Saudi could block Viber, Skype, WhatsApp
Ahram Online , Sunday 24 Mar 2013
Saudi government vows to control or stop Viber, Skype and WhatsApp

The Saudi Communication and Information Technology Commission threatened to ban messaging applications, mainly Skype, WhatsApp and Viber, because of a failure to control them, Al-Arabiya reported on Sunday.

The commission, according to Al-Arabiya website, had officially addressed telecommunication companies in order to examine banning possibilities in cooperation with companies owning such applications.

Telecommunication companies were given a one-week time limit to deal with the situation and decide upon the required technical measures. Two sources from local telecommunication companies told the website that this issue was highly prioritized in their meetings with the commission.

The internet-connected messaging channels, along with web social networks, signify a source of concern for the ultra-conservative Gulf kingdom. The government has continuously rejected their growing rate of local usage as they have enlarged the severely restricted scale of freedom of expression.

Last month, Saudi Arabia's minister for media and culture, Abdel Aziz Khoga, confirmed censorship of Twitter imposed by a series of government bodies, the Saudi Al-Watan Online reported.

Khoga called on Saudi citizens to "raise their awareness" and contribute to the censorship initiative taken up by the ministry. "People have to take care of what they are writing on Twitter," the minister said.

"It is getting harder to observe around three million people subscribing to the social network in the kingdom," Khoga added.

Also, Saudi intellectuals in January called on Saudi Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz to order the release of Turki Al-Hamad, a liberal Saudi writer, accused of "insulting Islam" on his Twitter account.

"We hope for, demand and expect a quick decision to be made to correct this grave error that has been committed against [Al-Hamad]," a petition signed by almost 500 people said.

According to AFP, the petition described his arrest as "unjust ... condemnable, reprehensible, shameful and unacceptable." Moreover, it called for a "public apology" to Al-Hamad, saying he was targeted by online "incitement" campaigns to arrest and try him.

Hamad was arrested on the orders of Interior Minister Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef Bin Abdel Aziz, who was tipped off by a religious organisation.

The comments Al-Hamad posted had attacked radical Islamists he said were twisting the Prophet Mohammad's "message of love," and what he described as "a neo-Nazism which is on the rise in the Arab world — Islamic extremism".

The postings provoked fierce debate on social networking sites in Saudi Arabia between supporters and detractors.

Online activist Raif Badawi, another Saudi, was arrested last June in Jeddah and accused of apostasy, which carries the death penalty in the Gulf kingdom.

Badawi helped set up a liberal Saudi website that declared a "day of liberalism" on 7 May 2012, calling for protests against the stranglehold of religious officials on public life in the strict Sunni-ruled monarchy.

The government restriction on web channels of expression started two years ago, when three young Saudis who posted online a video on poverty in the oil-rich kingdom have been detained after an opposition television aired part of their documentary.

Firas Baqna, Khalid al-Rasheed and Hussam al-Darwish were arrested by police in Al-Sahaba district, north Riyadh, after London-based Al-Islah television aired part of their YouTube series entitled "Malub Aleina" ("We are being cheated"), activists told AFP.

The government accused them of "were receiving finance from the channel and were taken into custody for interrogation."