By TARIQ KHONJI Published: 1st November 2006

PROSECUTORS yesterday launched an investigation into complaints by the Information Ministry that various websites are violating Bahrain's laws. A number of complaints have been received from the ministry that Bahraini and non-Bahraini websites violate the Press, printing and publishing law, said a Public Prosecution statement.

It said it was also investigating allegations that some sites had violated a High Criminal Court order banning reports or comments on the Salah Al Bandar case.

It said it contacted the authorities concerned in relation to the complaints and requested an investigation from the Criminal Investigation Directorate.

One of the websites that may be under scrutiny is the hugely popular mahmood.tv blog, which attracts more than 100,000 hits a day from all over the world.

The decision by the ministry to block access from Bahrain to mahmood.tv (also known as MTV) has sparked an outcry from fans and freedom of speech advocacy groups.

Online petitions and websites supporting the blog and its Bahraini creator Mahmood Al Yousif have been springing up on the Internet.

Three online petitions have sprung up, one by the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, another by US-based Hands Across the Mideast Support Alliance (HAMSA) and a third by Bahrainis Mohammed Al Maskati and Esra'a Ahmad, who both have websites of their own.

Mr Al Maskati, who runs emoodz.com, said he and Ms Ahmad decided to launch the site I Want My MTV (iwantmymtv.org) in response to what they believe was an unfair attempt to censor Mr Al Yousif.

"MTV has, over the years, become one of the main Bahraini sites on the Internet and the fact that it can be blocked means that none of the rest are safe," he said.

The website will track media coverage of the blockage, including reports in local and international publications and news agencies as well as feature commentary by the two authors and guests.

"There are also several buttons that other bloggers and website administrators can download and place on their sites to show their solidarity with the campaign and to divert traffic to our site," continued Mr Al Maskati.

He urged others to sign the petition and contact him through the site if they wish to help.

The URL iwantmymtv.org will remain until the website is unblocked, but the duo have also registered the domain name bahrain-uncensored.com, which will continue the campaign indefinitely.

"It will become an ongoing online community dedicated to freedom of speech," Mr Al Maskati said.

The ministry has said it plans to take legal action against a number of sites recently blocked for continuing to discuss the Dr Salah Al Bandar affair, despite a judicial gag order.

Mr Al Yousif said that he was taking a 'wait and see' approach.

"I have not received any court papers, so I don't know what's going to happen," he said.

"But I'm very happy with the level of interest that this has generated."

The blockage followed the alleged leaking of a ministry document bearing Information Minister Dr Mohammed Abdul Ghaffar's signature ordering the sites blocked in accordance with law 47 of 2002, dealing with publications and the Press.

The leaked memo was posted on mahmood.tv a day before the order went into effect.

Mr Al Yousif says that he didn't do anything illegal because he believes that his actions are in line with Bahrain's constitution and the Declaration of Human Rights.

He has set up a second temporary URL, alyousif.tv, which can be used to access the blog.

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