The Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society's Twitter account @bhrws2004 and website www.bhrws.org have been offline since Saturday, which the group says is a result of being targeted by anti-government hackers.
BHRWS secretary general Faisal Fulad, a controversial trade union activist and local politician, was due to attend a current United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) meeting in Geneva. He told the local Gulf Daily News (GDN) newspaper: "Hackers targeted our website first and then our Twitter account, which has thousands of followers, in an attempt to silence us ahead of the high-level meeting in Geneva."
The group had been highlighting the exploitation of children by anti-government protesters, and criticising Shi'ite political groups, led by Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, who had vetoed a proposal to give Shi'ite women the same rights as Sunni women in domestic cases. Bahrain is effectively ruled by its Sunni minority, led by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, while the majority of the population are Shia. There have been sporadic protests and calls for a tamarod (“rebellion”) against the regime, leading to strict policing of online activity in the country where 90 percent of the population have broadband.
Freedom House reports that Bahrain has established a Cyber Safety Directorate to monitor websites and social media for content that ‘instigates violence or terrorism or disseminates lies and fallacies that pose a threat to the kingdom.' And the authorities sent links to opposition social media accounts which traced the user's IP address when clicked.
Prison sentences, including one for ten years, have been given to Bahraini citizens for their online activities, and the government has previously blocked Whatsapp, Viber and Skype during civil disruption.
Thus this Bahrain human rights group is in the unusual position of being attacked online by the opponents of a regime which has itself often been criticised for its human rights record – including its cyber-rights policies.
Fulad, who is also general co-ordinator of the Bahrain Human Rights Group, says that the society has set up a new Twitter account @bhrws – which it is using to publicise that it has been hacked.