Bahrain Threatens Legal Action Against Citizens Who Follow Opposition Social Media
Gulf state continues to crack down on political foes
For the second time this month, the Bahraini government has sent out a nationwide text message threatening citizens with legal action for promulgating oppositionist views on social media. However, this time, the government expanded its warning to include following accounts that espouse anti-government views and disseminating their content.
This comes on the backdrop of the United States choosing Manama as the site for an economic conference later this month, where it plans to reveal the “Deal of the Century” Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. It is unclear whether US President Donald Trump’s peace plan will be unveiled, given the unexpected Israeli election in September.
Bahrain has been particularly tough on political dissent since the 2011 uprising against the government, which many believe Iran instigated. Bahrain is ruled by the Sunni monarchy of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa despite having a Shi’ite majority population.
According to Dr. Emile A. Nakhleh, director of the Global and National Security Policy Institute at the University of New Mexico and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bahraini government has long censored critical media.
“It shuttered every anti-government and pro-reform media outlet, including al-Wasat newspaper, at least two years ago. What is new is the growing reach of pro-reform and pro-democracy social media outlets, including the Bahrain Mirror and Lu’lu’a [which operates outside of Bahrain],” Nakhleh told The Media Line.
Nakhleh explained that the government curb of social media was due to the Mirror’s series titled “Two Decades of Darkness,” which was critical of the king’s 20 years of rule.
The Bahraini General Directorate of Anti-Corruption and Economic and Electronic Security defended its actions against, describing them as necessary to maintaining order and security.
Noura Alzabie, a strategist and project manager at the Bahrain chapter of the Global Social Media Club, told The Media Line that the general directorate also emphasized the difference “between the freedom of the press and the activities of those social media accounts, online journals, websites and blogs which are managed by enemies from outside Bahrain….”
As a result, Alzabie contended, “it is a national duty to increase the level of our awareness toward what we receive, communicate, share and respond to via the internet and social networks, [and] on the other hand ignore these fake news accounts and platforms to protect our local community and foreign relations….”
The University of New Mexico’s Nakhleh does not believe that the government clamp-down on social media will ultimately be effective in suppressing opposition.
“The government will discover, as it did in the past, that it can kill the messenger but can’t kill the message. Social media, when it comes to pro-democracy and human rights, will always outfox government censorship,” he said.
Nakhleh contends that government opponents will ultimately succeed if they keep pushing nonviolently for democratic reforms.
“As long as the opposition continues to focus on repression, human rights and peaceful demands for reform and popular participation in decision-making, its message will continue to resonate among Bahrainis and among pro-democracy groups in Europe and the United States. Minority, repressive regimes will always find themselves at the short end of the stick,” he said.
(Tara Kavaler is an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Studies)