Internet Disruption at Bahrain Rally Site Deliberate: Report

TEHRAN – The nightly disruption of internet access in a Bahraini neighborhood home to a prominent Shiite cleric targeted in a government crackdown appears to be deliberate, an advocacy group said Thursday.

Iman News - The report by Bahrain Watch comes as human rights activists, journalists, Shiite leaders and others have been imprisoned or forced into exile in a severe clampdown on dissent in the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom, AP reported.

With independent news gathering growing more difficult in Bahrain, the report suggests the internet slowdown is intended to disrupt protesters in the Duraz neighborhood. That's where protesters have held a sit-in and demonstrated in support of Sheikh Isa Qassim, whose citizenship the government revoked in June over allegations he fanned extremism.

Locals in Duraz have complained about poor internet connectivity in recent weeks, as well as heavy police presence. Each night around 7 p.m. and lasting until about 1 a.m., online traffic there slows to less than a crawl on mobile phones and some fixed-line internet connections, Bahrain Watch said.

"Our experiments show ... certain 3G and 4G cell towers belonging to Batelco and Zain appear to be turned off and 2G cells broadcast notifications to phones indicating that mobile data services are not supported," the report said. "Our experiments also reveal the presence of a device on Batelco's internet backbone that disrupts certain internet traffic to and from Duraz."

Batelco and Zain, two of the island's main telecommunication companies, did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

Bahrain Watch suggests in the report that it may be a regime order forcing the companies to throttle internet access.

Bahrain has been cracking down on any political dissent ever since the country's uprising began in 2011.

The regime’s justice ministry announced on June 14 that all activities of al-Wefaq, the country's main opposition political society, had been suspended.

Sheikh Ali Salman, the head of al-Wefaq, has been in prison since December 2014 on charges of attempting to overthrow the regime and collaborating with foreign powers, which he has strongly denied.

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