advertisement
advertisement
  • 01.12.11

Saudi Arabia Now Forcing News Bloggers to Obtain Licenses, Promote Islam

The Middle Eastern kingdom has just enacted one of the world’s most stringent sets of blogging regulations: Non-citizens can’t write about news, chat room users are encouraged to register with the government, and everyone needs to be very careful about religion.

Saudi icon

The new regulations went into effect on
January 1, 2011. Fast Company previously
reported on the law’s announcement
this past autumn, but the
actual reforms enacted were far more punitive than we were earlier led to
believe. The exact specifics of the new regulations were not
previously announced by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

advertisement

What
the new regulations center around is a legal redefinition of almost
all online content created in Saudi Arabia. Blogs are now legally
classified as “electronic publishing” and news blogs (the term is
not explicitly defined in the Saudi law) are now subject to the same
legal regulations as newspapers. All Saudi Arabia-based news blogs,
internet news sites, “internet sites containing video and audio
materials” and Saudi Area-created mobile phone/smartphone content
will fall under the newspaper rubric as well.

Under
the regulations, any operators of news blogs, mobile phone content
creators or operators of news sites in Saudi Arabia have to be Saudi citizens, at least 20 years old and possess a high school
degree.

At
least 31% of Saudi Arabia residents do
not possess citizenship
; these range from South Asian migrants
living in poor conditions to well-off Western oil workers. All of
them will find their internet rights sharply curtailed as a result of
the new regulations.

The
most telling–and dangerous– detail in the new Saudi
regulations is a provision requiring all news bloggers to provide the
Saudi Arabian government with detailed information on their hosting
company. This could easily allow the Saudi Arabian government to
block access to a particular website across domains or to even force
hosting companies to take dissidents’ websites offline.

Non-citizens
will still be allowed to blog on non-news topics. However, all Saudi Arabian bloggers–both citizens and non-citizens–are “recommended” to register
with the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Culture and Information. In
addition, blogs are now defined as falling under the Saudi Press and
Publications Law.

This requires all publications created in Saudi
Arabia to “include the call to the religion of Islam,” not to
“violate the Islamic Shari’a rulings,” or to compromise national
security or “public order.”

advertisement

Posters
on online forums, internet users who communicate on listservs and
guests in online chat rooms are also “recommended” to register
with the government under the law.

While
the registration process is optional, it will serve as a likely
coercion tool in the case of websites or blogs targeted by Saudi
authorities. The regulations strictly classify and offer a
bureaucratic taxonomy for all online media in a country with one
of the most extensive censorship regimes in the world
.

Arabic
speakers can find a copy of the new laws as a Word
document
provided by the Saudi Arabian government.

Some
Saudi Arabians are already voicing their protest at the law. Saudi
Jeans, a popular English-language blog, wrote
a long post
about the new anti-blogger regulations. The blog’s
author, a Columbia University journalism school student named Ahmed
al-Omran, said he is not registering:

I have
no plan to register my blog with MOCI, but if you are considering
that choice you probably want to know that not anyone can do this as
they please. To register, a Saudi citizen must be at least 20 years
old with a high school degree or above, and if you plan to launch a
so-called “electronic newspaper,” the ministry must approve of
your editor-in-chief, just like they do for dead tree newspapers. The
law says the editor is held accountable for all content published on
the website, but says nothing readers’ comments. Is the editor also
held accountable for those?

Others
are more supportive of the law. Tariq al-Homayed, editor-in-chief of
the influential pan-Arab daily aSharq al-Awsat,
wrote words of support to the Saudi government in an op-ed: “Thanks
to the Minister of Information, because this game has now been
exposed, and anybody who wants to challenge the media is welcome to
do so, so long as they do this under their real name, address, and
place of business. We will not accept anybody who simply wants to
settle scores or broadcast rumors.”

aSharq al-Awsat
is owned by Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, a member of the Saudi royal
family.

advertisement

Meanwhile,
Human Rights Watch’s Christoph Wilcke sees chilling implications for
public discourse:

What
little freedom Saudis have gained in expressing their views online,
what little vibrancy Saudis have enjoyed in their media, this
regulation shuts down. They provide a fig leaf of legality for
government suppression of burgeoning, uncensored online expression in
the kingdom.

The
Saudi Arabian government has a long
history
of jailing
bloggers
who write about politics, corruption or religion. Now the situation may even get worse.

Follow the author of this article,
Neal Ungerleider, on
Twitter
.

Video