In August, Bahrain Watch published a report providing technical evidence that Bahrain’s ISPs were deliberately disrupting fixed-line connections, and shutting down mobile data services, every night between 7:00PM and 1:00AM in the village of Duraz. The village has been the site of ongoing protests since 20 June 2016, when Bahrain’s government revoked the citizenship of Sheikh Isa Qassim, one of the central spiritual leaders of Bahrain’s Shia community and a resident of Duraz.
Our report concluded that two of the largest ISPs in Bahrain, Batelco and Zain, were disabling their 4G and 3G mobile networks and turning off mobile data services (GPRS/EDGE) on their 2G mobile networks between 7PM and 1AM Bahrain time every night in Duraz. We found that while phone calls and SMS text messages were possible during the disruption, no type of mobile data service was available on Batelco and Zain in Duraz. We also find that between exactly 7PM and 1AM every night, Batelco was deliberately introducing astronomical levels of loss and latency into fixed-line Internet connections in Duraz. Given that the disruptions were coordinated at roughly the same time across different ISPs, it is possible that the disruptions were a result of a Service Restriction Order (SRO) from the Bahrain Government, in relation to the protests.
Bahrain Watch can confirm that the Internet disruptions in Duraz are ongoing. It is now more than 100 days since disruptions were first reported. On 12 July, Al-Wasat newspaper reported that ISPs said the disruption was a technical issue, and they were working on a fix.
Figure 1: Our latest measurements of the Internet disruption affecting fixed-line connections on Batelco.
As our ongoing measurements show (Figure 1), fixed-line connections on Batelco are still disrupted every evening between 7:00PM and 1:00AM. Testing conducted inside Duraz indicates that this disruption is affecting residents of Duraz. We have also received reports from Duraz that mobile data is disrupted nightly on all three cellular providers: Batelco, Viva, and Zain.
No Comment from the TRA
Last month, Bahrain Watch in collaboration with Access Now sent a letter to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) signed by 27 NGOs, requesting the restoration of Internet services in Duraz. We have yet to receive a reply from the TRA. Signatories to the letter include HIVOS, Internet Sans Frontières, and Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
The Internet disruption in Duraz received widespread media coverage inside and outside of Bahrain, including by BBC, and The Verge. Al Wasat newspaper, itself an earlier subject of the Duraz disruption, translated our report into Arabic and published our results in its print edition and online. Al Wasat also reported that some affected users cancelled their Internet and mobile subscriptions due to the Internet disruption, and lack of compensation from providers.
As we stated in our first report, the ongoing Internet disruption in Duraz allows the government to prevent individuals from speaking when the world needs to hear them the most, in a way that is hard for researchers to detect and attribute, all while avoiding the political consequences of large-scale Internet disruption. Contrary to recommendations issued by the United Nations and industry bodies such as the GSM Association, the government and providers have not been transparent about the reasons for the disruption to Internet access.