Sunday, February 27, 2005

Bahraini blogger interrogated/arrested

It finally happened- what every free-thinking individual dreads. Fellow Bahraini blogger and friend, Ali Abdulemam was summoned for interrogation today in the General Prosecutors office. As of time of writing, no one knows if he is arrested or will be released.

Ali Abdulemam, 27 years old, is the owner of one of the most popular site in Bahrain, Bahrainonline.org which has been blocked by Bahrain’s ISP, Batelco, for over 3 years. This discussion forum has over 17,000 members and over 80,000 hits a day. It is the beacon of free speech for those who manage to find a proxy to get in from Bahrain, voicing highly critical opinions of the government. The admin of the site and Batelco have been in a cat and mouse game, with the admin constantly generating new proxies for the site, which Batelco is in a race around the clock to block. Whether you agree with some of the things said or not, Bahrainonline’s fast pace and people-controlled dynamics is an invaluable source of information in a country with a beleagured media sector and draconian press laws, which Abdulemam was determind to challenge fearlessly. You can find the press release in arabic here. My translated version is below.

Arrest of BahrainOnline Moderator (Ali Abdulemam)

Bahraini authorities this morning, 27 February 2005, issued orders for the arrest of the general moderator of BahrainOnline discussion forum (www.bahrainonline.org), Ali Abdulemam, 27 years old. Security forces had gone to his home to arrest him but he was not there at the time. His sister, who works at a government school, was arbitrarily taken from there and later arrested.

On the back of this arrest warrant, Ali Abdulemam is among the first Arab citizens to be arrested for online internet activities. Noting that BahrainOnline has been blocked several times by Batelco, Bahrain’s telecommunications company, following orders from government authorities without any legal basis whatsoever. This has been condemned by several human rights organisations as a breach of freedom of expression (see January 18th Statement below).

This arrest reinforces the underhanded authoritarianism that is stifling Bahrain, highlighted by many political and human rights societies and non-governmental organisations in the country. Countless articles, statements and studies have reproached the laws and decrees which have restricted citizen’s natural rights. The implementation of an austere penal code and press laws, legacies from the State Security laws, have served as tools for public clampdowns by the government.

The management of BahrainOnline rejects this government action and considers it a dangerous threat to the right of expression that have been ratified in international laws and conventions. It calls upon the security authorities in the country to release Ali Abdulemam immediately and unconditionally. It also calls upon all those concerned in the human rights situation locally and internationally to heed the danger of this punitive action and to confront it directly in order to prevent further escalation.

The management of BahrainOnline electronic forum

www.bahrainonline.org


Closure of Bahraini website again on the internet.

In one of the first tasks carried out by the new cabinet headed by the Prime Minister, and with the forthcoming Second Constitutional Conference not far away, Bahrain’s telecommunications company (Batelco) has blocked all access to the electronic discussion forum, “Bahrainonline” without any prior warning. It is reminded, that Batelco-the sole internet provider in Bahrain- following orders from the authorities, had blocked the official web address (www.bahrainonline.org) nearly 3 years ago, along with several other Bahraini websites. The new measures taken yesterday blocked all other known proxies to this site. This policy of blocking internet website is continuing today with no legal proceedings to legitimise such actions. This insistence on blocking all other proxies to these websites, is considered a clampdown on freedom of expression which stands against the freedoms allowed under the country’s constitution and international law.

Bahrainonline is one of the biggest Bahraini sites on the internet, and famed for the space it provides for free speech on all issues of national and cultural interest inside and outside of Bahrain. A number of political and legal bodies have issued past statements that ‘reject the repeated closure of the website, and ask for the authorities to allow visitors inside Bahrain to browse this site freely and to seek civilised means of legal proceedings rather than carrying out arbitrary security decisions and measures’.

Bahrainonline, 18th January 2005

I'll update you as soon as I hear anything. The following statement which I read on the forum really made me think:

مشكلتنا كعرب نتحرر عندما نعتقل ؟!!

أو لا نذوق الحريّة إلا في المعتقل ؟!!

"Our problems as arabs, is that we are liberated when we are incarcerated, and we taste freedom only in the prison cell"

Posted by BB @ 2/27/2005 04:20:00 PM

Read or Post a Comment

Sorry to hear that.
Who's next?

Posted by Blogger SillyBahrainiGirl @ 2/27/2005 08:52:00 PM #
 

Knowing him personally, I always admired that he was willing to put his neck on the line if it meant that people get freedom of expression on the internet if not in real life. Bahrainonline is so popular that member registration is closed most of the time. When the management decide to open it for a week or so, a few thousand register in one go, then they close it again. He doesn't agree with a lot of what is written but the Site motto "Freedom conditional on Respect" has almost become a national phrase. ("al7urya makfoola sharee6at ali7tiram").

This is different from the Khawaja case in two respects. Firstly, Ali is young and extremely popular. Secondly, he is being held account for the opinion of 17,000 registered members of the site.

Then again the charge of "inciting hatred against the regime" is maleable to fit almost any case. Personally, I feel there will be another long-drawn court case on this one, as I think the Ministry of Interior has been building this case up for a long time.

We just have to wait and see. I just sent him a text message saying "this is the break you've been longing to take for a long time".

Posted by Blogger Bahrania @ 2/27/2005 09:53:00 PM #
 

I was really annoyed to hear about the news; I've been enjoying his blog for so long and all his work. It's sad to know someone like him is not appreciated the way he should.

Posted by Anonymous Sultanah @ 2/27/2005 11:12:00 PM #
 

The Committee to Protect Bloggers have been informed so have Tr-Ac-Net (pro-transparency group in the US/UK). Hoping to see some good news in the days to come. As for SBG's q of "who's next" - we'd never know!

Posted by Blogger Angelo Embuldeniya (Strav) @ 2/28/2005 01:13:00 AM #
 

From the GDN today - 'Hate website' man heldI've deleted my comment - 'cos i'm suspecting from your reply that his website had something to do with physical harm - you're right and so is Mahmood - i'll just have to be patient until it all becomes clear and then i comment on it. [again i don't read arabic so i don't know what that website contained]

Posted by Blogger Angelo Embuldeniya (Strav) @ 2/28/2005 06:30:00 AM #
 

geez - wrong blog - supposed to have got posted on bahrainiblog. :D - oh well.

Posted by Blogger Angelo Embuldeniya (Strav) @ 2/28/2005 06:31:00 AM #
 

I've never accessed bahrainonline because ... (this is so embarrasing)...of language barriers !

However, what is wrong with voicing one's opinion.

When will we ever grow up and stop prosecuting people for speaking their minds ?

Why would anyone go out of his way and sit on his butt and write when there are other means of expression: Isn't it because we genuinely care about things.

I know this is a shallow way of putting forth this argument..I find it difficult to get a grip of myself..because frankly speaking what is happening is disgusting.

Instead of expressing their opinion in a civil manner by ranting to a PC, those people's other option would be to take their "Jihad" to the street.

Is this what we want at a time of reconciliation, reconstruction and rebuilding the trust.

Is it as the Godfather (MAHMOOD) said another ploy to hijack Shaikh Salman's reform project ?

Posted by Blogger SillyBahrainiGirl @ 2/28/2005 09:05:00 AM #
 

Hi

Best wishes from the CPBI (Spanish-speaking Branch of the Committe to Protect Bloggers).
We also have following with greta interest and concern Ali's detention and the actions taken by Bahrani bloggers.

Please don't hesitate to report to us any new development of the case.

http://cpbes.blogspot.com

Good luck and solidarity greetings

Comité de Protección de Bloggers e Internautas

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