Saudi Arabia clamps down on bloggers, news sites, others

Saudi Arabia is beginning a major internet clamp-down, starting with blogs, forums, news sites, personal websites, electronic archives, chat rooms and online ads.

New regulations were approved by Dr. Abdulaziz Bin Mohee Al-Dien Khoga, the Minister of Culture and Information, which will require licences for the operation of an e-publishing site within the country when the laws come into effect in a month’s time,

Anyone who writes on a blog, online newspaper, or similar form of electronic publishing will be required to meet the following obligations: they must be a Saudi national, over 20, hold a high school or higher qualification, be of good conduct and behaviour, and hold an appropriate licence given by the Ministry.

Editors must also receive special approval by the Ministry in addition to obtaining a licence, while all licence holders must publicly display their licence information on their website. The licence will last for three years, by which time a renewal will need to be sought. Exceptions to these rules can be employed at the discretion of the Minister.

As part of the application process web users must supply information about their web hosting, data which will presumably be used to take non-complying sites offline.

Failure to comply with the new regulations can result in a number of penalties. The user will be ordered to “correct” the content of the website, or, in other words, remove the offending material. They will need to pay a fine, they may be required to pay compensation to an individual in addition to the fine. And finally their website may be partially or fully blocked, for either a period of time up to two months or indefinitely.

Saudi Arabia said that this does not constitute a breach of freedom of speech and said that it will act in a transparent manner in the conducting of the new laws, but the news is likely to upset a lot of bloggers and web users in the country.