If you are in Saudi Arabia, you’re going to need a license to blog starting next month. The Middle Eastern country is requiring anyone who posts anything online to register for a license with the Ministry of Culture and Information. Applicants for a licence, which is valid for up to three years, must be Saudi, at least 20 years old and a high school graduate with ‘’documents testifying to their good behaviour.’’
Human rights groups have denounced this move, even though the Saudi government says they are just trying to protect society.
‘’Saudi authorities have repeatedly punished those who publish news unfavorable to the government,‘’ said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch. ‘’What the kingdom needs is legal protection for peaceful free speech without conditions, licenses, or registrations.‘’
Anyone caught posting to an online forum or authoring an article for the web without a license may be subjected to a fine of up to 100,000 Riyal ($26,665) and a ban on all online activity, for possibly forever.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information said the flow of information in Saudi Arabia is unstoppable.
‘’The snowball has started to roll,‘’ the group said, ‘’and no one can stop it. The siege imposed by the Saudi government on citizens will not succeed in killing ideas, opinions or stopping information and news from flowing.‘’
However, some mainstream news operations in Saudi Arabia aren’t surprised by the latest rules laid down by a country known for its censorship and strict regulations. Tariq Alhomayed is the editor-in-chief of Asharaq Alawasat and says he applauds the new regulations because he believes that with the freedom to write comes responsibility.
‘’Whoever wants to write, be published, and criticize others, must do so with credibility, and a firm stance, rather than hiding behind a computer screen in order to defame someone, spread ugly rumors, or promote social division,‘’ Alhomayed said.
Like it or not, this is one country where you’ll have to abide by its laws or stay offline.
Carma is a Peabody award-winning broadcast journalist in the Bay Area.