16 employees was working to monitor social media.5 They had identified 65 cases of users spreading purported rumors and false information and had referred them to the Public Prosecutor’s Office for legal action.6

During the COVID-19 pandemic, internet users were prosecuted for online posts. In October 2020, a man was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment and a 1,000 dinar fine ($2,640). He was charged with misusing social media after posting a video of himself confronting a policeman and refusing to wear a mask.7 That same month, nutritional therapist Alyaa al-Moayed was interrogated about her Instagram posts based on a complaint that she was “scaring people from the vaccine and weakening the Kingdom's efforts to combat COVID-19.”8

In November 2020, following the death of Prime Minister al-Khalifa, at least 22 users, including minors, were arrested for commenting on his death online.9 They were released by mid-November 2020 on bail of 500 dinars ($1,320) each. In late November 2020, another citizen was sentenced to a week’s imprisonment and a 500 dinar fine for a related post.10 Yasser Nasser was arrested on November 12th, 2020 after commenting “martyrs’ lives are more valuable than others” regarding al-Khalifa.11 He was released on November 19th, 2020 with a bail of 500 dinars.12 Minors arrested included a 16-year-old girl who expressed happiness on Twitter for having a day off from school to mourn the prime minister’s death.13 A 14-year-old boy was arrested for a similar online post. Both minors received bail and were released after several days.14,15

In June 2020, prominent lawyer Abdullah al-Shamlawi received a combined sentence of eight months in prison in two different cases related to his Twitter posts. He was charged with “deliberately caus[ing] inconvenience to others by using telecommunication mediums” for a 2018 tweet referring to a “naturalized” citizen who appeared in a newspaper article after receiving a public housing unit. He was also charged with “incit[ing] hatred of a religious sect” and “misusing telecommunication mediums,” for tweets from 2019 in which he questioned the practice of fasting.16 Al-Shamlawi was banned from practicing law for one month because of the conviction.17 In September 2020, an appeals court suspended the prison sentences after Al-Shamlawi reached a settlement with the complainant.18 In March 2021, a disciplinary board revoked his legal license once again, this time for one year.19

Following the normalization of relations between Bahrain and Israel, people who criticized the decision online faced prosecution. In September 2020, Abdulhussain Ahmed Ali was arrested for posting an audio recording to social media where he read a poem rejecting the deal with Israel.20 He was released in October.21

During the reporting period, online users were penalized for criticizing the government or for discussing religious or political matters. In March 2021, Ali al-Muammri was put on trial for Instagram videos that included a poem criticizing the housing minister.22 In February 2021, Jaffar al-Jamri was put on trial for Twitter posts criticizing the Education Ministry’s COVID-19-related remote-learning efforts.23 In August 2020, a man was put on trial for an online video criticizing the Housing Ministry.24

In August 2020, several people were arrested after appearing in YouTube videos where they recited a Shiite religious script that included curses on those who killed the Imam Hussein. Some were charged with “publicly insulting the honorable companions of Prophet,”25 and one man was sentenced to a year in prison for this charge.26 In June 2020, lawyer Fatima al-Hawaj was interrogated and tried over a Twitter post commenting on the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani without mentioning his name.27 She was accused of “glorifying terrorism.”28

Internet users were prosecuted over seemingly harmless online posts. In June 2020, two expatriate men were arrested after posting a video of themselves handling money.29 They were charged with “misuse of social media.” In November 2020, Sharifa Siwar was sentenced to seven months’ imprisonment for posting a live Instagram video defending herself after she was charged with practicing medicine without a license. The prosecution said that Siwar posted false information about the accusation.30

In July 2020, activist Hassan al-Sitri, who was stripped of his Bahraini nationality and is living in exile in Australia, was put on trial in absentia for defamation and misuse of telecommunication mediums.31

At least three other internet users are still serving prison sentences for earlier online activities, including Abduljalil al-Singace, a human rights defender and blogger who has been serving a life sentence since 2011 on charges of possessing links to a terrorist organization aiming to overthrow the government,32 disseminating false news, and inciting antigovernment protests.33 Several online activists remain stripped from their Bahraini nationality since January 2015, including Ali Abdulemam and al-Sitri.34 Separately, many prominent journalists have been barred from entering the country over their work.35

C4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption? 1.001 4.004

The government restricts the use of many VPNs, imposes onerous registration requirements on mobile phone users, and has sought to uncover the identities of anonymous or pseudonymous users in order to prosecute them.

The TRA requires users to provide identification when registering for telecommunications services, and the government prohibits the sale or use of unregistered prepaid SIM cards.1 In July 2017, a TRA regulation allowing individuals to purchase no more than 10 prepaid SIM cards from a single service provider came into force. Under the regulation, people must be physically present when registering SIM cards directly with providers,2 and providers must verify the identity of all subscribers, including through fingerprinting,3 a measure justified as a security and anticrime measure.4 All prepaid SIM card users are required to renew registration annually to avoid service cuts.5 In June 2020, some unregistered SIM cards issued by STC Bahrain were identified as active. The TRA ordered STC Bahrain to immediately deactivate all unregistered cards (see A4).6

Tech-savvy activists use VPNs to conceal their identity. Access to websites of popular VPNs and anonymity services like Hotspot Shield, Express VPN, and Tor are blocked, which makes it difficult to download their client applications. However, the connectivity and functioning of these VPN clients and Tor browsers remained unaffected during the coverage period. Anonymous government critics have been sent malicious links that allow authorities to ascertain their identity and take legal action against them (see B5 and C5).

A 2014 computer crimes law, 60/2014, criminalizes the encryption of data with criminal intentions. Observers contend that “criminal intentions” could include criticism of the government.

C5 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy? 1.001 6.006

State surveillance of online activities is widespread. Several reports have documented the government’s use of spyware against dissidents. In October 2018, it was revealed that Bahrain had purchased espionage and intelligence-gathering software from private companies, including a system from Israeli company Verint used for collecting information from social networks, and that Bahraini intelligence officers were trained in their use.1

In a 2018 report by Citizen Lab, a Canadian internet watchdog, Bahrain is listed as one of 45 countries worldwide in which devices were likely breached by Pegasus, a targeted spyware software developed by the NSO Group, an Israeli technology firm. After the user clicks on an exploit link, Pegasus is covertly installed on their phone, granting the operator access to information including passwords, contacts, text messages, and live voice calls from messaging apps, as well as the ability to open the camera and microphone. Citizen Lab identified spying efforts that may have targeted Shiite users and members of the Coalition of February 14th.2 Bahraini human rights defenders and journalists were among those who had their devices attacked and WhatsApp data stolen.3 Revelations in July 2021, after the reporting period, further suggested that the Bahraini government had purchased Pegasus.4

In March 2018, it was reported that Bahrain purchased 204,000 dinars’ ($544,000) worth of British surveillance equipment between 2015 and 2017.5 In July 2020, a new report also listed Bahrain as a customer of UK spyware.6

In April 2020, a Bahraini television program broadcast a short video from inside the Cybercrimes Department’s social-media monitoring room, where an official discussed the department’s efforts to “identify and prevent… crimes” on social media. Department officials receive training to identify “permitted speech and forbidden speech,” whether it is text, video, or audio.7 In March 2020, another report confirmed that a security unit was working to monitor the social media and refer “violators” to prosecutors (see C3).8 A Cyber Safety Directorate within the Ministry of State for Telecommunications Affairs was launched in November 2013 to monitor websites and social media networks, ostensibly to “ensure they are not used to instigate violence or terrorism and disseminate lies and fallacies that pose a threat to the kingdom's security and stability.”9 Officials had earlier created a unit to monitor social media and foreign news sites in order to “respond to false information that some channels broadcast” in 2011.10

In March 2020, individuals required to self-isolate under COVID-19 measures were mandated to use “Be Aware,” a mobile app developed by the Information and eGovernment Authority (iGA). The app tracks the locations of users who are not under quarantine and sends alerts when they come into possible contact with self-isolating users.11 Self-isolating users must wear tracking wristbands, which send alerts to monitoring stations and warn users who are more than 15 meters away from their mobile devices. Users must regularly confirm their presence home by allowing access to their device’s camera and sending a live photograph to monitors.12 Violating these restrictions can result in a fine and a three-month prison term. As of May 2021, Be Aware was required for users to show vaccination certifications in order to access shopping areas and government institutions.13 Users have the option to enable location tracking on Be Aware.14 The iGA disclosed that it collects location data but deletes data after 30 days.15 Human rights groups have raised concerns over the possible abuse of the technology.16 Indeed, users’ data was shared without consent via a television program; individuals could win a prize if they could prove that they were home via their device’s camera.17 In response to privacy concerns, the iGA allowed Be Aware users to opt out of the television program in May 2020.18

In January 2017, the government ratified the Arab Treaty on Combating Cybercrime, a set of standards developed to stem the misuse of telecommunications devices, financial fraud, the promotion of terrorism, and access to pornographic content online. While Bahrain passed a computer crimes law containing many of the provisions in 2014, the treaty establishes rules on user data retention and real-time monitoring, as well as a mechanism for sharing information between signatories to help combat transnational crime. The lack of strong human rights standards in the treaty may increase the scope for privacy infractions once it is transposed into local law.19

A personal data protection law was introduced in July 2018 (see C6). Article 2.4(b) exempts national security–related data processing undertaken by the MOI, the NSA, the Defense Ministry, and other security services.20

C6 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy? 0.000 6.006

Since 2009, the TRA has mandated that all telecommunications companies keep a record of customers’ phone calls, emails, and website visits for up to three years. The companies are also obliged to provide security forces access to subscriber data upon request from the public prosecution, while the provision of the data content requires a court order.1

In order to receive an operating license, service providers must develop a Lawful Access Capability Plan that would allow security forces to access communications metadata. During the reporting period, two ISPs were fined by the TRA due to their lack of a Lawful Access Capability Plan (see A4).2 The provider 2Connect had its license revoked in February 2016 due to its failure to set up such a plan.

In July 2018, Bahrain introduced a personal data protection law similar to the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that delineates the requirements for entities collecting, processing, and storing personal data, including gaining user consent and informing them that data is being collected. The law became effective in August 2019.3 It is unclear what its enforcement might look like, but violators can be taken to court. In May 2021, the Bahrain Data Protection Authority issued requests for consultation over the details of data owner rights and data protection.4

In November 2020, students at the University of Bahrain raised concerns over the mandatory installation of a Respondus Lockdown browser on their personal computers during exams.5 They were forced to give the browser permission to access cameras and microphones, which would scan the entire room and record the students.6,7 The software also requires administrative control of their computers, allowing it permission to access all stored data; recorded data is retained for 16 months.8

Cybercafés are also subject to surveillance. Oversight of their operations is coordinated by a commission consisting of members from four ministries who work to ensure strict compliance with rules that prohibit access for minors and require that all computer terminals are fully visible to observers.9

According to transparency reports, no requests for user data were made to Facebook,10 Snapchat,11 Google,12 or Twitter13 in the first half of 2020. Information on local providers complying with the state’s requests for user data is not made public.

C7 1.00-5.00 pts0-5 pts
Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to their online activities? 1.001 5.005

Violence and torture against online activists and journalists at the hands of authorities is common in Bahrain.1

Individuals commenting on the November 2020 death of Prime Minister al-Khalifa faced mistreatment at the hands of the authorities. A 60-year-old woman reportedly lost consciousness during interrogation,2 while a girl was interrogated without her parents or lawyer being present and was forced to sign a confession.3 Minors were among the detainees, and were prohibited from contacting families or managing their hygienic needs while in detention (see C3).4

In June 2018, Najah Ahmed Yousif was sentenced to three years in prison based on a coerced confession over comments made in a Facebook post. She said she was tortured and sexually assaulted during her interrogation.5 The Bahraini Ombudsman, to whom she raised a complaint, had not held anyone accountable for her torture. During her imprisonment, which ended in August 2019, Yousif suffered discrimination and was only permitted to see her family once during her last year in prison.6

Numerous online activists have fled Bahrain, including blogger and Bahrain Online forum founder Ali Abdulemam, who was detained and tortured in 2010 and received a 15-year sentence from a military court in a separate 2011 case;7 blogger Mohamed Hasan, who was tortured during a 2013 detention and fled in 2014;8 and Twitter activist Hussein Mahdi, who was tortured in detention in 2014.9 In August, 2017, online activist Yousif al-Jamri fled Bahrain after facing increasing intimidation by the NSA following his publication of a video alleging that it subjected him to physical and psychological torture, was threatened with rape and reprisals against his family, and forced to insult religious figures he reveres.10

Bahraini activists living abroad are subject to online threats from people affiliated with security forces.11 In March 2021, activist Hasan Abdulnabi, who lives abroad, received threats against his family in an attempt to force him to stop his Instagram activities, where he posts critical comments on Bahraini politics.12 In June 2018, an Instagram account apparently belonging to an MOI officer sent messages to activist Sayed Yousif al-Muhafdha, who lives abroad, threatening the arrest of his brothers in Bahrain unless he stopped his activism, closed his social media accounts within a day, and sent a video apologizing to the king.13 The same account sent a death threat to Bahrain-based human rights activist Ebtisam al-Saegh, and claimed they would release a video of the torture and sexual assault she was subjected to during her 2017 detention.14

The Bahraini electronic army has been posting messages discrediting Bahraini activists (see B5). Bahraini opposition figure Saeed al-Shehabi was called an Iranian agent,15 while al-Muhafdha was accused of corruption and dishonesty.16

In May 2019, the MOI accused al-Muhafdha, who lives in exile in Germany, and activist al-Sitri, who is exiled in Australia, of running social media accounts encouraging sedition, harming public order, and tarnishing the country’s image. The MOI alleged that their network received support from “e-cells” operating from inside Bahrain, whose members had been identified.17 That same month, the MOI targeted the Twitter account of Adel Marzooq, an exiled journalist and chief editor of the Gulf House for Studies and Publishing, threatening to act against the organization and those who promoted its messages.18 The threats came after Marzooq speculated on a conflict within the royal family over replacing the prime minister.19 In December 2020, Marzooq said that his 2-year-old daughter was not provided a Bahraini passport, in apparent retaliation for his online activity.20

C8 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack? 1.001 3.003

Cyberattacks against both opposition and government supporters are common in Bahrain. Authorities have intercepted over 331 million cyberattacks as of August 2020.1

In December 2020, the MOI issued a warning about social-media messages purportedly containing links to news about Bahraini-Qatari relations. These messages contained malware that would give hackers access to infected computers and mobile devices.2 In March 2021, a Twitter account impersonating Abbas al-Alawi, a doctor, contacted Bahraini users and tried to hack their WhatsApp accounts.3 In August 2020, the Twitter account of al-Bilad newspaper was hacked by unknown attackers who posted false statements to the account.4,5

Human rights activists living outside Bahrain have faced repeated hacking attempts targeting their social media accounts. In June 2020, the Instagram account of al-Muhafdha was hacked;6 he faced subsequent hacking attempts in July 2020 and January 2021.7,8 In July 2020, al-Sitri’s Instagram account was hacked.9 In January 2021, al-Muhafdha accused the Bahraini government of hacking the Instagram account of Abdelilah al-Mahouzy.10 During the reporting period, several Bahraini activists faced phishing attacks on Instagram, which the MOI is suspected to have launched.11,12 Several activists, including al-Muhafdha, were targeted by phishing emails that tried to steal email-account login details in November 2020. 13

On Bahrain

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  • Global Freedom Score

    12 100 not free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    30 100 not free
  • Freedom in the World Status

    Not Free
  • Networks Restricted

    No
  • Websites Blocked

    Yes
  • Pro-government Commentators

    Yes
  • Users Arrested

    Yes