Saudi Arabia’s Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC), which recently took over the responsibility of internet filtering from the much-loathed ISU of KACST, blocked a website called Menber al-Hewar wa al-Ebda’a (the name can be translated to Forum of Dialogue and Creativity).
The man behind this website is Saudi poet Ali al-Dumaini, one of three so-called “Constitutional Reformists” who were jailed and later pardoned by King Abdullah soon after he ascended the throne. Following the blockage, al-Dumaini issued a statement expressing his disappointment at the approach the government have taken when dealing with forums of peaceful expression.
In a country like this, blocking a website is hardly big news, so what makes this particular case different? The answer is because it is the first time that the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) get involved demanding unblocking the website. According to al-Riyadh daily, NSHR have contacted CITC and asked them to unblock the website. NSHR said this blockage violates the press law as well as Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It is very interesting to see NSHR weigh in and make such a bold statement like this one. They have impressed many observers earlier this year when they published their first report on the state of human rights in the Kingdom, but I honestly did not expect them to move far beyond that.
However, their involvement in this case raises some interesting questions. Are they going to ask CITC to unblock other websites such as Elaph, al-Sahat and Rasid, to mention a few examples? Moreover, are they going to move to left the ban on some writers such as Khalid al-Dakhil and Iman al-Qahtani? I really doubt it, but I have to admit that what they did here is a step in the right direction.