DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Oman has suspended access to a new Audio Chat Clubhouse, the country’s telecommunications regulator approved on Monday, fearing that Gulf authorities could censor a rare forum on sensitive topics in the region.
The Omani government “banned the application because it was operating without a license,” Omar al-Abri, the country’s chief telecommunications regulator, told The Associated Press. He did not elaborate on the licensing issue;
Over the past few days, a number of users in Oman have reported receiving error messages when they attempted to use the platform. Many people say that they can bypass the restrictions only through a virtual private network (VPN). Clubhouse did not respond to repeated requests for comment in Oman or elsewhere in the Persian Gulf.
In recent months, the Clubhouse, an exclusive social media program for invitations, has become very popular, especially in the Middle East, where social media remains a highly controversial, sometimes dangerous, area.
Gulf sheikhdoms maintain tight control over traditional LMs such as newspapers and television, increasingly enforcing unspecified cybercrime laws on Internet platforms and applications. Private outlets are self-censoring for fear of violating so-called “red lines”. In Oman, where police often patrol rebel-trained vehicles with chicken wire covering windows, U.S. diplomats often describe the press as “hoarse.”
The chathouse of the Clubhouse for the free discussion of political and social issues in a kind of city square provided a window through censorship. During the recent free exchanges in the region, they participated in the 2011 Egyptian Rebellion activists, Kuwaiti feminists, Libyan government officials, transgender women in Saudi Arabia.
But growing unease alleviates possible censorship concerns following last month’s Chinese decision to block the app as part of government crackdowns on free speech. The Thai government has also warned users not to use the app or face legal action.
Although the UAE reassured users earlier this month that the government had not banned the app, users across the country reported audio malfunctions that often made it impossible to listen to the discussions.