Saudi Arabia has banned blogging and online news websites without a government licence. All bloggers must be Saudi nationals, over 20-years-old with a high school degree and are required to “include the call to the religion of Islam” and to strictly abide by Islamic Sharia law, the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information (MOCI) announced.
The new decree puts blogs under the rule of the Saudi Press and Publications Law. MOCI will consider giving blogging and e-news licences to “those who deserve it,” according to the new regulation.
The decision came into effect on 1 January, 2011, and has been met with national and regional criticism. “Obviously, MOCI wants to extend its control over everything. No surprise here; government bodies in general are well known for their obsession with control,” wrote blogger Ahmed Al Omran on his blog Saudi Jeans.
The decree also bans non Saudi nationals from writing about news, but are allowed to blog about non-news issues. Chatroom users are also advised to register with the government prior to using the social services.
Among the goals that the new law serves is “protecting society from malpractices in electronic publishing,” the ministry said. The new law gives the government the right to shut down any website or media outlet that violates any of the articles mentioned in the decree. Violators will also be fined.
News blogs, e-news websites, websites displaying audio and visual materials, electronic advertisements and broadcasting via mobile phones inside the Kingdom, will fall under the electronic newspapers. All licence holders will now have to display their licence information on their websites to prove legitimacy. The new regulations require all news websites and blogs to provide detailed information on their web hosting company, which raises fears of forcing the hosting company to shut down the website all together.
Freedom of speech in Saudi Arabia is already facing major issues and bloggers and human rights activists are unhappy about the increase of government monitoring and control.