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MENA: Voicing Support for Arrested Bahraini Blogger Ali Abdulemam

Ali Abdulemam at the Arab Bloggers' Workshop in Beirut, 2009

Outrage over the arrest of a Bahraini human rights activist has sparked an outpouring of support from bloggers and human rights advocates around the world.

On September 5, Global Voices Advocacy reported the arrest of Bahraini blogger and Global Voices contributor Ali Abdulemam for allegedly “publishing false news” on BahrainOnline.org, the platform he co-founded in 1999 (the site is currently down and it is suspected that authorities have gained control of the password).  The arrest, thought by many to be part of a larger sectarian crackdown in Bahrain, has sparked a solidarity campaign, a Facebook group of support, and a petition.  International groups, including Human Rights Watch, FrontLine Defenders, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, and Reporters without Borders have condemned the arrests.

Who is Ali Abdulemam?

Ali Abdulemam co-founded BahrainOnline.org in 1999 and as the site grew to become #1 in Bahrain, subsequently ascended to become one of the country's top bloggers. In 2005, he was arrested along with two of his colleagues, and released 15 days later. He joined Global Voices Advocacy in 2008 and attended that year's Global Voices Summit.

Sami Ben Gharbia shares more about the blogger:

Ali Abdulemam is a leading Bahraini blogger and Global Voices Advocacy author, and founder of Bahrain’s popular BahrainOnline forum. He a pioneer among Arab activists, using the internet to militate for peaceful reform. He inspired many young Bahrainis and Arabs to use the internet to express themselves and engage in spirited debate.

Mauritanian blogger Nasser Weddady, on his blog Dekhnstan, writes of Abdulemam's character:

Ali is a free-thinker, a father of three children, and more importantly the kind of voices for reform the West has been eager to see emerge in the region. His arrest is yet another blow to a growing movement for civil rights reform across the region. I hope he will not be forgotten like many other young Arabs whose only crime is to want to have a voice.

Hussain Yousif, who was arrested along with Abdulemam in 2005, had this to say of his close friend:

Ali is looking for change. The change Ali believed in is not impossible and is not diabolical. Ali wanted to give the people the chance to express thier feeling and dreams, to discuss and negotiate, to correct each other mistakes and to learn to respect each other. That was his project in Bahrain in online forum more than 10 years ago.

An Outpouring of Solidarity

Bloggers from across the Arab world and beyond have expressed their support for Abdulemam.  Bahraini blogger Mahmood, of Mahmood's Den, wonders what this means for Bahrain's bloggers and activists:

Abdulemam joins tens, possibly hundreds, more apprehended Bahrainis all accused or charged with some malicious intent against the ruling regime. According to most operating human rights organisations in the country, they have had their rights violated and some even went as far as accusing the security services of applying systemic torture on some of those incarcerated.

I fear that this latest development further degrades the country’s reputation and gives some credence to the charges of it being an enemy of freedom of expression and that of human rights too.

Guatemalan blogger and GV contributor Renata Avila had this to say of the circumstances:

Mi amigo, el bloguero de Bahrain Alí Abduleman, fue arrestado por “difundir información falsa”, una tendencia que se esparce peligrosamente en todos los rincones del mundo, ante gobiernos represivos que no aceptan la mirada crítica de los ciudadanos. Espero sea liberado pronto, que se respete el debido proceso, que se cuide de su integridad física y no se sea sometido a tratos crueles, inhumanos o degradantes.

My friend, Bahraini blogger Ali Abdulemam, was arrested for “spreading false information”, a trend that is spreading dangerously all over the world, from repressive governments that do not accept the critical eye of the public. I hope he is released soon, that due process is respected, and that care is taken for their physical integrity and they are not subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

On her blog A Tunisian Girl, GV contributor Lina Ben Mhenni writes:

Hardly does the sun rises without learning about the arrest of a blogger or online journalist . Examples are abundant Fatma Arabicca , Zouhair Makhlouf , Abdulsalam El Baroudi , etc…

…I hope that Ali will be released soon . I also hope that he will be in a good health.

Sonam Ongmo, a Bhutanese blogger based in New York, reflects on the situation on her blog Dragon Tales, writing:

As I write this, I count my blessings. There are many who on this very day cannot be facing the same. For instance a blogger colleague from Global Voices Ali Abdulemam from Bahrain. He was arrested earlier today by Bharaini authorities for spreading “false news” on his blog which has since been taken down by the authorities. I saw the message this morning and did the little I could – tweeting and posting this on FB. But now that I have time to sit down and think about my own situation its made me think of others who have not been so lucky.

Photo by Jillian C. York

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