Saudi Arabia has enacted stringent new regulations forcing some bloggers to obtain government licenses and to strong-arm others into registering. In addition, all Saudi news blogs and electronic news sites will now be strictly licensed, required to "include the call to the religion of Islam" and to strictly abide by Islamic sharia law. The registration and religion requirements are also being coupled with strict restrictions on what topics Saudi bloggers can write on--a development which will essentially give Saudi authorities the right to shut down blogs at their discretion.
The new regulations went into effect on January 1, 2011. There were previous reports on the law's announcement this past autumn, but the actual reforms enacted were far more punitive than I was earlier led to believe. The exact specifics of the new regulations were not previously announced by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
What the new regulations center around is a legal redefinition of almost all online content created in Saudi Arabia. Blogs are now legally classified as "electronic publishing" and news blogs (the term is not explicitly defined in the Saudi law) are now subject to the same legal regulations as newspapers. All Saudi Arabia-based news blogs, internet news sites, "internet sites containing video and audio materials" and Saudi Area-created mobile phone/smart phone content will fall under the newspaper rubric as well.
Under the regulations, any operators of news blogs, mobile phone content creators or operators of news sites in Saudi Arabia have to be Saudi citizens, at least 20 years old and possess a high school degree.
At least 31% of Saudi Arabia residents do not possess citizenship; these range from South Asian migrants living in poor conditions to well-off Western oil workers. All of them will find their internet rights sharply curtailed as a result of the new regulations.
The most telling--and dangerous-- detail in the new Saudi regulations is a provision requiring all news bloggers to provide the Saudi Arabian government with detailed information on their hosting company. This could easily allow the Saudi Arabian government to block access to a particular website across domains or to even force hosting companies to take dissidents' websites offline.
Non-citizens will still be allowed to blog on non-news topics. However, all Saudi Arabian bloggers--both citizens and non-citizens--are "recommended" to register with the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Culture and Information. In addition, blogs are now defined as falling under the Saudi Press and Publications Law.
This requires all publications created in Saudi Arabia to "include the call to the religion of Islam," not to "violate the Islamic Shari'a rulings," or to compromise national security or "public order."...