First of all, I would like to send my congratulations to you and wish you more success in your human rights activities as well as censoring Arab human rights. Free internet initiative which you launched recently is considered one of the greatest projects that will contribute to unblock the hugest information source and opinion container in the Arab world.
I already deplore to learn that the website of The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo) – which never promotes violence or evil – listed among the blocked websites in Saudi Arabia! HRinfo website was blocked 20 days ago and is still blocked so far! Ironically, this blocking coincided the launching of free internet initiative by your website! The scene included both callers for freedom and freedom enemies.
Internet conditions in Saudi Arabia are miserable since the internet was used for the first time as a communication means in 1998. That is because launching the internet service was accompanied by website blocking and filtering mechanisms. It was allegedly said that the purpose of using such mechanisms is to block pornographic, drugs, and crime websites. It was to be a noble goal if based on written rules and laws that regulates the work of internet censorship employees. However, the blocking mechanisms are used randomly and chaotically. They are subject to moods rather than laws; it lacks clear methodology.
King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (internet supervisor body in Saudi Arabia) is subject to four constraints:
1- Political power: The city is forced to block any political website which does not comply with the political trends of Saudi Arabia. This may include all the websites containing criticism to the Saudi royal family or government (e.g. Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, and Saudi News Agency “WASM”). That is in addition to unofficial groups’ and associations’ websites (e.g. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, and Human Rights First Association). Not only these but also the websites adopting the opinions of more liberate and civilized trends which are mostly not approved by popular trends. This allows authorities to interfere by blocking such websites in order to “avert sedition” and to preserve “the uniqueness” of the Saudi society. Examples are Civilized Dialogue website (rezgar), Elaph Forums: Twa, Dar El-Nadwa, Al-Hurria, Al-Tomar, etc. Authorities even continue censoring blocked websites in order to be assured that no alternative URLs are created for the same websites.
2- Ministry of Interior: The websites targeted by Ministry of Interior are supposed to be those communicating between criminals who threaten the internal security (including terrorists). However, in addition to such websites many other websites are blocked for no reason; including the websites posting and supporting Ministry of Interior news (e.g. Al-Wafaq e-newspaper). Others arbitrarily blocked include the websites adopting the intellectual solutions for crimes perpetration, particularly terrorism.
It is believed that the Ministry of Interior commissions the city with tracing certain writers and collecting information about them.
3- Popular pressure: There is an application form on the home page of blocked websites. It allows users (whoever) to demand the blocking of any worthy blocking website. The regulating trends in Saudi Arabia, particularly religious, have thousands of volunteers who launch campaigns calling for certain websites through filling in the application forms of the city. In spite of assuring that the applications submitted by users are not a satisfying reason for blocking websites, they have great influence especially if accompanied with practical support by different involved parties. In March 2006, Information Unit Chief at King Abdulaziz City told Shams newspaper that he reviews about 30.000 blocking and unblocking applications per day.
4- Religious Institution: It is the most horrible and seriously unfair source of pressure. That is because the religious pressure is supported by the above mentioned political, security, and popular pressures. It carries the power which its results cannot be estimated. Such a pressure tool in the hands of such institution leads to blocking many websites even if they are not pornographic. Unexaggeratedly, almost 80% of the blocked websites are blocked as a result of the religious institution pressures.
The religious institution gained its power from:
A. Coverage of the religious institution to government officials such as members of the senior scientists and members of the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the religious governmental bodies in general, independent sheikhs, imams, preachers, religious education students, and the public whose minds are overwhelmed by the above mentioned sheikhs and preachers. This type of people represents the majority of Saudi Arabia society).
B. The direct relationship between the political history of Saudi Arabia and religion (Wahabism). Thus the Saudi government is incapable of objecting to any religious decision, especially if it is supported by official or independent sheikhs who have great popular support. C. Mob absolute trust in religious sheikhs and preachers and complying with their decisions in all areas of life. They support them in campaigns against persons or websites without being aware of the reasons and results of such campaigns. They are merely direct implementation tools who are morally overwhelmed by sheikhs.
The most prominent among the websites attacked by the religious institution are the nonreligious tendencies websites; i.e. the websites which are not limited to religion and Shari’a topics. The religious institution which dominates all aspects of life in Saudi society believes that such websites are the biggest threat to its position. Therefore, it fights them and recruits its affiliate writers, imams, and preachers to launch campaigns which results into blocking the disapproved website in no time. Also the websites of other Islamic creeds are attacked, particularly Shiite websites which are not allowed to broadcast in Saudi Arabia regardless of its content. That is despite the fact that Shiites are ranked the second in respect with population census after the enforced Wahabism. However, this is not enough to have even only one Saudi website unless with fear and disguise. No need to mention the way other creeds are treated.
The religious institution practices are exclusively marked by its “reversal pressure”, which means pressure for the keeping certain website open and operating! The reader may not need to know the websites approved by the religious institution if it was clarified that such websites attack enlightening and human rights websites. The best example is Al-Sahat forum website which is considered a communication base for terrorists in Saudi Arabia. It includes the official statements of the leaders of the terrorist organization as a live broadcast. The criminal identity of the forum; it allows calling for murdering certain persons. In addition, it commits a vital crime by providing terrorists a space to post their thoughts and attempt to convince the public with their destructive principles. Though all that in addition to being the website an obvious opponent to Saudi government, the website is still operating with high speed and quality! It was blocked many times. However, blocking period did not exceed ten days. This leads to many interrogations on the methodology adopted by the religious institution in the country.
The above was written by a Saudi internet user who did not want to reveal his real identity out of fear from the risk of saying such statements in Saudi Arabia
11 October 2006