Reporters without Borders, “Interview with the newly-released video blogger and netizen Adnan Hajizade,” November 30, 2010, http://en.rsf.org/azerbaijan-interview-with-the-newly-released-30-11-2010,38922.html; Freedom House, “Release of Bloggers a Positive Step for Freedom of Expression in Azerbaijan,” November 19, 2010, http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfmpage=70&release=The constitution is available in English at http://www.president.az/azerbaijan/constitution/locale=en.
AZERBAIJAN FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net subservient to the executive branch.13 Under the Law on Mass Media of 1999, the internet is designated as part of the mass media. Therefore, all rules applied to traditional media, which press freedom advocates consider problematic, could be used for internet regulation as well.14 To date, however, the only known case of prosecution for online expression has been the above mentioned two bloggers, charged under laws related to hooliganism. In November 2010, it was announced that the government-controlled Press Council will start monitoring online news sources for their compliance with the rules of professional journalism.It is unclear to what extent security bodies track user data in Azerbaijan. However, some state universities warn students that they will encounter problems if they participate in online political activism. Students are instead urged to be very active in defending the government and its positions in their posts and comments on Facebook and other social media. It is widely believed that the internet communications of certain individuals are monitored, especially foreigners, known activists, and business figures. Moreover, most users do not have licenses for the software on their computers, which leaves them vulnerable to security threats like viruses and other malicious programs that could be used to monitor their activity, among other functions. According to some estimates, pirated programs account for 80 percent of the software market in the country.
In one recent case, student Parviz Azimov was expelled from Lankaran State University early 2009 after writing a blog post on corruption during exams, which was later republished by one local and two national newspapers. Protests near the Ministry of Education in Baku by the Dalgha youth movement, to which Azimov belonged, combined with pressure from international organizations, led to a court decision allowing him to return to the university.
Ali Abbasov, the minister of communications and information technology, called in April 2010 for a licensing system that would apply to news websites. He claimed that such a system would help eliminate unspecified “illegal activities,” noting that “there is no mechanism today to influence” such sites. The head of the country’s National Television and Radio Council made similar comments later that month, proposing stronger controls on internet radio and television outlets,16 although in July, another government official said that the government did not have any immediate plans to introduce such measures.
Karin Karlekar, ed., “Azerbaijan,” Freedom of the Press 2010 (New York, Freedom House 2010) http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfmpage=251&year= “Law of the Republic of Azerbaijan “About Mass Media,””Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences, http://ict.az/en/index.phpoption=com_content&task=view&id=477&Itemid=95.
“Control Over Online Sources and Facebook-like sites in Azerbaijan,” Today.az, November 27, 2010, http://www.today.az/view.phpid=77287.
Mina Muradova, “Azerbaijani Government Pondering Ways to Control the Web,” Eurasianet.org, May 13, 2010, http://www.eurasianet.org/node/61060.
AZERBAIJAN FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net Wrongful access to a computer, for instance through viruses and security breaches, is punishable under Chapter 30 of the criminal code.17 Internet security is also dealt with in the Law on National Security of 2004 and the Law on Protection of Unauthorized Information of 2004. Hacking attacks aimed at the Azerbaijani internet often come from Armenian internet protocol (IP) addresses. The timing of such attacks typically coincides with politically sensitive dates related to the unresolved territorial conflict between the two countries. Sometimes attacks occur after high-profile political statements. The apparently Armenian-based attacks have targeted the websites of entities like the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, the National Library, and the public television broadcaster. It is very rare for local hackers to attack Azerbaijani websites. The Anti-Cybercriminal Organization is the main body working against cyber attacks in Azerbaijan. The country ratified the Council of Europe’s Convention on Cybercrime in March 2010, and it took effect in July.
An unofficial English translation of the criminal code is available at http://www.legislationline.org/download/action/download/id/1658/file/4b3ff87c005675cfd74058077132.htm/preview.
AZERBAIJAN FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net BAHRAIN 2009 POPULATION: 1.3 million INTERNET FREEDOM n/a Not INTERNET PENETRATION: 54 percent STATUS Free WEB 2.0 APPLICATIONS BLOCKED: Yes Obstacles to Access n/a SUBSTANTIAL POLITICAL CENSORSHIP: Yes Limits on Content n/a BLOGGERS/ONLINE USERS ARRESTED: Yes Violations of User Rights n/a PRESS FREEDOM STATUS: Not Free Total n/a INTRODUCTION Bahrain has one of the highest internet penetration rates in the Middle East, but as more people have gained access to new technologies, the government has increasingly attempted to curtail their use for disseminating and obtaining politically sensitive information. Bahrain has been connected to the internet since 1995. In 1997, an internet user was arrested for the first time, for sending information to an opposition group outside the country.1 In 2002, the Ministry of Information (MOI) made its first official attempt to block websites containing content that was critical of the government. Today, over 1,000 websites are blocked in Bahrain.Censorship of online media is implemented under the 2002 press law. The restrictions have been extended to mobile telephones, and the use of Blackberry services to disseminate news is banned. The government intensified its crackdown on internet activists and online publications in the period leading to the October 2010 elections by arresting two bloggers and shutting down several websites and online forums critical of the state authorities. Initiative For an Open Arab Internet, “Implacable Adversaries: Arab Governments and the Internet: Bahrain,” December 2006, http://old.openarab.net/en/node/350.
Reporters Without Borders, “Countries Under Surveillance: Bahrain,” http://en.rsf.org/surveillance-bahrein,36665.html, accessed August 17, 2010.
Bahrain Center for Human Rights, “New Web Crackdown Blocks Dozens of Websites and Electronic Forums in Bahrain,” September 4, 2010, http://bahrainrights.hopto.org/en/node/3287.
BAHRAIN FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net OBSTACLES TO ACCESS According to some measures, Bahrain is the second most connected country in the Arab world,4 and the number of internet users has risen rapidly, from 40,000 in 2000 to 649,in 2009.5 In mid-2009, there were approximately 139,000 internet subscriptions, of which 53.9 percent were ADSL, 30.7 percent were wireless, 12.6 percent were mobile broadband, and 2.8 percent were dial-up.6 Internet access is widely available at schools, universities, and coffee shops, where Bahrainis often gather for work and study. However, when it comes to the quality of services, a report issued in 2009 suggests that Bahrain’s broadband connections cannot adequately support modern internet applications, such as video and file sharing.While price competitiveness is increasing, subscription prices are still relatively high considering the restricted speeds and download limits. This is due to the fact that most internet-service providers (ISPs) are dependent on leased access to the network of Batelco, the dominant, partly state-owned telecommunications firm.Bahrain has one of the highest mobile-phone penetration rates in the region, with mobile subscriptions per 100 inhabitants.9 Some of the latest generations of mobile phones, such as Apple’s iPhone, are available in the country, but they are still very expensive.
Although the use of Blackberry phones is on the rise, particularly among the business community, the authorities in April 2010 banned Blackberry users from sending news bulletins through text messages and threatened the individuals and newspapers responsible for the messages with legal action.The government routinely prohibits the publication of advanced Web 2.0 content and blocks interactive exchange, particularly when they do not support its political agenda.
Access to the video-sharing site YouTube, social-networking site Facebook, and the This ranking includes internet access as well as fixed and mobile telephone lines. Mohamed Marwen Meddah, “Total Country Connectivity Measure for the Arab World,” Startup Arabia, August 20, 2009, http://www.startuparabia.com/2009/08/totalcountry-connectivity-measure-for-the-arab-world.
International Telecommunication Union (ITU), “ICT Statistics 2009—Internet,” http://www.itu.int/ITUD/ICTEYE/Indicators/Indicators.aspx, accessed February 16, 2011.
Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), Telecommunications Market Indicators in the Kingdom of Bahrain (Manama: TRA, March 2010), slides 20 and 23, http://www.tra.org.bh/en/pdf/TelecommunicationsmarketsindicatorsintheKingdomofBahrain.pdf.
Said Business School (University of Oxford) and Universidad de Oviedo, Broadband Quality Score: A Global Study of Broadband Quality (Oxford: Said Business School; Oviedo: Universidad de Oviedo, September 2009), http://www.sbs.ox.ac.uk/newsandevents/Documents/Broadband%20Quality%20Study%202009%20Press%20Presentation% 20(final).pdf.
Daniel Munden, “Gateway to Success,” Gulf Daily News, August 26, 2009, http://www.gulf-dailynews.com/NewsDetails.aspxstoryid=258311.
TRA, Telecommunications Market Indicators in the Kingdom of Bahrain, slide 10.
Bahrain Center for Human Rights, “Authorities Ban Blackberry Users from Sending News Bulletins,” IFEX, April 15, 2010, http://ifex.org/bahrain/2010/04/15/blackberry_ban/.
BAHRAIN FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net microblogging site Twitter is available, although individual pages on each of those platforms are often blocked (see “Limits on Content”). The Arabic regional portal and blog-hosting service Al-Bawaba has been blocked since 2006, and the Bahraini blog aggregator Bahrainblogs.org, which served as a means for Bahraini bloggers to interconnect, was blocked in 2009. In 2010, the Information Affairs Authority (IAA), a new government agency that replaced the MOI earlier in the year, banned the use of video and audio reports on the website of the Al-Wasat newspaper, seemingly after the outlet webcast several audio programs critical of the authorities. Moreover, the IAA blocked the website of the largest political society Al-Wefaq reportedly after the group announced plans to start an audio and video service through the site.There are 12 ISPs serving Bahraini users, but the major providers are Batelco, MENA Telecom, Zain, and the recently launched VIVA. Most ISPs lease network access from Batelco, although the firm was fined in late 2009 for refusing to grant MENA Telecom direct access to an international cable.12 According to Bahrain’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), some 31 ISP licenses have been granted, but only 12 providers are in business.13 There have been no reported instances of ISPs being denied registration permits. Three of the major ISPs are also the only mobile operators in Bahrain: Batelco, Zain, and VIVA.
Mobile-phone services and ISPs are regulated by the TRA under the Telecommunications Law. Although the TRA is an independent organization on paper, its members are appointed by the government, and its chairman reports to the minister of state for cabinet affairs with responsibility for telecommunications, Sheikh Ahmed bin Attiyatallah al-Khalifa (a member of the ruling family). The TRA has issued several regulations that were not welcomed by consumers, including measures that could potentially violate individual privacy rights.LIMITS ON CONTENT Online media in Bahrain are governed by the Press and Publications Law of 2002, which stipulates prison sentences of up to five years for publishing material that is offensive to Bahrain Center for Human Rights, “Crackdown Against Civil Rights and Free Expression Results in the Blockage of the Website of the Largest Political Society,” September 18, 2010, http://www.bahrainrights.org/en/node/3366.
“TRA Fines Batelco $13m on Access Curbs,” Trade Arabia News Service, November 25, 2009, http://www.tradearabia.com/news/it_170919.html.
TRA, “Market Information: Number of Licenses Issued,” http://www.tra.org.bh/en/marketstatistics.asp, accessed August 17, 2010.
BAHRAIN FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net Islam or the king, or that is perceived as undermining state security or the monarchy.According to some estimates, the IAA (formerly the MOI) has blocked and shut down more than 1,000 websites, with a focus on sites that are critical of the Bahraini government, parliament, and ruling family, and including human rights websites, blogs, and online forums.16 The IAA can order the blocking of a website without referring the case to a court.
It has instructed all ISPs to “prohibit any means that allow access to sites blocked by the ministry.”On January 14, 2009, the MOI issued a ministerial order requiring all ISPs to block websites containing pornography or material that may provoke violence or religious hatred.18 It also threatened to revoke the license of any operator violating the decree. The ISPs have consequently begun using a commercial filtering system and posting an explicit block page with a reference to the ministerial order.19 The filtering is based on keyword density, the manual entry of URLs, and certain website categories, including potential circumvention tools like Google page translate and Google cached pages.