Activists found that each night between 7PM and 1AM, some 3G and 4G cell towers in Diraz stop working entirely, while 2G towers broadcast notifications to phones saying mobile internet services are not supported in the area, Bahrain Watch reported.
Since the shutdowns are regular and appear to be coordinated across multiple ISPs, namely Balteco and Zain, Bahrain Watch says, it is possible that the “disruptions are a result of a Service Restriction Order from the Bahrain Government, in relation to the protests.”
Bahrain Watch published a technical breakdown of the reported shutdowns.
Diraz is home to leading Muslim Cleric Sheikh Issa Qassim and it’s been the site of protests since officials revoked his citizenship on June 20th.
The regime has also retained tight control over the internet, regularly blocking websites and arresting dissidents who are outspoken on social media.
Last month, an investigation found that Bahrain’s ISPs were blocking access to Telegram, the popular encrypted messaging app, apparently at the request of the government. Bahrain Watch co-founder Al’a Shehabi says the Diraz outages are unique.
“The disruption is indicative of a new form of information control,” Shehabi said in an email. “Take the disruption to landline Internet connections we identified: it’s essentially the government picking out and ‘muzzling,’ during protest times, individual anti-government users (likely based on their address).” Such a tactic, she adds, is “not your grandfather’s internet shutdown.”
The tactic poses problems for researchers, as well. Whereas nationwide internet outages or interference can be identified from outside the country, more localized shutdowns require direct access to affected connections, Marczak said in an email. In the investigation published today, researchers conducted hourly scans of all Batelco’s IP addresses, and found that around 12 percent of those that responded (around 2,000 addresses) experienced regular disruptions between 7PM and 1AM. Two corporate clients, Ithmaar Bank and the Al-Wasat newspaper, which is located outside of Diraz, were also affected.
After Al-Wasat reported on the outages on July 12th, Batelco appears to have adopted a more pinpoint approach, using a device on its internet backbone that disrupts traffic only if it is coming to or from the IP address of a targeted individual. Marczak says he was unable to identify the manufacturer of the device or its technical specifications, though he suspects that it’s “designed to perform traffic shaping.”
In a report, Bahrain Watch calls on the government and ISPs to end the disruptions, provide compensation to those who were affected by them, and to acknowledge any ordered shutdown. The organization also warns that it may be easier for Bahrain and other governments to deploy similar small-scale shutdowns, which may not be detectable to outside researchers.
“Muzzling allows a government to prevent individuals from speaking when the world needs to hear them the most, in a way that is hard for researchers to detect and attribute, all while avoiding the political consequences of large-scale Internet disruption,” the report reads.
The United Nations Human Rights Council unequivocally condemns any government’s practice of restricting internet access for its citizens. In July, the council passed a resolution reaffirming and expanding its stance upholding internet rights across the globe. The governments of countries such as Vietnam, China, Russia and Turkey have restricted internet access during times of political unrest or in an attempt to block content it deems “scandalous.”
By Fars News Agency