Supporters hold posters with photo of Bahrain’s top Shia cleric, Sheikh Isa Qassim, and shout slogans during a sit-in outside his home in the village of Diraz on July 27, 2016. ©Reuters
The Internet slowdown in the Bahraini village of Diraz, home to a leading Shia cleric, appears to be ordered by Manama in a bid to disrupt anti-regime protests there, says a monitoring and advocacy group.
In a report published on Thursday, Bahrain Watch suggested that the kingdom may have forced Batelco and Zain, two of the island country's main telecommunication companies, to throttle Internet access in Diraz.
On June 20, Manama revoked the nationality of Sheikh Qassim, with Bahrain’s Interior Ministry accusing the clergyman of seeking the “creation of a sectarian environment” through his connections with foreign powers.
Qassim is the spiritual leader of al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, Bahrain’s main opposition group, whose activities were recently suspended by the government.
Demonstrators have held sit-ins outside the cleric’s house to denounce his citizenship removal.
However, locals have complained about poor Internet access in Diraz in recent weeks as well as a heavy police presence.Each night, between 7 p.m. and 1 a.m. local time, online traffic slows to less than a crawl on mobile phones and some fixed-line Internet connections, according to the Bahrain Watch report.
“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, adding that there was also “a device on Batelco’s Internet backbone that disrupts certain Internet traffic to and from Diraz.”
Police chase anti-regime protesters during clashes in Daih, Bahrain, March 14, 2016. ©AP
Bahrain, a close ally of the US in the Persian Gulf region, has seen a wave of anti-regime protests since mid-February 2011.
The Al Khalifah regime is engaged in a harsh crackdown on dissent and widespread discrimination against the country’s Shia majority.
Scores of people have been killed and hundreds of others wounded or detained in Manama’s ongoing repression of free speech.