Last week, Human Rights Foundation (HRF), as part of a coalition of 30 organizations from around the world, called on Bahrain’s authoritarian regime to restore the country’s internet service, which has been disrupted since June 2016. The coalition sent a letter to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain, as well as other agencies, demanding that the authorities cancel any “service restriction orders” to telecommunications companies that enabled the shutdown and commit to transparency around such orders.
“We urgently and humbly request that the government of Bahrain respects the right of all Bahrainis to seek, receive, and impart information; and ensures that all citizens of Bahrain have equal access to the internet,” the letter states. “Internet shutdowns [should not be] used as a policy of collective punishment against areas involved in protest, or perceived to be opposed to the government.”
The internet disruptions were first recorded last June in the neighborhood of Duraz, around the same time that street demonstrations arose amidst a general economic slowdown and the government’s decision to strip citizenship from a prominent Shia cleric. A technical study of the shutdown conducted by the organization Bahrain Watch revealed that the shutdown was the result of a “coordinated effort across several internet service providers to shut down mobile towers in Duraz at the same time every night, and deliberately degrade landline internet traffic.”
“Internet shutdowns are the preferred weapon in the arsenal of authoritarian regimes whenever they see their country in crisis, which they permanently do. This year, more than 20 countries around the world have experienced such government-orchestrated sweeping form of free speech repression,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “By exerting control over the flow of information, the Al Khalifa regime is trying to cover up its pervasive human rights violations and deny Bahrainis the right to associate and express themselves freely,” said Halvorssen.
HRF and the other organizations that were signatories to the letter are members of the #KeepitOn campaign led by Access Now to fight internet shutdowns around the world. Earlier this year UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai pushed back strongly against the use of shutdowns during protests, and in July the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution that specifically condemned internet shutdowns.
Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.
Read the full letter here.