I have been following with much concern what is going on with my Bahraini friend Mahmood Al-Yousef over the past few days. Mahmood was facing a libel case in connection with a blog post where he criticized a minister in the government. Mahmood said this morning that the case is “coming to an amicable conclusion due to sincere efforts of intermediaries,” which is a good thing, but what happened here should be a lesson for bloggers in the region on how they can practice their right to express their opinions without going to jail.
Like Mahmood, I believe in working within the system, but I’m afraid that things can be quite different on the other side of the causeway. Just last week, ten reform activists and academics were arrested for allegations that no one, except for some hypocrites in our mainstream media, believes. Of course it is always much easier and safer to go underground, but I for one can’t see myself doing that. I believe that being known and out the in the public is more effective when it comes to the cause I’m working in.
This case reminds me with a similar case that happened to a fellow blogger here in Saudi Arabia. The difference is, when our fellow blogger criticized some minister he did not face a lawsuit, but he was taken for a scary ride with some officials who told him to shut down his blog without giving much explanation, or else face the consequences. Since this blogger owned a business that dealt directly with the government and keeping the blog would directly affect his business negatively he stopped all activities related to blogging. It is a shame, because he was one of my favorite bloggers, and his blog was absolutely one of the best in the Saudi blogosphere.
I wonder what bloggers can do to avoid situations like these. Mahmood’s suggestion to arrange a workshop run by professional journalists to teach us how to criticize, but not get legally caught for their efforts is a good start, but I think there is more to do here, although I don’t know exactly what to do. More suggestions?