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Saturday, 4 May, 2002, 18:12 GMT 19:12 UK
Net ban sparks protests in Bahrain
A Bahraini protest against the government's censorship of the internet
Protesters said the ban violated freedom of expression
A small demonstration has been held in Bahrain to protest against the government's censorship of the internet.

The King of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa
Sheikh Hamad wants to modernize Bahrain
About 20 people gathered outside the offices of the Bahrain Telecommunications Company - the country's sole provider of internet services - demanding an end to blocks placed on several websites deemed objectionable by the authorities.

The protestors - some of them having taped their mouths shut - said the restrictions violated freedom of expression in Bahrain, whose ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, has recently launched a process of democratic reform.

They also demanded the resignation of the Information Minister, Nabeel Yacoub al-Hamer.

"The information minister is responsible and we want him to resign for his inability to cope with the democratic era in Bahrain," Ali Abdelimam, who runs one of the banned websites, told the Associated Press news agency.

The information minister said the government was targeting only sites that insulted citizens, and was prepared to authorise any site that played by "the rules of dialogue".

The ban was imposed last month, and the ministry warned that it would take action against sites that "create tension between people and to provoke resentful sectarianism".

Reforms

The Gulf Arab state is due to have its first parliamentary elections in 27 years in October.

The King, Sheikh Hamad, began a series of landmark political reforms in February 2001 aimed at modernising the country.

Sheikh Hamad has also set 9 May as the date for local elections that will see women running for office for the first time.

Analysts say the reforms are aimed at healing rifts between Bahrain's Sunni Muslim ruling family and the Shia Muslim majority.

See also:

26 Mar 02 | Middle East
Bahrain blocks opposition websites
14 Feb 02 | Middle East
Bahrain steps up democratic reforms
15 Feb 02 | Middle East
Bahrainis welcome change
18 Feb 01 | Middle East
Bahrain lifts key security law
16 Feb 01 | Middle East
Landslide win for Bahrain reforms
05 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Bahrain
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