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.
- 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detained, or prosecuted for their online activities, including a woman who was deported and a lawyer whose license was revoked (see C3).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).
|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.
- 1International Telecommunications Union, “ICT Statistics,” Accessed July 2021, https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/stat/default.aspx.
- 2“Quarterly Market Indicators – Q4 2020,” Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain, Accessed March 1, 2021, https://tra-website-prod-01.s3-me-south-1.amazonaws.com/Media/Documents….
- 3“Annual Report,” Batelco, 2020, https://content.batelco.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/09063321/Annual-….
- 4“Speedtest Global Index: Bahrain,” SpeedTest, Accessed July 2021, https://www.speedtest.net/global-index/bahrain.
- 5“Mobile Networks Coverage Audit Report—2019,” Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain, November 4, 2019, https://tra-website-content-prod-2019-do-not-delete.s3-eu-west-1.amazon….
- 6“Batelco First and Only Telecom to Provide Superfast Fibre Internet 500Mbps,” BizBahrain, August 2, 2016, https://www.bizbahrain.com/batelco-first-and-only-telecom-to-provide-su….
- 7“Batelco Home fiber Internet Packages,” Batelco, Accessed May 30, 2021, https://batelco.com/home-services/fiber-internet-packages/; “Fiber Home Broadband,” STC Bahrain, Accessed May 30, 2021, https://www.stc.com.bh/en/content/fiber-home-broadband; “Subscribe now to one of our new Fiber Packages,” Zain, Accessed May 30, 2021, https://www.bh.zain.com/en/personal/broadband-plans/fiber.
- 8Melanie Mingas, “Bahrain achieves nationwide 5G coverage,” Capacity Media, January 11, 2021, https://www.capacitymedia.com/articles/3827370/bahrain-achieves-nationw…; “Zain 3G / 4G / 5G coverage map, Bahrain,” nPerf, Accessed May 30, 2021, https://www.nperf.com/en/map/BH/-/5986.Zain/signal/?ll=26.0197657858722….
- 9“5G Download Speeds in Bahrain Exceed 1 GB – according to TRA’s latest Quality of Service Measurement Report,” Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain, April 21, 2020, https://www.tra.org.bh/en/article/5g-download-speeds-in-bahrain-exceed-….
|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.
- 1“15% decrease in mobile prices, Mobile data usage increases by 74%,” Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain, January 26, 2020, https://www.tra.org.bh/en/en/article/15-decrease-in-mobile-prices-mobil…; “Mobile Internet Packages, Mobile Prepaid Internet Packages,” Batelco, Accessed March 5, 2021, https://batelco.com/home-services/mobile-internet/.
- 2“Batelco Home Internet Packages,” Batelco, Accessed March 5, 2021, https://batelco.com/home-services/fiber-internet-packages/; “Fiber Home Broadband,” STC Bahrain, Accessed May 30, 2020, https://www.stc.com.bh/en/content/fiber-home-broadband; “Subscribe now to one of our new Fiber Packages,” Zain, Accessed May 30, 2020, https://www.bh.zain.com/en/personal/broadband-plans/fiber.
- 3“Home Internet Packages,” Batelco, Accessed October 8, 2019, https://batelco.com/home-services/fiber-internet-packages/.
- 4“Mobile Postpaid Prepaid,” Batelco, Accessed October 8, 2019, https://batelco.com/mobile/prepaid/; the average monthly wage of migrant workers is around 200 dinars ($530), see, European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights, “Bahrain – Migrant workers’ rights, June 2019,” June 2019, https://www.ecdhr.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/2019.06_Bahrain_Migran…’-rights.pdf.
|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
- 1“Bahrain’s Internet Ecosystem: 2012 Overview,” Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain, December 2012, https://tra-website-content-prod-2019-do-not-delete.s3-eu-west-1.amazon….
- 2“Batelco launches National Broadband Network division,” Comms Update, October 18, 2019, https://www.commsupdate.com/articles/2019/10/18/batelco-launches-nation….
- 3“Report on the New Telecommunications Economic Regulatory Framework for the Kingdom of Bahrain,” Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain, April 15, 2018, https://perma.cc/NAZ3-ER5H.
- 4“The Prime Minister is reforming the Board of Directors of the Bahrain Internet Exchange [in Arabic],” Bahrain Mirror, August 28, 2019, http://bahrainmirror.com/news/55621.html; “HRH Premier appoints Bahrain Internet Exchange board,” Bahrain News Agency, August 27, 2019, https://www.bna.bh/en/HRHPremierappointsBahrainInternetExchangeboard.as….
- 5“Memorandum of Understanding (MoU),” Bahrain Internet Exchange (BIX), Accessed June 10, 2020, http://www.bix.bh/mou.php.
- 6“Bahrain’s Internet Ecosystem: 2012 Overview,” Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain, December 2012, https://tra-website-content-prod-2019-do-not-delete.s3-eu-west-1.amazon….
- 7“Manama-IX Internet Traffic Exchange Platform Now Welcomes Global Networks,” Batelco, September 19, 2019, http://batelco.com/news-media/manama-ix-internet-traffic-exchange-platf…; “Bahrain’s Internet Ecosystem: 2012 Overview,” Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain, December 2012, https://tra-website-content-prod-2019-do-not-delete.s3-eu-west-1.amazon….
- 8“A study on the best solution for Bahrain Internet exchange [in Arabic],” Al-Bilad Press, May 13, 2019, http://albiladpress.com/newspaper/3863/572117.html; “Monthly Report of Tender Awards For February 2021 [in Arabic],” Bahrain Tender Board, Accessed May 30, 2021, https://www.tenderboard.gov.bh/MediaHandler/ImageHandler/Pdf/Awarded/Aw….
- 9Sarah Faisal, “Bahrain to use WhatsApp and FB Messenger to Deliver COVID-19 test results and updates,” Start Up Bahrain, May 27, 2020, https://www.startupbahrain.com/news/bahrain-to-use-whatsapp-and-fb-mess….
- 10“Bahrain blocks access to Al Jazeera and continues to ban websites and penalise via Internet!,” Bahrain Press Association, Accessed August 2021, http://www.bahrainpa.org/wp/?p=409; u/Technspice_YT, “Telegram not working in STC?,” February 13, 2021, https://www.reddit.com/r/Bahrain/comments/liw57s/telegram_not_working_i…; Anfal Janahi, @AnfalJanahi, “Finally Telegram In bahrain!,” January 13, 2021, https://twitter.com/AnfalJanahi/status/1349405661906546688?s=20; IBukhaLiL, @ibukhalil, “Telegram app is back in action in Bahrain [in Arabic],” July 16, 2021, https://twitter.com/ibukhalil/status/1416115340380098574?s=20.
- 11Bahrain Watch, “Internet Shutdown in Duraz Ends,” Accessed October 8, 2019, https://web.archive.org/web/20190424144408/https://bahrainwatch.org/ama….
- 12“Shutting down the Internet from Northwest Bahrain is damaging Bahrain's drive towards a knowledge economy [in Arabic],” Al-Wasat, July 4, 2016, http://www.alwasatnews.com/news/1133752.html.
- 13Bahrain Watch, “Coalition of NGOs sign a Letter Demanding Internet Restoration in Diraz,” August 28, 2016, https://web.archive.org/web/20190424144440/https://bahrainwatch.org/blo….
|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
- 1“VIVA Bahrain to acquire Menatelecom from KFH Bahrain,” VIVA, December 23, 2017, https://www.viva.com.bh/content/-34.
- 2“Applying for available Licenses,” Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain, Accessed October 8, 2019, https://www.tra.org.bh/en/article/applying-for-available-licences.
- 3“Telecommunications Markets Indicators in the Kingdom of Bahrain,” Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain, December 2019, https://tra-website-content-prod-2019-do-not-delete.s3-eu-west-1.amazon….
- 4“Annual Report 2019,” Batelco, Accessed May 2, 2020, http://content.batelco.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/10123308/Batelco-….
- 5“License overview and Award Process Internet Service Provider (ISP),” Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain, Accessed October 8, 2019, https://www.tra.org.bh/Media/Licenses/Overview_ISP_en.pdf.
- 6“SIJILAT 2.0,” Commercial Registration Portal, Accessed October 8, 2019, https://www.sijilat.bh.
- 7“Article 35 Order No. 7 of 2020,” Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain, December 28, 2020, https://tra-website-prod-01.s3-me-south-1.amazonaws.com/Media/Documents….
- 8“Article 35 Order No. 5 of 2020,” Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain, September 30, 2020, https://tra-website-prod-01.s3-me-south-1.amazonaws.com/Media/Documents…
- 9“BNET is officially launch in line with the Fourth National Telecommunications Plan,” BizBahrain, October 17, 2019, https://www.bizbahrain.com/bnet-is-officially-launch-in-line-with-the-f…,
- 10“Batelco announces the launch of BNET and the Minister of Communications promises to reduce the cost of the Internet [in Arabic],” Delmon Post, October 16, 2019, http://delmonpost.com/?p=17530.
- 11“Report on the New Telecommunications Economic Regulatory Framework for the Kingdom of Bahrain,” Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain, April 15, 2018, https://perma.cc/NAZ3-ER5H.
|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.
- 1“Vision & Mission,” Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain, Accessed August 10, 2018, https://www.tra.org.bh/en/category/vision-mission-and-values.
- 2In June 2013, Mohamed al-Rumaihi was named President of the IAA, replacing Fawaz al-Khalifa.
- 3“Royal decree regulating the Ministry of Information Affairs [in Arabic],” Al-Wasat, December 1, 2016, http://www.alwasatnews.com/news/1186132.html.
- 4“Decree No. (48) for the year 2020 appointing members of the Board of Directors of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority [in Arabic],” Legalization and Legal Opinion Commission, August 19, 2020, https://legalaffairs.gov.bh/15478.aspx?cms=q8FmFJgiscJUAh5wTFxPQnjc67hw….
- 5“Board of Directors,” Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain, Accessed May 20, 2020, https://www.tra.org.bh/en/category/board-of-directors.
- 6“Executive Structure,” Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain, Accessed May 20, 2020, https://www.tra.org.bh/en/category/executive-structure.
- 7“Revocation of telecommunication licenses granted by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority,” Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain, February 25, 2016, https://www.tra.org.bh/en/article/revocation-of-telecommunication-licen….
- 8“Revocation of Telecommunication Licenses granted by the TRA to Bahrain Broadband Co. W.L.L,” Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain, December 27, 2017, https://www.tra.org.bh/en/article/revocation-of-telecommunication-licen….
- 9“Article 35, Order No.1 of 2017,” Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain, August 24, 2017, https://tra-website-content-prod-2019-do-not-delete.s3-eu-west-1.amazon….
|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.
- 1“Awal website blocked by Bahraini authorities [in Arabic],” Neda Al-Bahrain, December 8, 2018, http://nedaalbahrain.com/bahrain-i19389.
- 2Ministry of Interior, @moi-bahrain, “(Anti-Cybercrime): legal measures taken to block a website in coordination with the concerned authorities after publishing fraudulent messages on the subject of contact and efforts to combat Corona [in Arabic],” November 10, 2020, https://twitter.com/moi_bahrain/status/1326248812076281861?s=20.
- 3Vivian Nereim and Farah Elbahrawy, “Gulf Arab States Agree to Restore Qatar Ties in U.S.-Backed Deal,” Bloomberg, January 4, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-01-04/saudi-arabia-opens-l….
- 4“Bahrain Follows Suit after UAE and Saudi Arabia, Blocks Qatari Media Outlets,” Bahrain Mirror, May 25, 2017, http://bahrainmirror.com/en/news/38932.html.
- 5Bahrain Center for Human Rights, “ANHRI condemns blocking Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper website,” May 24, 2011, http://bahrainrights.net/?p=3750.
- 6Abu Hasan, @Ba7rain_, “So quickly they block the new address, it seems that the Zionists provided them with programs ... [in Arabic],” November 20, 2020, https://twitter.com/ba7rain_/status/1329614988940636160?s=12.
- 7Bahrain Press Association, “November and December 2020: The Ministry of Education sues journalist Jaafar al-Jamri, arrests 10 people for insulting the Prime Minister, and sentences Sharifa Siwar to prison [in Arabic],” Accessed March 2021, https://bahrainpa.org/?p=1640.
- 8Confirmed by an internet user in Bahrain in June 2021.
- 9These sites include bambuser.com, ustream.tv, and other websites that stream directly to Twitter like twitcasting.tv. See, Bahrain Freedom Index, “Live streaming websites blocked in Bahrain, tested on August 14, 2016,” August 14, 2016, https://bahrainindex.tumblr.com/post/148926421634/live-streaming-websit….
- 10Freedom House, “Freedom on the Net: Bahrain,” 2017, https://freedomhouse.org/country/bahrain/freedom-net/2017#B
- 11“Resolution No. (12) of 2016 Promulgating the Internet Safety Regulation,” Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain, Accessed October 8, 2019, https://tra-website-content-prod-2019-do-not-delete.s3-eu-west-1.amazon….
- 12“Awarded Tenders Monthly Report From 1/1/2016 to 1/31/2016 [in Arabic],” Bahrain Tender Board, Accessed October 8, 2019, http://web.archive.org/web/20160118100353/http:/www.tenderboard.gov.bh/….
- 13Citizen Lab, “Tender Confirmed, Rights At Risk: Verifying Netsweeper in Bahrain,” September 21, 2016, https://citizenlab.ca/2016/09/tender-confirmed-rights-risk-verifying-ne….
|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
- 1“Al-Manai Expresses Concern over “Al-Maamir Residents’ Crawl towards his Factory” during Shura Session,” Bahrain Mirror, March 8, 2019, http://bahrainmirror.com/news/53030.html; Yusuf Aljamri, @YusufAlJamri, “Bahrain | In the footsteps of his mother, the chancellor's son describes those who reject the new retirement law as mentally ill [in Arabic],” June 14, 2018, https://twitter.com/YusufAlJamri/status/1007251780537856001.
- 2“The Shura Council withdraws the news of Al-Saleh’s condolences to Lebanon two hours after it was sent to the media [in Arabic],” Bahrain Mirror, August 6, 2020, http://bahrainmirror.com/news/58273.html.
- 3“The Shura Council blocks Fatima Al-Kooheji's intervention on revoking citizenship [in Arabic],” Awal Online, April 13, 2020, https://perma.cc/PER4-TBCK.
- 4“The Ministry of Education deletes pictures of the needy families receiving "laptops" from Instagram [in Arabic],” Awal Online, December 26, 2020, http://awalonline.com/?p=18055.
- 515 Twitter accounts were temporarily or permanently shut down in November 2018 after government supporters reported them for violating the platform’s policies.
- 6Abdulnabi Salman, @mp_a_salman, “Dear friends and follower, My Instagram account has been subjected to an unknown-source reporting campaign, which forced the Instagram administration to close it [in Arabic],” September 29, 2020 https://twitter.com/mp_a_salman/status/1310709560567619584; iMarketbh, @mhalyat, “An unknown-source attack suspend the Instagram accounts of MPs Abdulnabi Salman and Zainab AbdulAmir [in Arabic],” September 29, 2020, https://twitter.com/mhalyat/status/1310828368141709313?s=20.
- 7Sanawat Al-Jareesh, @aljareesh, “Unfortunately, The Years of Al-Jareesh page has been subjected to an intense campaign of reports.., which caused the page to be blocked from many followers and visitors [in Arabic],” August 14, 2020, https://www.instagram.com/p/CD4hp3qFvko/?igshid=1wrh2853fagn0.
- 8“Sipkar: Banning abusive and inflammatory accounts is a necessity and a national duty [in Arabic],” Al-Ayam, May 31, 2019, https://www.alayam.com/alayam/Courts/797636/News.html.
- 9First Light, @firstlight_bah, “The journalist admitted his mistake and deleted the tweet and wrote the following tweet for trolls [in Arabic],” July 5, 2020, https://twitter.com/firstlight_bah/status/1279757126626357250?s=20; Yusuf al-Jamri, @YusufAljamri, “The head of the Labor Market Regulatory Authority threatens a Bahraini journalist who criticized the status of foreign workers [in Arabic],” July 5, 2020, https://twitter.com/YusufAlJamri/status/1279550591656775681.
- 10BCHR, “Bahrain: Arrest of the historical researcher Jassim Al Abbas,” February 4, 2020, http://bahrainrights.net/?p=9656; Salam, “SALAM DHR to Bahraini government: Respect freedom of expression, researches & allow the reopening of the ‘Jerish Years’ blog by researcher Jasim Hussain,” February 9, 2020, https://salam-dhr.org/?p=3929.
- 11Scholars At Risk, “Academic Freedom Monitoring Project,” Accessed May 30, 2020, https://www.scholarsatrisk.org/report/2020-01-30-unaffiliated/.
- 12Salam, “SALAM DHR to Bahraini government: Respect freedom of expression, researches & allow the reopening of the ‘Jerish Years’ blog by researcher Jasim Hussain,” February 9, 2020, https://salam-dhr.org/?p=3929.
- 13AlbinKhamis, @Albinkhamis, “This is it [the deleted post] according to some followers [in Arabic],” February 2, 2020, https://twitter.com/AlbinKhamis/status/1224054849786056706; “Blogger of ‘Sanawat Al-Jareesh’ Jassim Al-Abbas Arrested,” Bahrain Mirror, February 3, 2020, http://www.bahrainmirror.com/en/news/57080.html.
- 14Noor al-Bahrain, @nooralbahrain, “The Jareesh Years blog disappeared from the Internet, its owner is arrested in the investigation offices, we have reached the stage of banning scientific research and limiting information acquisition [in Arabic],”, February 1, 2020, https://twitter.com/nooralbahraini/status/1223790450294886400; see also minute 0:48 of this video that shows the “account suspended” message that appeared during the time the blog was deactivated, Bahrain Mirror, @Bahrainmirror, “History documentation is not allowed: Arrest of researcher Jassim Al Abbas [in Arabic],” February 3, 2020, https://twitter.com/BahrainMirror/status/1224387271815847950.
- 15“Jassim Al-Abbas Released Few Days after his Arrest,” Bahrain Mirror, February 5, 2020, http://www.bahrainmirror.com/en/news/57087.html.
- 16“Cybercrime [unit] summons citizens who sympathize with Qasim Soleimani and releases them after deleting their tweets [in Arabic],” Awal Online, January 4, 2020, https://perma.cc/M6SR-9PVW; Aqeel Swar, @Binswar, “On amicable request from the cybercrime department, I have deleted all [my] tweets and retweets related to Qasim Soleimani [in Arabic],” January 3, 2020, https://twitter.com/Binswar/status/1213162454643032064; Nader Abdulemam, @NaderAbdulemam, “I just left the Criminal Investigations, E-Crimes Department, after receiving a phone summon about some tweets posted in my account that I wrote wrongly [in Arabic],” January 3, 2020, https://twitter.com/NaderAbdulEmam/status/1213161443765313536; Yusuf al-Jamri, @YusufAljamri, “On Friday, the Bahraini Ministry of Interior summoned a number of citizens for their tweets regarding the assassination of the Quds Force Commander Qasim Soleimani [in Arabic],” January 4, 2020, https://twitter.com/YusufAlJamri/status/1213378241911758849; “The Bahraini Ministry of Interior threatens citizens after the assassination of "Soleimani" and "Al-Muhandis" and summons a number of them [in Arabic],” Manama Post, January 4, 2020, https://www.manamapost.com/news/2019131955/وزارة-الداخلية-البحرينيّة-تُ….
- 17Ministry of Interior, @moi_bahrain, “A number of social media users were summoned for posting messages that could harm the general order,” January 3, 2020, https://twitter.com/moi_bahrain/status/1213142731414851585.
- 18“Google Transparency Report—Government requests to remove content,” Google, Accessed May 30, 2020, https://transparencyreport.google.com/government-removals/by-country/BH…; ”Facebook Transparency—Bahrain,” Facebook, Accessed May 30, 2020, https://transparency.facebook.com/content-restrictions/country/BH; “Privacy Center—Transparency Report, July 1, 2019–December 31, 2019,” Snapchat, Accessed May 30, 2021, https://www.snap.com/en-US/privacy/transparency/.
- 19“Twitter Transparency - Bahrain,” Twitter, Accessed May 30, 2021, https://transparency.twitter.com/en/countries/bh.html.
- 20“Transparency Report – January 1, 2020 to June 30, 2020,” Snapchat, Accessed May 30, 2021, https://www.snap.com/en-US/privacy/transparency.
- 21“A guide for using social networks in government agencies [in Arabic],” Ministry of Information Affairs, April 9, 2019, https://perma.cc/3JDL-Q9EX.
- 22BCHR, “Bahrain: After destruction of the actual protesting site at “the Pearl,” the government shifts to eliminate virtual protests,” May 22, 2011, http://bahrainrights.net/?p=10477.
|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
- 1“Decree-by-Law No. 47 Regarding organizing the press, printing and publishing [in Arabic],” Legislative and Legal Opinion Commission, October 23, 2002, https://www.legalaffairs.gov.bh/AdvancedSearchDetails.aspx?id=5831.
- 2“Al-Ayyam publishes the new press law [in Arabic],” Al-Ayam, April 18, 2021, https://www.alayam.com/alayam/first/903539/News.html
- 3Reporters Without Borders, “Authorities Step Up Offensive Against Journalists and Websites,” May 14, 2009, http://bahrainrights.net/?p=2511.
- 4Reporters Without Borders, “Authorities Step Up Offensive Against Journalists and Websites,” May 14, 2009, http://bahrainrights.net/?p=2511 .
- 5Snapshot of blockpage: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1K6w6fiKCauv-u4oEcR6oCb5ry5um2Yvn/view; the link shown on the page leads to http://www.unblock.gov.bh/.
- 6“Minister of Culture and Information Decision No. (1) of 2009 regulating the blocking of websites [in Arabic],” Legislative and Legal Opinion Commission, Accessed May 30, 2020, https://www.legalaffairs.gov.bh/LegislationSearchDetails.aspx?id=8024.
- 7Ministry of Interior, @moi_bahrain, “Anti-cybercrime: Those who follow inciting accounts that promote sedition and circulate their posts will be held legally accountable,” May 30, 2019, https://twitter.com/moi_bahrain/status/1134148380312178689; Ministry of Interior, @moi_bahrain, “Anti-cyber Crime: as part of the recent and rapid regional developments, the social media accounts that aim to promote sedition...,” January 3, 2020, https://twitter.com/moi_bahrain/status/1213135247119966214; Ministry of Interior, @moi_bahrain, “PT: Legal steps would be taken against any social media account that violates general rules and deals with those accounts...,” January 3, 2020, https://twitter.com/moi_bahrain/status/1213135292259061762.
- 8Ministry of Interior, “Anti-cybercrime to tackle accounts from inside Bahrain and abroad that promote sedition,” January 3, 2019, https://www.policemc.gov.bh/en/news/ministry/92447.
- 9“Al-Ayyam publishes the new press law [in Arabic],” Al-Ayam, April 18, 2021, https://www.alayam.com/alayam/first/903539/News.html.
- 10“Bahrain Penal Code, Article 168,” UNODC, 1976, https://www.unodc.org/res/cld/document/bhr/1976/bahrain_penal_code_html….
- 11“Interior Ministry: Group admin in Bahrain is responsible to the authorities for everything published [in Arabic],” Lualua TV, February 19, 2016, https://web.archive.org/web/20190424144413/http://lualuatv.com/?p=33529.
- 12Awal Online, @awalonline, “E-Crime Department: When you write “forwarded” or “As Received,” it does not relieve you from accountability,” [in Arabic], video, Apr 19, 2020, https://twitter.com/Awalonline/status/1251807500485062656.
|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
- 1Bahrain Press Association (BPA), “Bahrain 2018: The Kingdom of Closed Doors,” May 1, 2019, http://www.bahrainpa.org/wp/?p=504.
- 2See Bahrain Mirror http://www.bahrainmirror.com/ and Bahrain Al-Youm https://www.bahrainalyoum.co.uk; Reporters Without Borders, “Unblocked Website: Bahrain Mirror,” Accessed August 20201, https://rsf.org/en/bahrain-mirror.
- 3Simeon Kerr, “Manama fights back in cyberspace,” Financial Times, May 23, 2011, http://on.ft.com/maUYxm.
- 4Mephisto, @mariamnessi, “Are you scared of legal repercussions if you comment on local issues?,” June 16, 2020, https://twitter.com/mariamnessi/status/1272662163845517318?s=12.
- 5People in comments under this post advising the user who posted a video of his policeman father to remove it: Yusuf al-Jamri, @YusufAljamri,” Bahrain | An Asian whose father works in the Ministry of Interior posts a photo of his Bahraini passport [in Arabic],” June 23, 2020, https://twitter.com/YusufAlJamri/status/1275408139345682432?s=20; Yusuf al-Jamri, @YusufAljamri, “Asians are asking the owner of the video to remove it for security reasons, 'No publication is allowed' [in Arabic],” June 23, 2020, https://twitter.com/YusufAlJamri/status/1275408139345682432?s=20; Lawyer Ebrahim AlManaai, @ebrahimalmannai, “I often meet people who knows me, they tell me: be careful about what you write on twitter, you see the situation is not reassuring, they might make it a problem for you [in Arabic],” August 9, 2020, https://twitter.com/ebrahimalmannai/status/1292345259624718336?s=12.
- 6Steve Holland, Dan Williams and Aziz El Yaakoubi, “Bahrain follows Emirates in normalizing ties with Israel,” Reuters, September 11, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-bahrain-usa-idUSKBN26226T.
- 7Bu Khalifa, @abdullah_bh1, “We have no opinion beyond the esteemed decision of His Majesty the King, I advise you to delete the tweet [in Arabic],” September 11, 2020, https://twitter.com/abdullah_bh1/status/1304503255658004482.
- 8Deleted tweet, screenshot posted by Nawal Atteya, @nawalatteya: “It is a complete shame that while European countries condemn extensions of the Zionist entity (..), the Arabs who signed the peace agreements are silent. Any smack from the “stinking Yahoo” accepted by normalization brokers? [in Arabic],” October 18, 2020, https://twitter.com/nawalatteya/status/1317761350114869248; and a notice of deleted posted by No Mask, @NooMask, “The men deleted the tweet and e become a good man [in Arabic],” October 18, 2020, https://twitter.com/NooMask/status/1317772519328354304?s=20.
- 9“Activists announce their retirement from political and human rights activism as well quitting Twitter [in Arabic],” Al-Wasat, May 29, 2018, http://www.alwasatnews.com/news/1245294.html.
- 10Emission, @Emission_Bh, “It has become difficult for our people to retweet even without commenting on a subject that all Bahraini families suffer from [in Arabic],” August 1, 2018, https://twitter.com/Emission_Bh/status/1024736271208460289, Human rights defender Nabeel Rajab since his conditional release from prison on non-custodial sentence is not posting critical comments on local issues https://www.instagram.com/nabeel.rajab/.
- 11Nawal Atteya, @nawalatteya, “Lawyer Fatima Al-Hawaj closes her Twitter account [in Arabic],” November 26, 2020, https://twitter.com/nawalatteya/status/1331829224894844929?s=12.
- 12Adel Marzooq, @adelmarzooq, “A few days ago, the Electronic Crime Department at the Bahraini Ministry of Interior described my account as seditious and then followed the accusation two days later with this Tweet [in Arabic],” May 30, 2019, https://twitter.com/adelmarzooq/status/1134255453880410113; Ministry of Interior, @moi_bahrain, “Anti-Cyber Crime: the social media account of Adel Marzooq is managed from outside Bahrain. It targets to encourage sedition between members of society,” May 21, 2019, https://twitter.com/moi_bahrain/status/1130802153663213568; Ministry of Interior, @moi_bahrain, “Anti-cybercrime: Those who follow inciting accounts that promote sedition and circulate their posts will be held legally accountable,” May 30, 2019, https://twitter.com/moi_bahrain/status/1134148380312178689.
- 13Yusuf Al-Jamri, @YusufAlJamri, “After the statement of the Ministry of Interior, more than 320 accounts canceled their follow, in contrast to increased Twitter views... [in Arabic],” June 1, 2019, https://twitter.com/YusufAlJamri/status/1134818796898791425; June, @junofmyheart, “Bahraini accounts losing followers after MOI threats against following “malicious” accounts. 3 June 2019,” June 3, 2019, https://twitter.com/Junofmyheart/status/1135613183534804994; Alaa Al Shehabi, @alaashehabi, “Bahrain says it will prosecute twitter users who follow critical accounts. I’ve lost at least 100 followers. Twitter says unfollow & use ‘lists’ instead...,” June 7, 2019, https://twitter.com/alaashehabi/status/1136887576546222080.
- 14Michele Giorgio, “BAHRAIN. Torture, prison and censorship to repress opposition and maintain,” Near East News Agency (Nena), October 11, 2018, http://nena-news.it/bahrain-torture-prison-and-censorship-to-repress-op…; “Lawyer Ibrahim al-Mannai: Tweeting has become like walking in a minefield [in Arabic],” Awal Online, April 17, 2019, https://perma.cc/9WDT-JR4Y; Khalid, @Khalid8409, “Because of the criminal policies taken by the gangs of the [royal] court, the people are suffocated. no longer able to even breathe. no longer able to even like a tweet on Twitter... [in Arabic],” August 3, 2019, https://twitter.com/Khalid8409/status/1157534595841220608; Aqeel Swar, @Binswar, “In the midst of the overwhelming chaos that ravages the country, the cyber crime department is trying to convince us to be watchful of our consciences instead of God’s instinct in us, that our consciences watch over us!,” February 7, 2020, https://twitter.com/Binswar/status/1225644001677565953,
- 15Mohasen al-Saffar, @mohsenalsaffar, “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.. [in Arabic],” April, 17, 2019, https://twitter.com/mohsensaffar/status/1118743538781437952.
|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
- 1“MOI: legal action against anyone who abuses the use of social media and raises sectarian strife [in Arabic],” Al-Wasat, June 27, 2015, http://www.alwasatnews.com/news/1003344.html.
- 2“Bahrain to take 'legal steps' against critics of deal with Israel,” Middle East Monitor, October 14, 2020, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20201014-bahrain-to-take-legal-steps-…; Ministry of Interior, “Legal measures against those who promote suspicious messages ... "Anti-Cybercrime" warns against dealing with accounts managed from outside Bahrain aimed at provoking sedition, threatening civil peace and destabilizing security and stability [in Arabic],” October 12, 2020, https://www.policemc.gov.bh/news/ministry/109310.
- 3“Social media accounts run from Lebanon, Iran promoting sedition,” BNA, August 27, 2020, https://www.bna.bh/en/news?cms=q8FmFJgiscL2fwIzON1%2BDnS6tiWcJvT%2Fovnf….
- 4“Anti-Bahrain social media accounts being run from Iran, Qatar, Iraq [in Arabic],” MOI, May 20, 2019, http://www.policemc.gov.bh/news/ministry/92021.
- 5Yousif al-Muhafdha, @SAIDYOUSIF, “Bahrain Ministry of Interior @moi_bahrain is broadcasting a warning message to all local mobiles to not follow some accounts,” May 30, 2019, https://twitter.com/SAIDYOUSIF/status/1134107922248753152; Ministry of Interior, @moi_bahrain, “Anti-cybercrime: Those who follow inciting accounts that promote sedition and circulate their posts will be held legally accountable,” May 30, 2019, https://twitter.com/moi_bahrain/status/1134148380312178689.
- 6Ministry of Interior, @moi_bahrain, “In light of recent events and rapid regional developments, Combating cybercrime: social media accounts that aim to stir strife, threaten civil peace and social fabric...are managed from outside the country... [in Arabic],” January 3, 2020, https://twitter.com/moi_bahrain/status/1213115245599895552.
- 7“Ministry of Education warns against disseminating information to the media or means of communication [in Arabic],” Al-Ayam, September 13, 2019, https://www.alayam.com/alayam/local/814997/News.html.
- 8Bill Marczak, “Is Bahrain’s Government running extremist accounts?” Bahrain Watch, August 5, 2013, https://web.archive.org/web/20190424144500/https://bahrainwatch.org/blo….
- 9Bill Marczak, “Bahrain Govt using fake Twitter accounts to track online critics,” Bahrain Watch, July 31, 2013, https://web.archive.org/web/20200530120944/https://bahrainwatch.org/blo….
- 10Yusuf al-Jamri, @YusufAljamri, “This account trying to hack WhatsApp accounts, please don’t communicate with it via direct messages and don’t provide it with phone numbers @drabbashaashim [in Arabic],” March 3, 2021, https://twitter.com/yusufaljamri/status/1367120732405309440?s=12.
- 11Hasan AlSetri, @hassanabdaln, “Please be careful everyone.. an intelligence party opened an account in my name, they communicate with others on my behalf, please pay attention, delete and block the account with [in Arabic],” July 5, 2020, https://twitter.com/hassanabdalnabi/status/1279716583653249024.
- 12Brian Dooley, “No Stamp Required: All Too Easy for #Bahrain Twitter Trolls,” Huffington Post, September 25, 2015, http://huff.to/1WmSueM; Brian Dooley, “‘Troll’ Attacks on #Bahrain Tweets Show Depth of Government Attempts to Silence Dissent,” Huffington Post, November 17, 2011, http://huff.to/1iVmxf9.
- 13Abdulla Alshaaer, @alshaeer_bh, “Praise be God, by whose grace good deeds are accomplished, The first statement of the Bahraini Electronic Army [in Arabic],” November 27, 2020, https://twitter.com/alshaeer_bh/status/1332086402377519104; Abdulla Alshaaer, @alshaeer_bh, “We are tweeting the first line of defense against everyone who tries to stab our country in the media [in Arabic],” November 24, 2020, https://twitter.com/alshaeer_bh/status/1331328824068481024?s=12; “What's the Story behind the Bahrain Electronic Army? Crown Prince's 1st Test as Prime Minister,” Bahrain Mirror, December 8, 2020, http://bahrainmirror.com/en/news/58887.html; “Ahmed bin Atiyatullah's Electronic Army: "Salman's Reign" is Number 1 Target,” Bahrain Mirror, December 9, 2020, http://bahrainmirror.com/en/news/58896.html.
- 14Said Yousif AlMuhafdha, @SAIDYOUSIF, “The announcement of our symposium reached a large number of international human rights organizations, .. We thank the electronic army [for free advertisement], [in Arabic],” post includes a photo made by the Bahrain Electronic Army, photo reads: “announcement to followers: we will reveal information about anti-Bahrain seminar (Reform and accountability in Bahrain) run by corrupted and dishonest people,” December 17, 2020, https://twitter.com/SAIDYOUSIF/status/1339480622226677762/; Malbishri, @Malbishri3, “The Bahrain Electronic Army announced that it was able to hack the email of the sectarian Iranian agent Saeed Al-Shihabi, who resides in London. The army said that it would publish the content of Shihabi's e-mail at 8 pm on Friday 12/2/2021 [in Arabic],” Saeed Alshehabi, a Bahraini opposition figure living in UK, February 11, 2021, https://twitter.com/Malbishri3/status/1359836228150001665; The Gulf Israel Human Rights Forum, @GARFHR, “Saeed Al-Shihabi leaks [in Arabic],” February 12, 2021, https://twitter.com/GARFHR/status/1360273686566236164/photo/1.
- 15Said Yousif AlMuhafdha, @SAIDYOUSIF, “Weak and sluggish performance of the Electronic Army by repeating empty words and a unconvincing message and did not provide its audience with information of importance and credibility ..The state still sponsors hate and sectarian rhetoric speech.. [in Arabic],” December 17, 2020, https://twitter.com/SAIDYOUSIF/status/1339610670749368325; “Ahmed bin Atiyatullah's Electronic Army: "Salman's Reign" is Number 1 Target,” Bahrain Mirror, December 9, 2020, http://bahrainmirror.com/en/news/58896.html.
- 16“2018: 7602 Media Items Outcome of Hate Speech, Newspaper Article Causes Arrest of Popular Hymn Reciter,” Bahrain Mirror, February 1, 2019, http://bahrainmirror.com/en/news/52730.html.
- 17Nour Aldeen Alaydi, @aydinour, “Saudi electronic flies are active in every possible foolishness in the anti-normalization hashtags, especially in Bahrain [in Arabic],” September 17, 2020, https://twitter.com/aydinour/status/1306554355475255296.
- 18“Removing Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior in UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia,” Facebook, August 1, 2019, https://about.fb.com/news/2019/08/cib-uae-egypt-saudi-arabia/.
- 19“Threat Analysis Group Bulletin: Q1 2020,” Google, May 27, 2020, https://blog.google/threat-analysis-group/tag-bulletin-q1-2020/.
|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.
- 1BCHR, “NGOs: Bahrain’s New Expansive Press Regulations a Threat to Journalists,” July 27, 2016, http://bahrainrights.net/?p=7806.
- 2BPA, “The tenth annual report – Freedom of the press in Bahrain 2019,” May 3, 2020, http://www.bahrainpa.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/BPA-2019-Report-….
- 3“During the direct meeting with the press...Al-Rumaihi: Bahrain is a conscious and confident voice that reflects the nature and culture of society [in Arabic],” BNA, May 4, 2020, https://www.bna.bh/.aspx?cms=q8FmFJgiscL2fwIzON1%2BDvwYnztrn2YdlqnnaQ3q….
- 4“The Bahraini cabinet approves amendments to the press law [in Arabic],” Bawabaa News, April 5, 2021, https://bawabaa.org/news/middle-east/829715/
- 5“Gulf News publishes a draft of the new press and media law [in Arabic],” Akhbar al-Khaleej, August 10, 2019, http://www.akhbar-alkhaleej.com/news/article/1178445#.XU3u-WwbpUY.whats….
- 6“Gulf News publishes a draft of the new press and media law [in Arabic],” Akhbar al-Khaleej, August 10, 2019, http://www.akhbar-alkhaleej.com/news/article/1178445#.XU3u-WwbpUY.whats….
- 7“Al-Ayyam publishes the new press law [in Arabic],” Al-Ayam, April 18, 2021, https://www.alayam.com/alayam/first/903539/News.html.
|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
- 1“Two million and 200K accounts in the social networks in Bahrain in 2015 [in Arabic],” Al-Wasat, December 15, 2015, http://www.alwasatnews.com/news/1057013.html.
- 2Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), “Bahrain Government Censors Online Anti-Normalisation Event,” May 12, 2020, http://birdbh.org/2020/05/bahrain-government-censors-online-anti-normal….
- 3Yusuf al-Jamri, @YusufAlJamri, “Bahraini human rights @SAIDYOUSIF: Cybercrime department is a partner in hate speech... [in Arabic],” April 17, 2020, https://twitter.com/YusufAlJamri/status/1251201648199970821; Mohamed al-Fardan, @mohdalfardanF, “Their tweets are still there and this is a testament to their confidence that no one will hold them accountable for offending an entire community... [in Arabic],” November 11, 2017, https://twitter.com/MohdalfardanF/status/929304659487010816.
- 4Hasan Alsitri, @hassanabdalnabi, “Where are you on dealing with the sectarian rhetoric and insulting and slandering the Shiites? Justified with Corona pandemic, where is the Ministry of Interior?.. [in Arabic],” March 2, 2020, https://twitter.com/hassanabdalnabi/status/1234515973572636673.
- 5Ali, @i_Ali1997, “The scholars are arrested on charges of insulting Mu’awiya and Banu Umayya and they are buried for ages, while the likes of these insult the largest sect in Bahrain and remain free [in Arabic],” video in which woman shouts and insults Shiites, calling them dogs, while the police try to calm her down, February 29, 2020, https://twitter.com/i_Ali1997/status/1233701123804082176.
- 6Yusuf al-Jamri, @YusufAlJamri, “Bahrain | Increase in hate speech against political prisoners in Bahrain, undeterred by official authorities [in Arabic],” April 15, 2020, https://twitter.com/YusufAlJamri/status/1250403167382224897.
- 7“Bahrainis Not at All United against ‘Al Jazeera’ Film,” Bahrain Mirror, July 18, 2019, http://bahrainmirror.com/en/news/54976.html.
- 8Nazeeha Saeed, “A New Outlet for GCC Nationals... Clubhouse Shakes the Region,” Raseef, April 20, 2021, https://raseef22.net/article/1082456-a-new-outlet-for-gcc-nationals-clu….
- 9Sites were verified accessible through a browser from Bahrain on Batelco and Viva networks on May 3, 2019.
|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
- 1Bahrain Doctor, @BahrainDoctor, “Many tweeters have disappeared and stopped on #Bahrain Twitter after the campaign of arrests and summonses against activists by the National Security Agency [in Arabic],” June 7, 2017, https://twitter.com/BAHRAINDOCTOR/status/872708069750386688; KanZaman, @KanZamanBH, “The disappearance of some prominent tweeters indicates the demonic monitoring of the regime in Bahrain on the world of Twitter, caution is a must [in Arabic],” June 21, 2014, https://twitter.com/KanZamanBH/status/480420533419249665.
- 2See, for example, BahrainDetainees (@FreedomPrayers), Twitter Account, Accessed August 2021, https://twitter.com/FreedomPrayers/lists/bahraindetainees.
- 3AlJazeera Mubasher, @ajmubasher, “New arrests of relatives of a number of political detainees and hashtag #SaveBahrainPrisoners is trending [in Arabic],” video, April 10, 2021, https://twitter.com/ajmubasher/status/1380879557847318529?s=20 and “Solidarity campaign with political detainees under the hashtag #SaveBahrainPrisoners is trending in Bahrain. It has received more than 10,000 tweets on Twitter so far [in Arabic],” March 27, 2021, https://twitter.com/a_samedoon/status/1375751580448813066?s=20.
- 4Racha El halabi, @Racha93halabi, “In a newscast #TRTArabi : campaign in Bahrain via hashtag #No_to_death_penalty.. [in Arabic],” June 16, 2020, https://twitter.com/racha93halabi/status/1272980184455680001?s=12.
- 5Yusuf al-Jamri, @YusufAljamri, “hashtag #No_to_death_penalty trending in Bahrain [in Arabic],” July 8, 2020, https://twitter.com/yusufaljamri/status/1280923995672645633?s=12.
- 6Rassd News, @RassdNewsN , “Hashtag Bahrainis_against_normalisation is trending in Bahrain [in Arabic],” September 11, 2020, https://twitter.com/rassdnewsn/status/1304500074031046659?s=12.
- 7Bahrain to take 'legal steps' against critics of deal with Israel,” Middle East Monitor, October 14, 2020, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20201014-bahrain-to-take-legal-steps-….
- 8Nazeeha Saeed, “Cyber Feminism: The Gulf Activists Making Some Noise,” August 29, 2019, https://jeem.me/en/internet/nazeeha-saeed/cyber-feminism-gulf-activists….
- 9Zainab Alekri, “Bahrain donates 75,000 dinars to Hassan within an hour and high load on Benefit [in Arabic],” Albilad Press, November 22, 2020, https://albiladpress.com/news/2020/4423/bahrain/681193.html; Essa, @isa4rezai, “He's one of us #help_hasan,” November 20, 2020, https://twitter.com/isa4rezai/status/1329829052912381952?s=20.
|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
- 1See: Constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain, Article 23, http://www.shura.bh/ar/legislativeresource/constitution/pages/default.a….
- 2See: Constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain, Article 26, http://www.shura.bh/ar/legislativeresource/constitution/pages/default.a….
- 3IREX, “Media Sustainability Index 2009,” Accessed May 30, 2020, https://www.irex.org/sites/default/files/pdf/media-sustainability-index….
- 4Human Rights Watch, “Bahrain: A System of Injustice,” May 28, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/05/28/bahrain-system-injustice; Human Rights Watch, “Bahrain: Rights Defender’s Conviction Upheld,” December 31, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/12/31/bahrain-rights-defenders-conviction…; Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), “HRC Written Statement: Abuse of the Judicial System in Bahrain,” February 23, 2018, https://www.adhrb.org/2018/02/abuse-of-the-judicial-system-in-bahrain/.
- 5IFEX, “In Bahrain, the two-faced nature of impunity: Oppressors rewarded, activists suffer,” February 12, 2019, https://ifex.org/in-bahrain-the-two-faced-nature-of-impunity-oppressors….
|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
- 1For cases where the authorities have used the 2002 press law to censor online websites, see BCHR, “Website accused of violating press code, BCHR concerned that move is aimed at silencing critical voices,” October 1, 2008, http://bahrainrights.net/?p=2105; “Closure a blow to freedom of opinion and expression [in Arabic],” Al-Wasat, April 25, 2010, http://www.alwasatnews.com/news/472942.html.
- 2“Press and Publications Law of 2002 of the Kingdom of Bahrain (No. 47 of 2002) [in Arabic],” Accessed May 30, 2020, https://www.legalaffairs.gov.bh/AdvancedSearchDetails.aspx?id=5831.
- 3“Press and Publications Law of 2002 of the Kingdom of Bahrain (No.47 of 2002) [in Arabic],” Accessed May 30, 2020, https://www.legalaffairs.gov.bh/AdvancedSearchDetails.aspx?id=5831.
- 4“The Telecommunications Law Of The Kingdom Of Bahrain, Legislative Decree 48,” Accessed October 8, 2019, https://tra-website-content-prod-2019-do-not-delete.s3-eu-west-1.amazon….
- 5“Al-Hammadi: No dereliction in dealing with the complaints of the misuse of social media [in Arabic],” Al-Wasat, August 4, 2015, http://www.alwasatnews.com/news/1013575.html.
- 6See: Bahrain Penal Code, 1976, Article 168, https://www.unodc.org/res/cld/document/bhr/1976/bahrain_penal_code_html….
- 7Dina Samaro, “Arbitrary action and legal accountability for ‘provoking sedition,’” Access Now, June 3, 2019, https://perma.cc/X2SZ-5LH4.
- 8Faten Hadad, @fatenhaddad, “A change in the description and the punishment for those who glorify, promote or justify terrorist crimes [in Arabic],” video showing Hadad warning against tweeting, commenting or sharing screen of anything related to the terrorists acts that could be a crime, May 25, 2019, https://www.instagram.com/p/Bx5kS02A5ZG/?igshid=glmvpn0n7nr0; Ali Fadhel, @AliFadhel87, “Caution for everyone who works (tweet = publishing) for groups that are internationally qualified as a terrorist group... [in Arabic],” May 25, 2019, https://twitter.com/AliFadhel87/status/1132392262980317188.
- 9“Bahrain to issue new media law in 2020, reports,” Arabian Business, December 26, 2019, https://www.arabianbusiness.com/media/436126-bahrain-to-issue-new-media…; “The Press Law is in the final drafting stage before referral to Parliament [in Arabic],” Al-Ayam, May 5, 2020, https://www.alayam.com/alayam/local/855711/News.html.
- 10BPA, “New Press Law ‘a Crime’ for Bahrain and Journalists; Government Must Cease Action,” November 8, 2019, http://www.bahrainpa.org/wp/?p=537.
- 11“Bahrain abolishes jailing journalists in major amendments to press law,” Arab News, September 03, 2021, https://www.arabnews.com/node/1838366/media.
- 12Civil Service Bureau, “Resolution No. (20) of 2020 amending some provisions of the executive regulations [in Arabic],” July 9, 2020, https://www.csb.gov.bh/ar/civil-service-legislation/decrees-resolutions…; PBA, “The Bahrain Press Association condemns the government’s approval of “dismissal from work” as a punishment for those who criticize its policies or decisions [in Arabic],” July 17, 2020, http://bahrainpa.org/?p=1591.
- 13Council of Representatives, “Foreign Affairs committee discusses laws protecting the private and family lives of individuals [in Arabic],” January 4, 2021, https://www.nuwab.bh/خارجية-النواب-تناقش-قوانين-حماية-الح/.
- 14“Council of Representatives, collection of communication regarding the law review process [in Arabic],” Accessed May 30, 2020, https://www.nuwab.bh/wp-content/uploads/pdf/17049000000070-احالة%20مشرو….
|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
- 1Ebtisam AlSaegh, @e.alsaegh, “punishment for a woman of Gulf nationality b. A. She is of Bahraini origin, a Bahraini wife and a mother of Bahraini children, with 6 months imprisonment and deportation from Bahrain. Because of a post on social media on 11/11/2020 [in Arabic],” November 19, 2020, https://www.instagram.com/p/CHxSiAvBdkn/?igshid=xf58vfdgtax0; Ebtisam AlSaegh, @ealsaegh “Upholding decision against Omani citizen and Bahraini citizen by birth. She spent 54 years on the land of Bahrain, and she is a Bahraini wife and mother [in Arabic],” December 8, 2020, https://twitter.com/ealsaegh/status/1336331340480880650?s=12; Ahmed, @a7md_19_, “Is it reasonable for an entire family to be dispersed .. in revenge for the phrases she wrote in a “private group” in WhatsApp? [in Arabic],” January 25, 2021, https://twitter.com/a7md_19_/status/1353765777149734913.
- 2HussainMJawad, @HussainMJawad, “Deportation of Omani Buthaina Ahmed from Bahrain after she was unjustly imprisoned [in Arabic],” May 12, 2021, https://twitter.com/HussainMJawad/status/1392426285092282369?s=20.
- 3“Rise in cybercrime and ransomware piracy [in Arabic],” Alayam, July 26, 2020, https://www.alayam.com/alayam/first/865841/News.html.
- 4“The most committed crimes during the year 2020 [in Arabic],” Akhbar AlKhaleej, January 20, 2021, http://www.akhbar-alkhaleej.com/news/article/1235062.
- 5The note of 16 employees appears only on the Arabic version, see: BNA, “Cybercrime: 65 cases in the recent period, most of which were referred to the prosecution and related to incitement and spreading false news [in Arabic],” March 20, 2020, https://www.bna.bh/.aspx?cms=q8FmFJgiscL2fwIzON1%2BDnNyCVi5GQD5i%2FFfll….
- 6“Legal Action Taken Against Social Media Rumour-Mongers,” The Daily Tribune, March 21, 2020, https://www.newsofbahrain.com/bahrain/62524.html.
- 7BPA, “September and October 2020: Referral of a Bahraini woman to the Public Prosecution Office for spreading atheistic ideas [in Arabic],” January 6, 2021, https://bahrainpa.org/?p=1637.
- 8Alia Almoayed, @Aliaalmoayed, “the latest about the case.. [in Arabic],” October 15, 2020, https://www.instagram.com/p/CGW_ErKpF7w/.
- 9Ebtisam AlSaegh, @e.alsaegh, “14 citizens released in two groups, the first 5 citizens, including a child (Youssef Zayer Ali), and the second today, 9 citizens, on a bail of 500 dinars each.. [in Arabic],” November 19, 2020, https://www.instagram.com/p/CHxsms2hpyE/?igshid=hb5g9fbjfeie.
- 10Ebtisam AlSaegh, @e.alsaegh, “(Good morning) a Bahraini citizen who published it on 11-11-2020 is fined 500 dinars and imprisoned for 7 days. [in Arabic],” https://www.instagram.com/p/CIKtslAhR89/?igshid=1sfc07ui2uxbw.
- 11BPA, @BahrainPA, “On November 12, the Public Prosecution interrogated the director, Yasser Nasser, after he published a post on social media that stated, "The lives of the martyrs are more important and more valuable than the lives of others [in Arabic],” December 12, 2020, https://twitter.com/BahrainPA/status/1337861324362174466?s=20.
- 12Ebtisam AlSaegh, @ealsaegh, “TV director Yasser Nasser embraces freedom after paying his 500 Bahraini dinars bail [in Arabic],” November 19, 2020, https://twitter.com/ealsaegh/status/1329405425435832320?s=12.
- 13STOP The Executions in Bahrain, @iProtestbh, “children arrested for non-political social media posts, merely expressing their feelings (like being happy to have a day off school!) after the demise of prime minister,” November, 15, 2020, https://twitter.com/iprotestbh/status/1328003123017703427?s=20.
- 14Ebtisam AlSaegh, @e.alsaegh, “Childhood in Bahrain is in danger. The arrest of the 14-year-old boy, Youssef Zayer, from the Darz area. As part of the recent campaign of arrests [in Arabic],” November 15, 2020, https://www.instagram.com/p/CHnkbgRBccK/?igshid=lekdedoamb94; Duraz Youth Movement, @DurazYouth, “Child prisoner of conscience, Yousef Zayer Ali, has been released on bail of 500 dinars [in Arabic],” November 16, 2020, https://twitter.com/DurazYouth/status/1328323656783716353?s=20.
- 15“Bahraini authorities release a girl child after three days of terror and threats at the criminal investigations building [in Arabic],” Manama Post, November 17, 2020, https://www.manamapost.com/news/2019136198/السلطات-البحرينيّة-تُفرج-عن-….
- 16Human Rights Watch, “Bahrain: Lawyers Prosecuted on Speech Charges,” September 9, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/09/09/bahrain-lawyers-prosecuted-speech-c…; “Abdullah Al-Shamlawi sentenced to 8 months in prison on accusation of “disrespecting the people of the Sunnah” for saying “the hadith that advocate for fasting on Ashura is not credible [in Arabic],” Delmon Post, July 1, 2020, http://delmonpost.com/?p=22442.
- 17Human Rights Watch, “Bahrain: Lawyers Prosecuted on Speech Charges,” September 9, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/09/09/bahrain-lawyers-prosecuted-speech-c….
- 18BIRD, “Prominent Bahraini Lawyer Avoids Prison Sentence for Tweets,” September 14, 2020, http://birdbh.org/2020/09/prominent-bahraini-lawyer-avoids-prison-sente….
- 19BPA, “The Bahrain Press Association condemns the decision issued against the lawyer Abdullah Al-Shamlawi to ban him from practicing the profession [in Arabic],” March 22, 2021, https://twitter.com/BahrainPA/status/1374024685697044480?s=20.
- 20Lualua News, @LuaLuaNews, “The Bahraini regime arrests a poet who recited a poem against normalization with the Israeli entity [in Arabic],” September 25, 2020, https://twitter.com/LuaLuaNews/status/1309501152799719425.
- 21Duraz Mirror, @DurazMirror, “The release of the poet Abdul-Hussein Ahmed. It is reported that he has been detained since September 24 for reciting poetry against normalization with the Zionists [in Arabic],” October 26, 2020, https://twitter.com/DurazMirror/status/1320798487223635968?s=20.
- 22Ali Saeed Al Muammri, @almuammri, “We thank all citizens for their interaction in my case with the Minister of Housing, and we regret that the local newspapers have missed their professional role in the matter [in Arabic],” March 7, 2021, https://www.instagram.com/p/CMGJKg7hdqI/; “The Minister of Housing files a complaint against a Bahraini citizen who exposed his corruption [in Arabic],” Manama Post, March 2, 2021, https://www.manamapost.com/news/2019137774/وزير-الإسكان-يتقدّم-بشكوى-ضد….
- 23Jafar Al Jamri, @jaljamry, “A call from the Cybercrime Investigation Department to attend on Sunday due to a complaint from the Ministry of Education [in Arabic],” November 4, 2020, https://twitter.com/jaljamry/status/1324015045181923329?s=12; Jafar Al Jamri, @jaljamry, “A call from "Electronic Crimes" informs me that the Public Prosecution's investigation session will be scheduled for next Thursday (February 11, 2021) in the complaint of the Ministry of Education related to my tweet about future schools [in Arabic],” February 9, 2021, https://twitter.com/jaljamry/status/1359094460462886912?s=12.
- 24Yusuf al-Jamri, @YusufAljamri, “A citizen was referred to trial at the end of this month for insulting the Ministry of Housing, as he published a video appeal to the King of the country [in Arabic],” August 13, 2020, https://twitter.com/yusufaljamri/status/1293919541559468035?s=12.
- 25Hani Alfardan, @hani.alfardan, “Public Prosecution: Pretrial detention of a person who delivered a sermon that included explicit and disguised phrases intended to publicly insult the honorable Companions [in Arabic],” August 29, 2020, https://www.instagram.com/p/CEcpOM0BRB4/; BCHR, “Mass Arrests during the Ashura Season in Bahrain,” September 10, 2020, http://bahrainrights.net/?p=13030.
- 26Jawad_Abbasgn, @JawadAbbasgn, “Courts unjustly hand down a one-year prison sentence against Hajj Abd al-Nabi al-Sammak for reciting the Ashura visit [in Arabic],” November 25, 2020, https://twitter.com/JawadAbbasgn/status/1331606445314465794?s=20; Hani Alfardan, @hani.alfardan, “Prosecution: Imprisonment for a year for an accused of insulting figures who are glorified by a religious group [in Arabic],” November 25, 2020, https://www.instagram.com/p/CIBJz5VhQSu/.
- 27Yusuf al-Jamri, @YusufAljamri, “The investigation of a well-known lawyer on charges of glorifying the commander of the Quds Force Qassem Soleimani [in Arabic],” June 1, 2020, https://twitter.com/yusufaljamri/status/1267415468295565313?s=12; BPA, @BahrainPA, “The Public Prosecution (June 1, 2020) interrogated lawyer Fatima Al-Hawaj because of a tweet she posted on her Twitter account in January 2020, commenting on the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani [in Arabic],” June 26, 2020, https://twitter.com/BahrainPA/status/1276267104036102145?s=20.
- 28Lawyer Fatima Alhawaj, @fatima_alhawaj_law, “Appeal to His Majesty the King and the rational leadership. The second recording about the targeting of lawyer #Fatima Al-Hawaj #Bahrain [in Arabic],” October 12, 2020, https://www.instagram.com/tv/CGP0bjyDOVf/.
- 29Hani Alfardan, @hani.alfardan, “The arrest of Asians for tampering and tampering with coins through a video clip [in Arabic],” June 19, 2020, https://www.instagram.com/p/CBoQTdiBa9Y/.
- 30Bahrain Press Association, “November and December 2020: The Ministry of Education sues journalist Jaafar al-Jamri, arrests 10 people for insulting the Prime Minister, and sentences Sharifa Siwar to prison [in Arabic],” Accessed March 2021, https://bahrainpa.org/?p=1640.
- 31Hasan AlSetri, @hassanabdaln, “Nasser Ben Hamad files a public defamation complaint against me, after revoking citizenship, and my Instagram accounts closed [..] The charge: misuse of transportation. (Although I am abroad, how do I use transportation) [in Arabic],” July 7, 2020, https://twitter.com/hassanabdalnabi/status/1280260674875080704?s=12.
- 32Reporters Without Borders, “Detained blogger Abduljalil Al-Singace on hunger strike,” September 6, 2011, https://rsf.org/en/news/detained-blogger-abduljalil-al-singace-hunger-s….
- 33Reporters Without Borders, “Detained blogger Abduljalil Al-Singace on hunger strike,” September 6, 2011, https://rsf.org/en/news/detained-blogger-abduljalil-al-singace-hunger-s….
- 34BPA, “Journalists without citizenship justice and rehabilitation; when?,” September 12, 2019, https://www.bahrainpa.org/wp/?p=524.
- 35“Access Denied,” a project of the independent research and advocacy organization Bahrain Watch, chronicles the many journalists, researchers, academics, and NGO workers that were expelled from or denied access to Bahrain from the 2011 uprising onward. See, https://web.archive.org/web/20180309233217/https://bahrainwatch.org/acc…; Amira al-Hussaini, “Bahrain: Tweeting Appalling Conditions at Jaw Prison,” Global Voices, July 19, 2012, https://globalvoices.org/2012/07/19/bahrain-tweeting-appalling-conditio….
|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.
- 1“Resolution No. (13) of 2015, Promulgating the SIM-Card Enabled Telecommunications Services Registration Regulation,” TRA, Accessed October 8, 2019, https://tra-website-content-prod-2019-do-not-delete.s3-eu-west-1.amazon….
- 2“Resolution No. (13) of 2015, Promulgating the SIM-Card Enabled Telecommunications Services Registration Regulation,” TRA, Accessed October 8, 2019, https://tra-website-content-prod-2019-do-not-delete.s3-eu-west-1.amazon….
- 3“Adoption of the use of fingerprint to record phone chip [in Arabic],” Al-Ayam, July 28, 2016, https://perma.cc/Y44X-ELF3.
- 4“‘Telecommunications regulation’: the footprint of mobile phone users is a precautionary security measure [in Arabic],” Manama Voice, January 28, 2018, http://manamavoice.com/news/11568.
- 5“Renew your registered Mobile lines for a further 12 months,” Batelco, Accessed May 30, 2020, http://batelco.com/mobile/register-your-mobile-line/.
- 6“Article 35 Order No. 7 of 2020,” TRA, December 28, 2020, https://tra-website-prod-01.s3-me-south-1.amazonaws.com/Media/Documents….
|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
- 1Hagar Shezaf and Jonathan Jacobson, “Revealed: Israel's Cyber-spy Industry Helps World Dictators Hunt Dissidents and Gays,” Haaretz, October 20, 2018, https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium.MAGAZINE-israel-s-cyber-sp…; Alex Kane, “Israeli Spyware is Helping Repressive Regimes in the Middle East Opress Dissidents,” Vice, November 20, 2018, https://www.vice.com/en_au/article/ev3xme/israeli-spyware-is-helping-re….
- 2Bill Marczak, John Scott-Railton, Sarah McKune, Bahr Abdul Razzak, and Ron Deibert, “HIDE AND SEEK - Tracking NSO Group’s Pegasus Spyware to Operations in 45 Countries,” Citizen Lab, September 18, 2018, https://citizenlab.ca/2018/09/hide-and-seek-tracking-nso-groups-pegasus….
- 3“WhatsApp sues Israeli spyware firm it says helped governments hack phones,” Middle East Eye, October 20, 2019, https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/whatsapp-sues-israeli-spyware-firm-a…; Will Cathcart, “Why WhatsApp is pushing back on NSO Group hacking,” The Washington Post, October 29, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/29/why-whatsapp-is-push….
- 4Stephanie Kirchgaessner et al., “Revealed: leak uncovers global abuse of cyber-surveillance weapon,” The Guardian, July 18, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jul/18/revealed-leak-uncovers-gl….
- 5Jamie Merrill, “EXCLUSIVE: UK approves $42m in spyware sales to Middle East 'regimes,’” Middle East Eye, March 7, 2018, https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/exclusive-uk-approves-42m-spyware-sa….
- 6Jon Stone, “UK selling spyware and wiretaps to 17 repressive regimes including Saudi Arabia and China,” The Independent, July 13, 2020, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/uk-spyware-wiretaps-saud…
- 7Awal Online, @awalonline, “The Department of Cyber Crime reveals for the first time the monitoring and tracing room for ‘permissible words to say and words that are forbidden to say’… [in Arabic],” April 5, 2020, https://twitter.com/Awalonline/status/1246833253132230658.
- 8The note of 16 employees appears only on the Arabic version, see: BNA, “Cybercrime: 65 cases in the recent period, most of which were referred to the prosecution and related to incitement and spreading false news [in Arabic],” March 20, 2020, https://www.bna.bh/.aspx?cms=q8FmFJgiscL2fwIzON1%2BDnNyCVi5GQD5i%2FFfll….
- 9BCHR, “Bahrain: The ‘Cyber Safety Directorate’ Monitors Internet Activity In Style Similar to Big Brother,” November 25, 2013, http://bahrainrights.net/?p=5973.
- 10Andy Sambridge, “Bahrain sets up new units to monitor media output,” Arabian Business, May 18, 2011, https://www.arabianbusiness.com/bahrain-sets-up-new-units-monitor-media….
- 11“iGA: BeAware App now sending contact tracing notifications,” Ministry of Health, April 17, 2020, https://www.moh.gov.bh/COVID19/Details/4153.
- 12Habib Toumi, “Bahrain uses technology to track home quarantine COVID-19 patients,” Gulf News, April 06, 2020, https://gulfnews.com/world/gulf/bahrain/bahrain-uses-technology-to-trac…; iGA, “iGA begins distribution of electronic bracelets compatible with ‘BeAware’ app [in Arabic],” April 7, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8aBMIOCpR0.
- 13“Starting from the first day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday Some indoor services are limited to vaccinated or recovered individuals,” Ministry of Health, Accessed May 30, 2021, https://healthalert.gov.bh/uploads/15qz1vyy_qap.pdf.
- 14“Amendments to COVID-19 related health regulations set for selected activities,” Ministry of Health, Accessed May 30, 2021, https://healthalert.gov.bh/uploads/ulixvybf_g01.pdf.
- 16Khalid Ibrahim, “Impact of COVID-19 containment measures on human rights and civil liberties in the Middle East,” Global Voices, April 8, 2020, https://advox.globalvoices.org/2020/04/08/impact-of-covid-19-containmen…. And https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-53052395.
- 17See: Al-Bilad News, video showing part of ‘Stay Home’ tv show [in Arabic], April 26, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rpKFI7XuOE.
- 18“E-government: adding the feature to cancel participation in the Ramadan raffle on Be Aware application [in Arabic],” Awal Online, May 5, 2020, https://perma.cc/L97H-QLSU.
- 19“Law No. (2) of 2017 on the ratification of the Arab Convention to combat technical crimes of information [in Arabic],” Official Gazette, January 26, 2017, http://www.legalaffairs.gov.bh/Media/LegalPDF/K0217.pdf.
- 20“Law No. (30) of 2018 on the protection of personal data [in Arabic],” Official Gazette, July 19, 2018, http://www.legalaffairs.gov.bh/AdvancedSearchDetails.aspx?id=146182#.XZ….
|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.
- 1Geoffrey Bew, “‘Big Brother’ Move Rapped,” Gulf Daily News, March 25, 2009, http://www.gulf-daily-news.com/Print.aspx?storyid=246587.
- 2“Article 35 Order No. 5 of 2020,” TRA, September 30, 2020, https://tra-website-prod-01.s3-me-south-1.amazonaws.com/Media/Documents…
- 3“Bahrain’s New Data Protection Law Now in Force,” JDSUPRA, August 21, 2019, https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/bahrain-s-new-data-protection-law-now….
- 4“Executive Decisions/Orders,” Personal Data Protection Authority, Accessed May 30, 2021, http://www.pdp.gov.bh/en/executive-decisions.html; “Consultation on enhancing Bahrain's Data Protection Law,” Trowers and Hamlins, May 25, 2021, https://www.trowers.com/insights/2021/may/consultation-on-enhancing-bah….
- 5BNA, “University of Bahrain adopts Respondus to monitor exams remotely,” November 20, 2020, https://www.bna.bh/en/UniversityofBahrainadoptsRespondustomonitorexamsr….
- 6“Respondus lockdown browser & monitor, Students Guide & Resources,” University of Bahrain, November 17, 2020, http://www.uob.edu.bh/en/images/Centers/e-learning/RespondusLockdown/Su….
- 7Zain Alyafaei, “University of Bahrain students complain about the “Lock Down” software [in Arabic],” Alwatan, November 17, 2020, https://alwatannews.net/article/907825/Bahrain/طلاب-جامعة-البحرين-يشكون…; Huáng Dí @Alieno971, “This program gives the right to access everything in the device or hack the device while the device is safe and there is no security at all. This is a violation of the student’s privacy. This is illegal [in Arabic],” November 15, 2020, https://twitter.com/Alieno971/status/1328019057929576448; Hawraa Ateyah, @hawraamohsen3, “Knowing that not everyone is in a good financial condition, in addition to that not everyone has a place of their own, and this is a violation of privacy [in Arabic],” November 15, 2020, https://twitter.com/hawraamohsen3/status/1328034936784302086.
- 8Ibukun Keyamo, “Students Raise Privacy Concerns Over New Exam Invigilation Software,” BrunsWickan, February 26, 2021, https://www.thebruns.ca/articles/students-raise-privacy-concerns-over-n….
- 9Reporters Without Borders, “Countries Under Surveillance: Bahrain,” Accessed October 8, 2019, https://www.refworld.org/docid/4d82268a21.html.
- 10“Transparency Report: Bahrain,” Facebook, Accessed March 5, 2020, https://transparency.facebook.com/government-data-requests/country/BH/j….
- 11“Government Requests and Copyrighted Content Takedown Notices (DMCA),” Snapchat, Accessed May 30, 2021, https://snap.com/en-US/privacy/transparency/legal-requests.
- 12“Transparency Report: Bahrain,” Google, Accessed March 5, 2021, https://transparencyreport.google.com/user-data/overview?user_requests_….
- 13“Transparency Report: Bahrain,” Twitter, Accessed March 5, 2021, https://transparency.twitter.com/en/countries/bh.html.
|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
- 1“People & Power – Bahrain: Fighting for change,” YouTube video, posted by Al-Jazeera English, March 9, 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZdyiK-Z5Do.
- 2GIDHR, @gulfidhr, “One of the arrested women is 60 years old and fainted during interrogation, and another suffers from sickelcell in her fifties. And the authorities, instead of respecting their age, are violating their rights! [in Arabic],” November 15, 2020, https://twitter.com/gulfidhr/status/1327942779578818562?s=20.
- 3“Bahraini authorities release a girl child after three days of terror and threats at the criminal investigations building [in Arabic],” Manama Post, November 17, 2020, https://www.manamapost.com/news/2019136198/السلطات-البحرينيّة-تُفرج-عن-….
- 4Ebtisam AlSaegh, @e.alsaegh, “14 citizens released in two groups, the first 5 citizens, including a child (Youssef Zayer Ali), and the second today, 9 citizens, on a bail of 500 dinars each.. [in Arabic],” November 19, 2020, https://www.instagram.com/p/CHxsms2hpyE/?igshid=hb5g9fbjfeie; Ebtisam AlSaegh, @e.alsaegh, “Hoor Al-Ajmi is a fifth female detainee, a teenage girl under 16 years of age, detained for tweets expressing her joy at passing the mid-term exams [in Arabic],” November 15, 2020, https://www.instagram.com/p/CHng2KNhB4g/.
- 5BIRD, “Sexually Assaulted Bahraini Female Activist Sentenced to Three Years in Prison over Facebook Comments Criticizing Formula One Race in Bahrain,” June 25, 2018, http://birdbh.org/2018/06/breaking-sexually-assaulted-bahraini-female-a…; Maya Oppenheim, “Bahraini activist jailed after criticising Formula One ‘considered suicide’ after rape and abuse by authorities,” Independent, October 27, 2019, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/bahrain-formula-on….
- 6Najah Yusuf, “Every moment I spend in prison in Bahrain stains the reputation of F1,” The Guardian, March 27, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2019/mar/27/najah-yusuf-prison-f….
- 7“Bahrain Online founder Ali Abdulemam breaks silence after escape to UK,” The Guardian, May 10, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/10/bahrain-online-ali-abdule….
- 8PEN International, “Bahrain: Blogger Mohamed Hasan detained; lawyer Abd al-Aziz Moosa arrested after tweeting remarks about torture,” August 12, 2013, https://pen-international.org/news/bahrain-blogger-mohamed-hasan-detain…; “John Legend says Bahrain show will go on,” OurWindsor.ca, February 27, 2015, https://www.ourwindsor.ca/news-story/5452452-john-legend-says-bahrain-s….
- 9“‘Takrooz’ Reveals Himself: I’m a State Not a Person, I Don’t Leave a Word Unspoken,” Bahrain Mirror, January 1, 2017, http://www.bahrainmirror.com/en/news/35765.html.
- 10Yousif al-Jamri, @YusufAlJamri, “After 100 days of the complaint filed on August 5, 2017, there is no evidence of holding employees of the National Security Agency accountable, those who offended me and others [in Arabic],” November 13, 2017, https://twitter.com/YusufAlJamri/status/930064406221901824; BIRD, “NSA Summons Online Activist Who Exposed Torture in Plea to King,” August 04, 2017, http://birdbh.org/2017/08/nsa-summons-online-activist-who-exposed-tortu…; Yousif al-Jamri, @YusufAlJamri, “An appeal to the country's monarch, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, to issue his lofty orders to open an investigation to ensure my safety and stop the abuses of individuals in the National Security Service [in Arabic],” August 3, 2017, https://twitter.com/YusufAlJamri/status/893115913507147776.
- 11“Bahrain: Opposition Activists Receive Threatening Messages from Instagram Account,” Bahrain Mirror, June 6, 2018, http://bahrainmirror.com/en/news/47497.html.
- 12STOP The Executions In Bahrain, @iprotestbh, “Activist @hassanabdalnabi says he received threats of harming is family to force him to stop his,” March 25, 2021, https://twitter.com/iprotestbh/status/1375180137910710280?s=12.
- 13Maryam al-Khawaja, @MARYAMALKHAWAJA, “Same Instagram account threatening hrd @SAIDYOUSIF with his family if he doesn’t make a video apologizing to the monarch and deleting his account #Bahrain,” June 4, 2018, https://twitter.com/MARYAMALKHAWAJA/status/1003640752608612352.
- 14Maryam Alkhawaja, @MARYAMALKHAWAJA, “Same Instagram account threatening hrd @SAIDYOUSIF with his family if he doesn’t make a video apologizing to the monarch and deleting his account #Bahrain,” June 4, 2018, https://twitter.com/MARYAMALKHAWAJA/status/1003640752608612352.
- 15Malbishri, @Malbishri3, “The Bahrain Electronic Army announced that it was able to hack the email of the sectarian Iranian agent Saeed Al-Shihabi, who resides in London. The army said that it would publish the content of Shihabi's e-mail at 8 pm on Friday 12/2/2021 [in Arabic],” February 11, 2021, https://twitter.com/Malbishri3/status/1359836228150001665.
- 16Said Yousif AlMuhafdha, @SAIDYOUSIF, “The announcement of our symposium reached a large number of international human rights organizations, .. We thank the electronic army [for free advertisement] [in Arabic],” post includes a photo made by the Bahrain Electronic Army, Photo reads: “announcement to followers: we will reveal information about anti-Bahrain seminar (Reform and accountability in Bahrain) run by corrupted and dishonest people [in Arabic],” December 17, 2020, https://twitter.com/SAIDYOUSIF/status/1339480622226677762/.
- 17“Anti-Bahrain social media accounts being run from Iran, Qatar, Iraq,” Ministry of Interior, May 20, 2019, http://www.policemc.gov.bh/en/news/ministry/92021; and the Arabic version, which mention the account names: “(Cybercrime): a network of websites that are offensive to Bahrain's social security, mostly run by Iran, Qatar, Iraq and European countries [in Arabic],” MOI, May 20, 2019, http://www.policemc.gov.bh/news/ministry/92021; SALAM DHR, “We denounce the targeting and threatening of activists in Bahrain, which the authorities are responsible for,” May 26, 2019, https://salam-dhr.org/?p=3695.
- 18Ministry of Interior, @moi_bahrain, “Anti-Cyber Crime: the social media account of Adel Marzooq is managed from outside Bahrain. It targets to encourage sedition between members of society...,” May 21, 2019, https://twitter.com/moi_bahrain/status/1130802153663213568.
- 19Adel Marzooq, @adelmarzooq, “A series of tweets that bothered the Ministry of the Interior @moi_bahrain and made it pledge to take legal action towards me... [in Arabic],” May 21, 2019, https://twitter.com/adelmarzooq/status/1130804571914293249.
- 20Adel Marzooq, @AdelMarzooq, “Gentlemen in Ministry of the Interior @moi_bahrain.. After greeting. Few days left and we are turning into the second year while we still wait for my daughter's passport to be issued [in Arabic],” December 2, 2020, https://twitter.com/adelmarzooq/status/1334094623631937541.
|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
- 1“AlQaed during meeting with the "Political Development" society: 74 million dinars, the outcome of the e-government in 2020 [in Arabic],” Al-Watan News, August 27, 2020, https://alwatannews.net/article/886718/Bahrain/القائد-خلال-لقاء-التنمية…
- 2Ministry of Interior, @moi_bahrain, “Anti-cyber Crimes warns of circulated messages on social media about Gulf ties as opening them hack computers and mobile phones,” December 6, 2020, https://twitter.com/moi_bahrain/status/1335665683607248899?s=12.
- 3Yusuf al-Jamri, @YusufAljamri, “This account trying to hack WhatsApp accounts, please don’t communicate with it via direct messages and don’t provide it with phone numbers @drabbashaashim [in Arabic],” March 3, 2021, https://twitter.com/yusufaljamri/status/1367120732405309440?s=12.
- 4“The Twitter account of Al-Bilad newspaper is still hacked [in Arabic],” Al-Bilad Press, September 09, 2020, https://albiladpress.com/news/2020/4349/bahrain/668076.html.
- 5Nawal Atteya, @nawalatteya, “Talking of stolen accounts, Al-Bilad newspaper, few days ago attributed a statement to the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, Walid Al-Bukhari, regarding the International Tribunal for the assassination of Hariri!.., [in Arabic],” August 24, 2020 https://twitter.com/nawalatteya/status/1297990892033380353?s=20.
- 6“Hacking my Instagram account, defamation and threat campaigns that coincide with my intense human rights activities & campaigns ..All these attempts will not stop my human rights activism in #Bahrain,” June 19, 2020, https://twitter.com/saidyousif/status/1274031342959972352?s=12.
- 7Said Yousif AlMuhafdha, @SAIDYOUSIF, “#Bahrain The more I become active on Instagram, the more I do the rights episodes, more attempts to hack my account. I didn't ask to change the password.. [in Arabic],” July 15, 2020, https://twitter.com/saidyousif/status/1283319471483101184?s=12; and LuaLua TV, @LualuaEnglish, “Bahraini activist @SAIDYOUSIF is pointing the finger at the interior ministry in #Manama following an attempted hacking of his Instagram account. AlMuhafdha revealed that he was notified of a request to change his password that he never made.,” July 15, 2020, https://twitter.com/lualuaenglish/status/1283349361632645120?s=12.
- 8Said Yousif AlMuhafdha, @SAIDYOUSIF, “Continuous attempts to fall into a trap and click on a link and my account will be hacked.. [in Arabic],” January 19, 2021, https://twitter.com/saidyousif/status/1351484041703391234?s=12; and “I received a direct message claiming to be from Instagram and saying that my account will be closed within two days, which is a link to hack my account [in Arabic],” January 24, 2021, https://twitter.com/saidyousif/status/1353100664432455680?s=12.
- 9Hasan AlSetri, @hassanabdalnabi, “My Instagram account has been hacked... Please do not contact or reply to my Instagram account hassanalsetri [in Arabic],” July 4, 2020, https://twitter.com/hassanabdalnabi/status/1279386425964691458?s=12.
- 10Said Yousif AlMuhafdha, @SAIDYOUSIF, “The account of activist Abdelilah Al-Mahouzi on Instagram was hacked a while ago [in Arabic],” January 21, 2021, https://twitter.com/saidyousif/status/1352274342349066241?s=12.
- 11Digital Protection, “Beware - Investigation: Phishing attack targets human rights defenders in Bahrain [in Arabic],” August 12, 2020, https://digital-protection.tech/blog-post/phishing-hrd-bahrain/.
- 12Said Yousif AlMuhafdha, @SAIDYOUSIF, “Activist Hassan Abdel Nabi asked me: why are they targeting accounts? I told him that they do not investigate what we say, but rather try to silence us.., [in Arabic],” January 24, 2021, https://twitter.com/saidyousif/status/1353284124828704768?s=12.
- 13“Recently, a campaign was observed to hack emails by sending a message informing you of a security problem in your account and asking you to press a button after which you enter your data.. [in Arabic],” November 26, 2020, https://twitter.com/abdulemam/status/1331725288737284103; and Said Yousif AlMuhafdha, @SAIDYOUSIF, “I got this email 5 time last week,” November 26, 2020, https://twitter.com/SAIDYOUSIF/status/1331881881650999300.
See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.See More
Global Freedom Score12 100 not free
Internet Freedom Score30 100 not free
Freedom in the World StatusNot Free