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Bahrain declared enemy of Internet freedom



Bahrain has been declared an enemy of the Internet by a prominent campaign group in a report on Monday to mark World Day Against Cyber Censorship.

Reporters Without Borders condemned the Gulf state's continued arbitrary arrests of online activists, while criticizing Saudi Arabia and Syria for continued online censorship.

Bahrain was one of only two countries to be called an "enemy" for the first time this year, the other being Belarus.

“Two countries, Bahrain and Belarus, have been moved from the “under surveillance” category to the “Enemies of the Internet” list,” the report said.

“They combine often drastic content filtering with access restrictions, tracking of cyber-dissidents and online propaganda.”

The report said the ongoing arrests of activists and the lack of international news coverage had succeeded in suppressing the protests in Bahrain.

It added that the upcoming Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix was an attempt by the ruling regime to pretend the protests are not happening.

“Bahrain is an example of a news blackout succeeding thanks to an impressive combination of technical, judicial and physical censorship methods,” the report said.

“Bahrain is spending millions to polish its image abroad and give the impression that the country has returned to normal. This has been capped by the announcement that the 2012 Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix, canceled last year, will go ahead in April,” it said.

A video emerged online over the weekend parodying attempts to organize the Grand Prix despite growing opposition due to human rights concerns in Bahrain.

The video, entitled "Bernie No F1 in Bloody Bahrain" after Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone, shows a computer simulation of the race, but as the drivers reach the finishing line they are greeted by Bahraini activists.

Bahrain is a key American ally in the Gulf and is home to the US Fifth Fleet, but has been rocked by pro-democracy protests since last year.

Saudi troops entered Bahrain in March 2011 to disperse the protests violently, with at least 40 people killed.

Opposition activists claim the death toll has risen to over 60 since mass protests resurfaced late last year.

A government-commissioned report last year found evidence of torture of activists, including bloggers and writers, in Bahraini custody.

The Reporters Without Borders report also condemned Saudi Arabia and Syria for continued harassment of online users.

“Saudi Arabia has continued its relentless censorship and suppressed coverage of a provincial uprising,” the report said, adding that “many Syrian and Bahraini netizens have been tortured in custody.“

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