After a tumultuous year of protests and crackdowns, the island nation of Bahrain has been labeled as an “enemy of the Internet” by a nonprofit group that advocates for press freedom.
Reporters Without Borders said Bahrain had smeared free-speech activists, arrested bloggers and harassed human rights activists to create “an effective news blackout.” Earlier this year, Bahrain turned down New York Times columnist Nick Kristof and other reporters seeking to cover the one-year anniversary of protests against the Sunni Muslim monarchy, saying it had received too many requests.
Bahrain was one of a dozen nations of Reporters Without Borders' annual list of "Internet enemies." Others on the list include Iran, which recently announced a new council to oversee the Web as part of its ongoing crackdown on cyberspace, and North Korea, which heavily censors and restricts the Internet.
The turmoil in Bahrain has raged more than a year. Tens of thousands of Bahraini protesters blocked a highway on Friday, demanding greater democracy and the cessation of anti-Shiite discrimination.
One activist is in peril after going on a hunger strike for 32 days inside prison, according to opposition groups. Human Rights Watch has complained that Bahrain has railroaded its opponents in unfair trials.
Bahraini officials say protesters are inciting violence against police and ignoring reforms it has carried out. Government loyalists say they are terrorists carrying out attacks with stones and Molotov cocktails.
Belarus also joined the list after the Internet was blocked, bloggers were arrested and a new law gave the government new control over the Web, the group said in a statement. The country is led by authoritarian 17-year President Alexander Lukashenko.
Belarusian officials have also used the Web to intimidate protesters, Reporters Without Borders wrote. The Interior Ministry used its Twitter account to warn demonstrators against Lukashenko and his regime, "To all persons going to the city square ... you will have to answer for it," the report said.
Besides Bahrain, Belarus, Iran and North Korea, the other countries on the list are Burma, China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
While Bahrain and Belarus joined the list, two others were removed: Libya, where longtime leader Moammar Kadafi was overthrown and killed, and Venezuela, where legislation that was earlier feared to limit Internet freedom "has yet to have any damaging effect in practice."
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: A Bahraini woman holds a sign that says in Arabic "Down with the ruling gang" during a rally for political reforms on March 9, 2012. Credit: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images