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Bahrain Bans BlackBerry Chat Groups

BLACKBERRY-LOGOBahrain recently banned the use of BlackBerry chat groups citing concerns over the “chaos and confusion” that would result from sharing and distributing local news through these groups, according to Abdullah Yateem, the Culture and Information Ministry assistant undersecretary for press and publication. With this move Bahrain set a precedent in taking legal action against the users of BlackBerry chat groups.

Gulf News reported on the consequences of the legislation on “Breaking News,” one of the largest chat groups:

An immediate result of the ministry's action was the suspension of daily news provided by “Breaking News”, started by Muhannad Sulaiman, a Bahraini journalist, to more than 13,000 BlackBerry subscribers.

A daily feature provided for free by Breaking News was a 6am summary of the front pages of the six daily newspapers.

Message

“I am sorry about the inconvenience, but as you do know, it is well beyond my capabilities,” Muhannad, wrote in a message to subscribers.

The chat groups feature is widely used in Bahrain to deliver a variety of updates ranging from news headlines to political statements. The subscribers to these groups affected by the ban are in the thousands.

Bahraini activist Said Yousif commented on the latest legislation pointing out Bahrain's record in censoring the internet:

ويعد هذا القرار غير الحكيم، ضربة قاسية لحرية التعبير في البحرين مع أنه ليس الاجراء الوحيد من وزارة الإعلام لمحاولة تكبيل حرية الحصول على المعلومة وتبادلها. فقد أقدمت هذه الوزارة على تدشين حملة على المواقع الإلكترونية لمنظمات حقوق الإنسان، والمدونين، والمواقع الدينية والسياسية، والثقافية وعملت على حظر الوصول إليها من داخل البحرين[...]. وبسبب هذه الحملة أغلق المئات من المواقع الإلكترونية، بما في ذلك منتديات شعبية، لكونها تفسح المجال لنقد برامج السلطات.

This unwise decision compromises freedom of speech in Bahrain, though it's not the only procedure from the Ministry of Information to try and restrict free access and distribution of information. This ministry has launched a campaign against the websites of human rights organizations; bloggers; religious, political, and cultural societies and have worked on restricting access to these websites from within Bahrain.[...] Because of this campaign hundreds of websites were shutdown, including popular forums, because they give space to criticize the authorities’ programs.

BlackBerry chat groups are now required to acquire proper licensing from the Ministry of Culture and Information before they are allowed to resume operation.

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