Activists in Bahrain, as well as Human Rights Watch groups, have been facing a growing threat to freedom of speech and expression these past few days as the government took action to silence them. According to reports from the BBC and Yahoo!, the government of Bahrain suddenly imposed an internet curfew. Cellphone carrier internet or any mobile internet is being blocked by the government in hot towns such as Duraz where protest activities are highest. Though the internet is not permanently barred, the muzzle comes down without warning and usually when civil unrest occurs.
Duraz is hometown of Shia Cleric Isa Qassim whose citizenry was revoked by the government on June 20th for allegedly serving foreign interests, sectarianism and violence for his activism for civil and social rights for the Shia population. Protests have risen after the Isa Qassim was stripped of his citizenship, an added fuel to the fire of unrest in the country. These protests among others were targetted and blinded by the Bahraini government through the internet interruptions. Blockades and Checkpoints by police have also been appearing more frequently to control crowds.
This practice of internet censorship is condemned by the United Nations Human Rights Council since July this year. Nations such as China, Vietnam, Turkey and Russia have been the primary targets of internet censorship by the United Nations, but that does not exclude nor forget other nations like Venezuela or Bahrain who have used the internet against its citizens.
The internet blocks currently happening in Bahrain are covered as technical breakdowns, but the timing and repetitive occurrences of these interruptions are blatantly clear that these are not mere accidents. Exact times on a precise schedule and immediate internet silence during protests are too frequent and obvious to be credible in passing as accidental technical problems.
“In authoritarian regimes such as Bahrain and the other Arab dictatorships, activists have often regarded the internet as a double-edged sword,” Christopher Davidson, a researcher at Durham University, told the BBC. “On the one hand, it helps them organise, but on the other, a well-resourced state can use it to monitor and surveil their activities.”
For now, no signs indicate whether the internet censorship will stop or increase. This threat radio silence for activists and Human Rights groups is unnerving as it removes the capacity for people to assemble and share information about the violence and Human Rights violations in the small nation.