Digital Citizen is a monthly review of news, policy, and research on human rights and technology in the Arab World.


A coalition of more than 20 Syrian media organizations has launched a campaign demanding an end to abuses against media workers in the country, who face threats from both government entities and terrorist groups. A petition launched by reads, “Facing retaliation if they denounce the abuses aloud, and facing extinction if they don’t, Syrian media have chosen the former. Despite intimidation and threats, Syrian media are uniting for the first time and standing up together to demand an end to the crimes committed against all journalists.” Sign the petition at

Independent journalist Omar Al-Shaar was kidnapped from his home in suburban Damascus by Syrian intelligence officials in mid-November. Al-Shaar has served as editor of the English language section of the DP-Press News website since 2011. Reports indicate that officials also seized various electronics from Al-Shaar’s home, including computers belonging to him and his wife.


Blogger and leading democracy activist Alaa Abd El Fattah was taken from his home by police last Thursday night. His wife reported that police used violent force against the couple and seized their computers and mobile phones. Alaa was detained at a rally in Cairo a few days prior to the incident, but then released on the condition that he would present himself before police on November 30. Evidently authorities could not wait this long, and thus raided his home. Many suspect his arrest comes under Egypt’s new law aimed at curbing public protest. Alaa has been jailed multiple times since 2011, and faced incitement charges under Mohammed Morsi’s government. As usual, supporters are using the #FreeAlaa hashtag to express support and follow his case on Twitter.

Cartoonist Doaa Eladl faced charges last year for a cartoon commenting on religion. While the charges were dropped following the ouster of president Mohammed Morsi, Eladl continued to receive threats for her cartoons posted on social networks. Her case is featured in IFEX’s campaign to end impunity.


Israeli forces detained approximately 25 demonstrators who had gathered at Al-Aqsa mosque in response to a call from Palestinian activists on Facebook and confiscated several of the demonstrators’ laptops and mobile phones. According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, 20 activists were released on bail shortly thereafter, and forced to sign pledges promising they would not publish any further calls to action on Facebook that could be considered incitement by Israeli authorities.

A recent report from the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) alleges that Israeli forces are targeting journalists working to cover human rights violations. The report also included one instance of intimidation by Palestinian intelligence services: Ala Hassan Rimawi, a correspondent for the Turkish Anatolia Agency, was interrogated and asked about his salary and comments he made on Facebook.


Since 2012, the government of Kuwait has ramped up efforts to control online speech and activity. According to Human Rights Watch, Twitter user Musab Shamsah was sentenced to 5 years in prison for a tweet that commented on theological differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

The governments of Kuwait and the UK have formed a partnership in an effort to improve national security measures both on and offline in the Gulf nation. UK government experts will provide Kuwaiti security agencies with physical security, cyber security and counter terrorism training. Sources say the program will earn the UK government between $160 and $240 million per year, over seven years. This coincides with a steady increase in opposition to government actions among Kuwaiti citizens.

On a related note, Kuwaiti officials have reportedly initiated talks with Research In Motion concerning Blackberry’s double encryption technology, a feature that several Gulf nations have pointed to as potentially harmful to national security.


Journalist Ali Anouzla was freed on bail in late October, but still faces charges under Morocco’s terrorism statutes. Reporters Without Borders has pressed US Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene, stressing the need for legal reforms that would guarantee freedom of information and expression in the country. Ahead of King Mohammed VI’s visit to the United States, the organization has also called on President Obama to raise Anouzla’s case with the monarch.

On November 15, the website of the far left Moroccan opposition party Annahj Addimocrati (Democratic Way) was defaced by hackers. reported that the attackers, who identified themselves as the “Electronic Islamic Moroccan Unio,” referenced “February 20 traitors,” alluding to the 2011 protest movement in Morocco that called for radical democratic reforms in the country, following the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.


The Ministry of Interior issued new regulations in an effort to improve tracking mechanisms for prepaid SIM cards owned by foreigners in the country. When selling to foreigners, mobile retailers now must send a copy of each customer’s contract and proof of identity to the mobile service provider, in order for the customer to obtain a SIM card. The regulations also require mobile shops to obtain and store the personal information of new SIM card owners, including the retailer contract and identification document. Shops are obligated to protect the privacy of the customers’ personal data.

The Telecom Regulatory Commission attributed this step to the increasing number of non-Jordanians in the country, many of whom are Syrian refugees or migrant workers. The change is meant to help curb the use of mobile phones in ways that might disrupt social, economic or security-related issues.


Activist Waleed Al-Shehhi has been sentenced to two years in prison and fined 500,000 dirhams for tweeting about the trial of 94 dissidents (the “UAE 94”) that occurred during the first half of the year. Shehhi was arrested on May 11 under articles 28 and 29 of Federal Legal Decree No. 5/2012, part of the cybercrime law adopted in 2012 that bans the use of information technology for activities that “endanger national security” or “defame the government.” Shehhi’s case follows that of Abdullah Al-Hadidi, who was sentenced earlier this year to 10 months in prison for tweeting about the UAE 94, and released in early November.

A trial of 30 Muslim Brotherhood activists commenced in early November, with 20 Egyptian citizens and 10 Emiratis charged with running a branch of the Brotherhood in Abu Dhabi. Two of those facing trial are Emirati human rights lawyers Mohammed al-Mansoori and Mohammed al-Roken, both of whom stand accused of communicating with “international organizations including Human Rights Watch,” and with foreign embassies. According to the court judgement, investigators confronted al-Roken through a Whatsapp text message asking why a prominent Kuwaiti Islamic scholar had been banned from entering the UAE.


Blogger Naji Fateel, co-founder of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, was sentenced in September to 15 years in prison for “the establishment of a group for the purpose of disabling the constitution,” under Article 6 of Bahrain’s Terrorism Act, a sentence widely condemned by international human rights groups. While Fateel was allowed an appeal, Bahrain’s Ministry of Human Rights and Social Development has refused entry to the country for international observers. In response, IFEX—along with the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Front Line Defenders, Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders—has issued the following statement:

“The co-signed organisations denounce this obstacle to observing the trial, which manifestly aims to hinder their human rights activities and impedes Naji Fateel’s right to a fair trial. They further call upon the Bahraini authorities to guarantee in all circumstances the right to freedom of movement to both local and international human rights defenders in Bahrain as enshrined by Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the 1998 United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

We collectively and strongly call on the Government of Bahrain to meet its international obligations and grant immediate and unconditional access to Bahrain for international human rights observers and journalists.

Our organisations also call upon the Government of Bahrain to put an end to the judicial harassment against Naji Fateel, and to release him immediately and unconditionally as his detention is arbitrary since it only aims at sanctioning his human rights activities.”


Tunisia will soon have a new so-called investigative telecommunications agency, the primary mandate of which will be to lead investigations of “ICT-related” crimes. Established by a decree issued in early November, the agency (known by its French acronym, ATT) has triggered grave concern among human rights advocates, who fear it could be the start of a new era of censorship and surveillance in the country. Local activists have organized a “Stop #A2T” campaign, urging the government to hold public hearings about the agency’s structure and legal obligations. Cyber activist and Global Voices community member Slim Amamou said the news evoked renewed fears of “Ammar 404,” a commonly used term for online censorship (referring to the 404 Not Found error) during the Ben Ali era. Amamou told Tunisia Live, “Ammar 404 is coming back. People who have worked on surveillance before are the same but it’s under a different cover, a new administration.”


Supporters of Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah protested in the streets of Baalbek and Beirut in response to a sketch aired on Lebanese satellite channel LBC International. The sketch, which aired on the satirical show Basmat Watan, featured an actor dressed as Nasrallah answering questions about Hezbollah’s military strategy and the extent to which the group has (allegedly) engaged in Syria. Protesters gathered in front of the Baalbek Serail, burned tires and blocked streets in downtown Beirut.

The sketch also stemmed a robust debate on social media, as supporters of Nasrallah exchanged views with supporters of the director, Charbel Khalil, and proponents of free speech. Nasrallah’s defenders called for a boycott of LBC International until the station apologized, while some went as far to call for the director’s death. Others defended Khalil and LBC International, calling his actions brave and criticizing the impulse to stifle free expression to avoid offending people. Both Khalil and the director of LBC International have declared they will not apologize, citing the right of the media to “impersonate and satirize whomever it [wanted].”


The Internet Society (ISOC)—an international, non-profit organization that provides leadership in Internet related standards, education, and policy—has opened its very first chapter in Yemen. Writing for our partner, Walid Al-Saqaf, the chair of ISOC Yemen, describes the need for such an organization:

“With so many With so many problems facing Yemen, one of the questions posed at the event was ‘Why now?’ hinting at the many difficulties that Yemen currently faces. Indeed, there are severe water shortages, power outages have become the norm, and many Yemenis don’t dare leave their homes after midnight in fear of armed gangs. With these challenges in mind, why should Yemen invest time, energy, and money on the Internet?

As the chair of ISOC-Yemen, I find that this doubt is an opportunity to bring attention to important aspects of Internet use that are often overlooked. With Internet penetration at 15%, Yemen is ranked the second lowest country in the world. Yet, with 3.7 million users, Yemen has one of the leading positions in the region, giving it an edge over Jordan, Lebanon, and several Gulf countries. If Internet penetration continues to grow, it would allow the Internet to have a greater role in creating change and fostering ideas that can ultimately help lift people from poverty.”


An International Press Institute report indicates that while media freedom has increased markedly since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, attacks on journalists by militias and other third parties have increased.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Labor is implementing an aggressive crackdown on Ethiopian migrants working in the country without permits. Last week, after violent clashes in Riyadh that left at least three Ethiopians dead, over 20,000 migrants surrendered to Saudi authorities. Demonstrations also have taken place outside the Saudi embassy in Addis Ababa and led to arrests of over 100 protesters. On Twitter, activists have used the #SomeoneTellSaudiArabia hashtag to denounce the Gulf Kingdom’s ill treatment of Ethiopians.

According to a new study by the Global Web Index, Saudi Arabia has more Twitter users per capita than any other country on earth.


On Internet governance blog IG MENA, Iraqi blogger Ahmed Hamdi al-Janabi writes that when it comes to online freedoms, the country has moved from “fascism” (pre-2003) to “extreme right-wing policies” under the current government. Content controls remain a problem, as does a lack of personal privacy and data protection legislation.


In an editorial for Foreign Policy’s Transitions blog, Egyptian writer Mohamed El-Dahshan described the scene at Arab IGF, where discussions were heavily circumscribed at the behest of government officials and state security was plentiful. He writes:

“During the conference, the overbearing security presence made many people uncomfortable. Algerian officials attempted to control discussions by planting people in the audience who were tasked with making comments that followed conspicuously similar arguments. (“A state should monitor its citizens because it protects them the way that parents do their children.”) This feeble strategy quickly became obvious and repetitive.”

Around the region:

From our partners:

Upcoming events:

Digital Citizen is a monthly review of news, policy, and research on human rights and technology in the Arab World.


Over the past few years, Morocco has made strides increasing Internet access for its citizens and scaling back online censorship. The Feb20 movement—Morocco’s answer to the Arab Spring—operated for the most part freely online. More recently, Moroccans enraged by the King’s pardon of a convicted pedophile mounted an unprecedented online campaign—dubbed #DanielGate—ultimately resulted in rescinding the pardon.

But recent events in the country threaten that progress. On September 17, Ali Anouzla—the co-founder and Arabic-language editor of a popular online publication, Lakome—was arrested after publishing an article that mentioned a YouTube video attributed to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Titled “Morocco: Kingdom of Corruption and Despotism,” the video was critical of Moroccan King Mohammed VI. Reporters Without Borders quoted the local public prosecutor as saying that Anouzla was arrested “as a result of the dissemination of an AQIM video inciting others to commit terrorism acts.” In fact, Anouzla’s article did not endorse the video in anyway, and only linked to an article in Spanish paper El Pais which contained a link to the original video. After being held for a little over a week, Anouzla was charged on September 25 with “material assistance” to a terrorist group, “defending terrorism,” and “inciting the execution of terrorist acts.”

His case has spawned unprecedented support from inside Morocco and all over the world. One letter from sixty human rights groups calls for Anouzla’s immediate release and an end to judicial and media harassment against him. Now, and several mirrors of the site have been reported blocked in the country.

On October 25, Anouzla was released provisionally on bail, but still faces charges. Said his lawyer, Hassan Semlali: “Ali should not have spent a single minute in prison. He is an independent journalist who fights constantly for human rights.”

In a separate event, a pair of high school students spent a week in jail after a friend posted a photograph of them kissing to Facebook. Their arrest prompted a campaign in which supporters posted their own kissing photos to social networks in solidarity with the pair. Anonymous later got in on the game, hacking Moroccan government sites and dumping their data online.


In a rare bit of good news, Mohammed Hassan (aka Safy), the detained Bahraini blogger and Global Voices author we reported on in our last edition, has been released on bail. Though the fate of his case remains up in the air, we are glad to see Safy at home with his family.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights recently published messages from inside the walls of Bahrain’s prisons, including from activists Nabeel Rajab and Zainab Al-Khawaja. An audio version of Al-Khawaja’s message has been posted to YouTube.

On October 22, human rights defender Mohammed Al-Maskati was summoned for interrogation by local police. Al-Maskati, the founder and President of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), works to document human rights abuses and organizes training workshops in Bahrain. Frontline Defenders is calling for an end to the ongoing harassment of Al-Maskati.


Human Rights Watch reported a “spate of prosecutions for free speech” in Tunisia, where the ruling Ennadha party recently agreed to step down in an attempt to resolve an ongoing political crisis. Among those detained was union leader Walid Zarrouk, for criticizing the politicization of judicial proceedings on Facebook. Zarrouk was charged with “accusing, without proof, a public agent of violating the law”; “defamation of public officials”; distributing information “likely to harm public order”; and “disrupting lives through public communication networks” according to his attorney. He was detained for several weeks but was released when his case was transferred to the tribunal of Bizerte.


On October 9, Algerian security forces arrested blogger Abdel Ghani Aloui, 24, for posting on his Facebook account a caricature mocking Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Aloui has been accused of ‘compromising the authority, insulting the president and inciting terrorism’. An Algerian judge has elected to keep Aloui in prison as the official investigation of his conduct takes place. As in other North African countries, Algeria has frequently accused activists and citizen journalists of “incitement of terrorism” when detaining them for political reasons. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information has called the case against Aloui a farce and demands his release.

In early October, the second annual Arab Internet Governance Forum was held in Algiers. Our own Wafa Ben Hassine attended, and wrote a critique of the event. Citing “a stark absence of local representation,” she concludes that while the Arab IGF met its stated goals of fostering debate and discussion, future events would benefit from greater participation from all sectors, particularly civil society.


Twenty-three year-old Palestinian activist and Haifa resident Razi Nabulsi was arrested on October 9 by Israeli Police and detained for a week on grounds of ‘incitement.’ Police confiscated a computer and mobile phone from Nabulsi’s home, among other things. According to the prosecution, Nabulsi’s Facebook statuses and his possession of books by Ghassan Kanafani—declared secret evidence by the prosecution—were deemed to be incitement. According to 972 Magazine, the offending Facebook status update read “One day the nightmare will be over,” and was used by the prosecutor to suggest Nabulsi was expressing his wish for the end of the Israeli state.


According to local press reports, a court has sentenced an online activist to two years in prison. Hijab al-Hajri was reportedly charged for Twitter posts insulting to the emir. Over the past two years, Kuwait has charged dozens of people for similar offenses. In July, however, the emir marked the start of Ramadan by pardoning all those convicted of insulting him.
On October 3, prominent opposition writer Mohammad Al-Wushaihi was sentenced to three months in jail for tweets deemed derogatory to a former prime minister. Al-Wushaihi began serving his term immediately but is appealing the sentence.


In late September, online publication Mada Masr reported that telephone and Internet networks were being intermittently shut down in North Sinai, as part of an effort to crack down on militant attacks on infrastructure in the embattled region.

An October piece from Index on Censorship compares Egypt’s media strategy to China’s, stating: “The muzzling of the press through continued intimidation and the sweeping arrests of journalists, bloggers and rights activists bears testimony to the fact that neither country is serious about carrying out the desired democratic reforms.”

The Egypt Independent reported that Egypt may begin charging those accused of “harming national unity” under new terrorism statutes. Article 22 of the draft terrorism law would ban “promoting terrorist ideas through media, including websites.” Article 28 would classify hackers who attack official government websites as terrorists.

Saudi Arabia

In 2011, Saudi advocates launched a campaign supporting a woman’s right to drive. The campaign—dubbed Women2Drive—was in some ways successful, mobilizing large numbers of women, and continues to this day. Recently, however, Saudi authorities blocked after the site published a statement calling on authorities to allow women to drive, stating that Sharia law does not dictate that women should be forbidden from doing so. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information called the ban an encroachment on both freedom of expression and women’s rights.

On October 26, the Women2Drive campaign relaunched, with word spreading quickly through social media and hundreds of women driving in the kingdom without incident. A video, created by young male allies in the conservative country and dubbed “No Women No Drive,” reached almost four million views in just two days.

Saudi school teacher Tariq al-Mubarak, who also works as a columnist and blogger for London-based Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, was arrested on October 27 for lending his support to the campaign. On Twitter, users voiced support for his release under the hashtag #FreeTariqalMubarak.


The Sudanese government cut off access to the Internet on September 25, after days of anti-government demonstrations triggered by fuel subsidy cutbacks. Network monitoring firm Renesys called this “the largest national blackout since Egypt disconnected itself in January 2011.” The shutdown took place at the same time that African government officials and members of civil society were meeting in Johannesburg for the African Internet Governance Forum. During the shutdown, hundreds of protesters were arrested and dozens killed.


In Jordan, tens of activists are will soon stand trial before the State Security Court—a special court that shirks basic guarantees of a fair trial—for acts of online expression. They face charges ranging from “attempting to disrupt the state’s system of governance” to “extending the tongue” (against Jordan’s king). Activist Ayman Al Bahrawi has been charged with “disrupting friendly relationships with neighboring countries” for a WhatsApp message deemed insulting to Egyptian General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. The message read: “Sisi is more criminal than Bashar [Al Assad]…may God reclaim them both.” The Jordanian government has refused to comment on the case.

The publisher and chief editor of the Jafra News website was arrested on September 17 under an order from the state security court for “disturbing relations with a foreign state.” The arrest occurred shortly after website had featured a YouTube video allegedly showing a Qatari prince sitting, dancing, and showering with several women.

Thousands of individuals have been detained administratively by orders of provisional governors under the Crime Prevention Law of 1954, without trial or access to legal justice. Scores of websites have been blocked following amendments to the Press and Publication Law, which imposes mandatory registration and licensing on websites that “publish news, investigations, articles, or comments related to Jordan’s internal or external affairs,” and give the director of the Press and Publication department full authority to block unlicensed websites.

Three and a half months after 7iber was blocked by the Press and Publication department, and after the case 7iber filed to challenge the blocking decision was dismissed by the Higher Court of Justice, 7iber took the opportunity of Blog Action Day to answer the question they often hear: “Why don’t you just get licensed?”

7iber believes that the Press and Publication Law violates the basic right of freedom of expression and press freedom guaranteed by the Jordanian Constitution and by international conventions of human rights ratified by Jordan, for the following reason: Article 15.4 of the Jordanian Constitution states: “In the event of the declaration of martial law or a state of emergency, a limited censorship on newspapers, publications, books and broadcasts in matters affecting public safety and national defence may be imposed by law.”

While other articles in the Constitution guarantee freedom of expression and press freedom, this one clearly states that “limited censorship” is only permissible in the event of martial law, and only in matters pertaining to public safety and national defense, which renders the current Press and Publication Law unconstitutional.

For more information about the Press and Publication Law and the state of freedom of expression online in Jordan, see 7iber’s recent post about freedom online.
In addition to 7iber’s latest efforts, a group of 22 international organizations—including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Reporters Without Borders—have called on the Jordanian government to end Internet censorship.


The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) made news again this month, after Internet content delivery company Akamai included the group in its State of the Internet report. An analysis in the National Journal looks at the long-term effects of the SEA and groups like it.

In a rare flash of good news, blogger Razan Ghazzawi was named to BBC’s influential 100 Women list.


Another website seems to have disappeared from the Lebanese internet. After the conviction of the well-known Lebanese priest Mansour Labaki by the Vatican for child molestation, blogger Gino Raidy noted that while a website defending the priest remained online, a second site documenting his conviction and asking other victims to speak out was inaccessible. Telecommunications Minister Sehnaoui denied on LBC television that his ministry had any involvement in the blocking, saying that the judiciary went directly to ISPs to have the site blocked.

While censorship is difficult to confirm in Lebanon’s opaque and arbitrary regulatory environment, the blocked website does conform to a pattern of increased censorship in Lebanon this year. A decision issued in the spring mandated blocking online gambling sites, and many .il domains are also inaccessible. It’s not clear under which law the decision was issued.
The intimidation, interrogation, and prosecution of bloggers and online activists has also become more common, as reported in the 2013 Freedom on the Net report, which covered Lebanon for the first time this year. The report ranks Lebanon 31st globally and 3rd in the Arab world in terms of Internet freedom and clearly puts the country at a crossroads, suggesting that without government action on promised reforms, “Lebanon risks regressing into an oppressive online environment.”


Yemen is reportedly upgrading its communications infrastructure. The country, which has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates in the region, seeks to bring Internet access to its many rural areas.


Iraq’s Ministry of Communication has announced a price reduction in Internet access. As a result, in a reported effort to impose sanctions on its own ISPs over their failure to follow its pricing structure, the Ministry of Communication tried—but failed—to shut down the Internet.


According to Oman’s Daily Observer, the spread of broadband in the country since 2007 is “changing the face of the country.” Over this period, the country’s Internet penetration rate has increased from 16.8% to 60%.

From our partners:

  • At Global Voices Advocacy, 7iber’s Reem Al Masri asks: “Why Didn’t Arab ‘Civil Society’ Discuss Human Rights at IGF?”
  • EFF’s Jillian York wrote a piece for Al Jazeera documenting the trend of governments—including Morocco’s—using national security as a justification for repressing online speech.
  • Access has announced that it will be holding its next Silicon Valley Human Rights Summit from March 3-5, 2014. Interested parties can submit sessions for consideration.

Around the region:

  • The Financial Times published a piece demonstrating how Syria, Iran, Israel, and Egypt use social media to distribute state propaganda.
  • Writing at Popehat, blogger Ken White details a year of blasphemy charges around the world. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, Kuwait, and Qatar all feature heavily.
  • The Arab Free Press Forum will be held November 24-26 in Tunis.
  • A report from the Christian Science Monitor states that the Middle East is in the midst of a “Silicon Valley moment,” detailing the rise in tech entrepreneurship throughout the region.
  • Freedom House released its annual Freedom on the Net report, which ranks countries around the world in terms of online rights.
  • The Open Knowledge Foundation has published its Open Data Index, which notes that fundamental public sector data is still lacking across the region.

Digital Citizen is a monthly review of news, policy, and research on human rights and technology in the Arab World.


Bahraini blogger Mohammed Hassan (also known as Safy in the blogosphere and social media) was arrested at his home on July 31 and has been held in detention ever since. Security officers, who did not present a warrant for the blogger’s arrest, seized Hassan’s computer and other electronic gear. On August 7, Hassan was charged with “promoting and inciting hatred against the system, incitement to disobey the law and calling for illegal rallies and gatherings.” His lawyer, AbdulAziz Mousa, tweeted that Hassan had visible marks on his arms, and told a judge that Mohammed had been beaten on his lower back and abdomen. Some 14 hours after sending the tweets, Mousa was arrested and his home raided. Hassan remains in detention, his lawyer is still under arrest.

51 bloggers from around the world issued a statement in solidarity with Hassan, who is also a Global Voices author. The statement read, “Without our fellow blogger Mohammed Hassan and those arbitrarily jailed, our blogging community cannot rest until he is back to his family and friends.” The statement called on the international community and all and bodies dedicated to defending freedoms to “pressure the Bahraini regime and demand the release of Mohammed Hassan.”

Photographer Hussain Hubail, a close friend of Hassan’s, was also arrested by police at Bahrain’s main airport as he was attempting to board a flight to Dubai. Photographer Qassim Zainaldeen from the village of Diraz in the north was arrested on August 2. Police confiscated all of his electronic equipment.

Erin Kilbride, an American teaching in Bahrain, was deported for posting “radical” statements on Twitter and other online platforms. Her posts reportedly “incited hatred against the government and members of the royal family,” according to Bahrain’s Ministry of State for Communications. The Ministry also said an investigation found that Kilbride worked “illegally as an unaccredited journalist,” a violation of her visa. Erin Kilbride is editor for Muftah, a MENA region think tank and policy blog.

On July 31, Bahrain Watch released a 93-page report “The IP Spy Files: How Bahrain’s Government Silences Anonymous Online Dissent” documenting the government’s attempt to track down and prosecute anonymous Twitter accounts by using IP spy links — links that can be used to identify the IP address of a user who clicks on the link. The report said that since October 2012, authorities have jailed eleven people for allegedly posting tweets that were deemed insulting to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
In an effort to silence anti-government protests, the Bahraini government targeted citizen journalists ahead of promised demonstrations on August 14.


Tunisian interim president Moncef Marzouki pardoned 343 prisoners and issued a special pardon to 20 other prisoners on the occasion of Eid.

Although his defense lawyers filed for a presidential pardon, Tunisian netizen Jabeur Mejri was not included in this group. Mejri was found guilty on charges of “publishing material liable to cause harm to public order or good morals”, “insulting others through public communication networks” and “assaulting public morals” for posting Prophet Muhammad cartoons on Facebook. He is serving a seven-and-a-half-year sentence. His friend Ghazi Beji was also convicted of the same charges for publishing a satirical book, The Illusion of Islam, on the document-sharing website Scribd. He has since fled the country to avoid prosecution, and has been granted asylum in France.


Five publications whose websites were recently blocked by the Jordanian government—AmmanNet, JO24, Ain News, Khabar Jo, and All of Jo—have filed a lawsuit against the government challenging the legality of the procedure by which the ban was imposed and the constitutionality of the nation’s amended press law.


The Internet has often been referred to by the media as Syria’s second battleground. Users discussing Syria on social media have begun to attract trolls, while the Syrian Electronic Army has engaged in a wide range of attacks, from hacking major websites to going after VoIP apps Viber and Tango. In a new twist, Jabhat Al Nusra—a rebel group deemed a terrorist organization by both the US and the UN—has reportedly banned its followers from engaging in clashes on social media.

While Jabhat Al Nusra may not wish to engage in online battle, the Syrian Electronic Army continues to up their targets: On August 27, they gained control of the New York Times domain name through the publication’s domain name registrar and defaced the site.


In June it was reported that numerous gambling websites were no longer accessible in Lebanon. Telecommunications Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui sent a tweet explaining that the sites were blocked in accordance with a 1995 law that gives Casino du Liban a monopoly over gambling in the country.


An August report from Al-Monitor says that Hamas monitors Facebook activism and has used its findings to interrogate local activists. In an interview with the news site, a pseudonymous activist from Gaza called Youssef stated that authorities had asked him for his Facebook, Twitter, and email passwords during an interrogation regarding his participation in a youth political movement.


Egypt’s Administrative Court has ruled against banning pornography sites in the country. The issue dates back to 2009, when the Supreme Administrative Court declared a ban on pornographic websites. The ban was never implemented, prompting former President Mohamed Morsi to reissue his call for the ban. Lawyer Ibrahim El-Salamony responded to his call by challenging the ban in court, reportedly arguing that marriage burdens and high unemployment had led many young men to use the sites. A lawyer for the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression stated that implementing a ban would be “a waste of public money.”


In early August, before Eid celebrations marking the end of Ramadan, Amir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah pardoned a number of activists convicted of “insulting” him on Twitter. According to news reports, authorities released ten individuals. Since June 2012, authorities have prosecuted many online activists and opposition politicians for “insulting the Amir” in speeches and on Twitter. The Amir pardoned only people whose cases had been reviewed by the court of appeal and the court of cassation.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi activist Iman Al-Qahtani, who has come under fire for live-tweeting court proceedings, was denied the right to travel outside of Saudi Arabia in mid-July. The BBC reports that barring individuals from foreign travel is a common punishment for those believed to be stirring political unrest.

Activist Raif Badawi was charged with violating Saudi Arabia’s cybercrime law and sentenced in July to 600 lashes and seven years in prison. Badawi, the founder of the Free Saudi Liberals website, was found guilty of insulting Islam on his website and in comments made on television. The court added three months to his term for “parental disobedience.”

Seven Facebook users were jailed in late June for posting information about protests on Facebook and sentenced to between five and ten years in prison. The harshest sentence was imposed on Abd al-Hamid al-Amer, who was accused of founding two Facebook groups through which he allegedly “conscripted others to join the movements.”


The UAE’s Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRA) sent a letter to German hosting provider Hetzner Online AG demanding that the website of newspaper Al Watan be shut down based on claims that is registered to the ‘Global Muslim Brotherhood Union.’ Al Watan—a news organization based in the United States—reports candidly and often critically on domestic Emirati affairs, presenting a sharp contrast to local media. This effort by the TRA to regulate content outside its borders comes after a 2012 ‘Cybercrime Decree’ that outlawed the use of technology to criticize the government and has since effectively silenced local critique. Al Watan publisher Nezam Mahdawi criticized the government, saying “if you criticize human rights violations in the UAE, the authorities label you Muslim Brotherhood.” Hetzner Online AG has not yet responded to the TRA’s request.


Social Media Exchange has published a case study (available only in Arabic) on the Iraq Cyber Crime Law, which was revoked earlier this year. The case study is part of SMEX’s “In the Organizers’ Eyes” series and looks at the social movement that has opposed the bill.


Human rights activist Saeed Jaddad is facing charges of “undermining the status and prestige of the state,” allegedly for his calls for political and social reform in the Gulf state. In 2012, the government of Oman convicted and sentenced 35 activists to prison for crimes such as “defaming the Sultan,” “illegal gathering,” and defying the country’s cybercrime law through social media postings.


In a wave of pardons issued on Morocco’s Throne Day, King Mohammed VI pardoned Spanish pedophile Daniel Galvan, who was convicted of raping eleven children in 2011. The pardon sparked an unprecedented online campaign of outrage on Twitter under the hashtag #DanielGate, one of the rare hashtags to originate in Morocco and succeed in trending globally.The online campaign was followed by large, ultimately violent demonstration in Rabat, followed by another in Casablanca. The king rescinded his pardon in response to the protest, and Spanish authorities arrested Galvan, who had fled to Spain upon his release from prison.

Other News:

  • Arabian Business published a report on Internet freedom in the region.
  • Numerous groups throughout the region have signed on to a set of principles on the application of human rights to communications surveillance.
  • SMEX is mapping laws that affect Internet users in six countries across the Arab world.
  • A new book on start-ups in the MENA Region, Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East, was released. An interview with author Christopher M. Schroeder appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books.

This month’s report was researched, edited, and written by Afef Abrougui, Hisham Almiraat, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Amine ElKamel, Mariwan Hama, Wafa Ben Hassine, Katherine Maher, and Jillian C. York.

This month’s report was researched, edited, and written by Reem Al Masri, Hisham AlMiraat, Nadim Kobeissi, Katherine Maher, Mohamad Najem, Mohammed Tarakiyee, and Jillian York with editorial assistance from Ellery Biddle.


In early June, not long after the Dead Sea edition of the World Economic Forum and the International Press Institute’s annual conference wrapped up, Jordanian authorities finally initiated the ban on unlicensed news sites that activists had feared would come. According to Jordanian media organization 7iber, amendments made to the Press and Publications Law in September 2012 required Jordanian news websites to register with authorities or face censorship. The amendments also included articles that would “hold online news sites accountable for the comments left by their readers, prohibiting them from publishing comments that are deemed “irrelevant” or “unrelated” to the article,” a change that caused several sites to turn off their comments sections.

The ban initiated in June encompassed more than 300 sites, including several that fall outside of the parameters of the regulation, including Al Jazeera (based in Qatar) and Penthouse Magazine. On July 1, 7iber found its own website added to the list, and stated on Facebook:

If the Press and Publication Department decided that needs to get licensed – which is against all their public statements about blogs – they were supposed to officially inform us of this decision and give us 90 days before blocking the website, according to their law (Article 49, paragraphs A-1, and A-2).

7iber was blocked today by a simple memo from the Press and Publication Department to the Telecom Regulatory Commission, which in turn gave its directives to ISPs. This happened without any due process or formal notification to 7iber, in yet another demonstration that this law serves as a tool for the government to arbitrarily stifle freedom of expression online.

The Jordan Open Source Association (JOSA) has spoken out against the ban, stating:

JOSA calls on the government to reverse its decision, and to review the modified Press and Publications law, and has implored decision makers to preserve the integrity and the inherent openness of the Internet, keeping it free of all forms of censorship and surveillance.

JOSA has also published a helpful infographic detailing the history of Jordanian Internet censorship.

Several Jordanian groups are making a concerted effort to fight back against the new regulations. 7iber has issued a guide to circumventing the blocks, while a collective has begun work on the Jordanian Internet Charter, based on the Brazilian Marco Civil.

Additionally, the Telecom Regulatory Commission sent an informal inquiry to ISPs asking them about their technical ability to block the IM application “Whatsapp,” but later denied any plans to ban its usage.

In other news, the Guardian recently reported that Jordan is amongst the top five countries surveilled under the NSA’s Boundless Informant program.


In June, Tunisia played host to the third meeting of the Freedom Online Coalition, a coalition of governments formed in 2011 committed to respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The conference was the third in a series, with the first two held in The Hague and Nairobi, respectively.

Leading up to the conference, the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI)—which under the Ben Ali regime was the home of the country’s censorship and surveillance apparatus—opened its doors to the public as #404Lab, an innovation and hackerspace. As Jillian York wrote at PBS MediaShift:
“The ATI, once Tunisia’s censorship and surveillance apparatus, has aimed to become the country’s neutral Internet exchange point (IXP), pushing back against numerous attempts over the past couple of years to force it to censor. The ATI’s commitment to openness was made concrete in the run-up to the conference when its doors were opened to hackers to create the #404Lab, a space for innovation. Those present were invited to investigate the 2007-era censorship equipment left over from the Ben Ali regime.”

The conference occurred shortly after the revelation that the United States National Security Agency was conducting widespread surveillance through platforms such as Facebook and Google, making surveillance a hot topic of discussion. From a side event (video) held at Tunisian media organization emerged a statement presented in the final plenary of the conference. The statement, which urged Freedom Online Coalition governments to adopt the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, read in part:

The explosion of digital communications content and information about communications, or “communications metadata,” the falling cost of storing and mining large sets of data, and the provision of personal content through third party service providers make State surveillance possible at an unprecedented scale. Broad collection of such information not only has a chilling effect on free expression and association; it threatens confidence in the internet as a safe platform for personal communications. It is therefore incumbent upon FOC members to extend and defend fundamental rights in ways that respond to this changing environment.

Although the Freedom Online Coalition meeting gave a boost to Tunisia’s burgeoning image as a leading country for online free expression, the country still has a long way to go. Just weeks before the conference, blogger Hakim Ghanmi faced trial for comments he made criticizing the management of a military hospital in the southeastern city of Sfax. And just two days before the conference kicked off, rapper Weld15 was sentenced to two years in prison for a song in which he insulted police; after a formidable international campaign for his freedom, the rapper was released on July 3 and given a suspended sentence of six months in lieu of imprisonment. Article 19 issued a report in July on restrictions to online freedom.


Telecomix released findings that 34 Blue Coat servers “dedicated to intercepting communications and data circulating on the Internet” were operational in Syria as of 22 May. This is not the first time that Blue Coat servers have been found in the embattled country: In 2011, Citizen Lab documented the existence of Blue Coat devices in Syria. As a result of the findings, intermediary Computerlinks was fined for selling devices to Syria, violating U.S. sanctions. Reporters Without Borders has named Blue Coat a corporate “enemy of the Internet,” calling on the company to “explain the presence of 34 of its servers in Syria and their use by the regime to track down its opponents.”

In late May, activists around the world celebrated Bassel Safadi Khartabil’s birthday, the second the Syrian software engineer and open-source enthusiast has spent behind bars. In honor of Bassel’s birthday, Index on Censorship asked his friends to submit birthday messages, which they posted on their blog.


In Lebanon, a popular campaign to ‘take back parliament’ has been organized largely online. The campaigners describe themselves thus:

We are tired of the polarization of March 8/14 and the total disconnect and inefficiency of the Lebanese Parliament from our daily lives. We are tired of sectarianism and its paralyzing effect on social justice demands. We are young and we want to change this country. Odds are, we’re just like you.

The campaign crowdsourced their platform, and used Facebook to mobilize participation.

Frustrated by the statistic that nearly 70% of mobile phones are smuggled into the country, Lebanese officials have instituted a regulation that only phones with International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers registered at the customs office would be able to access local networks.

In other news, an online campaign was started in early June by Ministry of Telecommunication Nicolas Sehnaoui against Ogero GM Abdel Minem Youssef to #FreeTheBandwidth. Youssef held 3 positions between Ogero and the Ministry of telecommunication, and is the decision maker in terms of Internet distribution. In a press release video, Minister Sehnaoui accused Youssef of holding the Internet CAP and not distributing it. Minister Sehnaoui provided numbers to prove that Youssef’s decision is causing a loss of $750,000 per month for the Lebanese Government, in addition to other negative aspects from holding Internet bandwidth CAP.

The online campaign stirred up the Lebanese online sphere for a week, but without any tangible outcome.


In early May, Google took a step toward recognizing Palestine, changing “Palestinian Territories” to “Palestine” across its many platforms. The decision angered Israeli officials, who stated that the company’s action “pushes peace further away.” Google, however, has stuck with its initial decision.

The Internet Society (ISOC) in Palestine has been working to establish the Palestine Internet Exchange Point (PIX), hosted at Birzeit University. Right now, seven out of Palestine’s 11 ISPs have connected as peers, while the Palestinian National Research and Education Network (NREN) will connect universities to the service. In addition, the project recently received equipment from Google to host a copy of their global cache, increasing access speeds to Google services.


In late May, nearly a month before the June 30 protests that resulted in the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, Europe’s Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes met with Egypt’s Telecommunications Minister Atef Helmy to discuss Internet governance. Their resulted in the issuing of a joint statement calling for “openness, inclusiveness, accountability, effectiveness, coherence and respect for applicable laws.” The statement also read:

We agreed that it is of the utmost importance to ensure that the Internet remains an open platform, that all attempts to fragment it into national “Intranets” are resisted and that all discussions and decisions concerning the “rules of the game” are based on a multi-stakeholder approach ensuring openness, inclusiveness, accountability, effectiveness, coherence and respect for applicable laws.

In this context, we agreed that in order to ensure broader participation and diversity in these debates, it is necessary to find “smart” ways to develop capacity and expertise on these complex issues, especially among less-resources stakeholders…

The Egyptian Blog for Human Rights recently published a report on ICT indicators in Egypt. Included in the report is data on the intersections of Internet usage and education, age, and gender.

The Cairo-based Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) has released a legal guide to digital security for Arab human rights activists. The guide emphasizes legal aspects of digital security and offers suggestions on using tools for digital safety.

As in Jordan, leaked information about the NSA’s ‘Boundless Informant’ program shows that Egypt is amongst the top countries under surveillance by the US agency, with 7.6 billion reports on the country allegedly generated by the program. In a report by the Wall Street Journal, Egyptians were said to not be surprised by the program, just “disappointed.”

Coinciding with the June 30 protests that rocked Egypt was the launch of Mada Masr, a new online publication. According to the creators of the site, Mada Masr aims to focus on investigative and data-based reporting. On July 4, the site published a scathing piece by Sherif Elsayed-Ali about the NSA’s global surveillance efforts. In it, Elsayed-Ali writes:

Internet access is integral to human rights because of its importance to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, education, and other widely recognized human rights. It is now clear that internet access, free from unlawful interference, must be protected as a legally enforceable right if our privacy is to mean anything in the 21st century.

We need a dedicated legal instrument that codifies our digital rights and clarifies the obligations of governments and responsibilities of service providers in relation to internet access. This is too important to be left to the whims of unaccountable agencies and repressive regimes.

Lastly, following the ouster of Morsi, the army shut down several Islamist media outlets, prompting a statement signed by seven human rights organizations, including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, and the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre. The organizations state that Egyptian authorities “must respect principles of media freedom as stipulated by international law.”


Qatar, which has generally been the most open of the Gulf States in terms of online speech, has proposed a new cybercrime law that would—among other things—punish anyone who:

…infringes on the social principles or values or otherwise publishes news, photos, audio or visual recordings related to the sanctity of the private and familial life of persons, even if they were true, or infringes on others by libel or slander via the Internet or other information technology means.

Jan Keulen of the Doha Centre for Media Freedom stated that the law “raises questions over why a cybercrime law is now dealing with issues which were initially intended to be covered by the draft media law” and that online freedom of expression should be protected.


So far, 2013 has seen dozens of arrests relating to online speech in the Gulf nation of Kuwait, including the one month imprisonment of the editor of online publication al-Aaan; the imprisonment and deportation of Egyptian blogger Abdullah Aziz al-Baz; and the sentencing to two years in prison of an online activists for remarks made on Twitter. The apparent crackdown has been condemned by Human Rights Watch as well as other organizations.

Most recently, Huda al-Ajmi—a 37-year-old teacher—was handed an 11-year prison sentence for remarks made on Twitter deemed “insulting to the emir and calling for the overthrow of the regime.” The sentence is the longest known sentence for online dissent in Kuwait. Notably, Kuwait is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which it ratified in 1996. The ICCPR protects the right to freedom of expression, including peaceful criticism of public officials.


In early May, the digital rights community rejoiced as Ali Abdulemam—a Bahraini blogger sentenced in absentia in 2011 to 15 years in prison—came out of hiding, making his first public appearance at the Oslo Freedom Forum. Abdulemam’s harrowing escape is detailed in a piece published by The Atlantic.

Global Voices Advocacy conducted an interview with Abdulemam in which the blogger stated that in Bahrain:

The situation is not developing…attacks on peaceful demonstrations continue. There is no moving forward for reforming, or giving the people their universal rights, there [are] no individual rights, there is no freedom of speech, there is no free press. So the situation is just like a state living 200 years back.

In June, it was reported that Bahraini authorities had expressed intent to restrict the use of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services such as Skype and Viber. The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights expressed concern over the move, stating that “these restrictions will contribute in restricting digital rights in Bahrain and will increase the control of Internet users.”

High school student Ali Al Shofa was sentenced to a year in prison for allegedly tweeting insulting comments about Sheikh Hamad Al-Khalifa on the news account @alkawarahnews, which the young man denied. The month prior, six Twitter users were charged with “misusing the right of free expression” and also sentenced to a year in prison.

Saudi Arabia

In early June, popular messaging and VoIP client Viber was blocked in Saudi Arabia following threats from the government to block such clients if they refused to follow “rules and regulatory conditions” (which, according to Wired, is “commonly taken to mean access for the security services to monitor calls and texts”).

In May, security researcher Moxie Marlinspike had reported being contacted by Saudi telecom Mobily and asked for help with a surveillance project being undertaken in the country. Marlinspike, who refused, published the email exchange on his website.

On June 24, seven citizens were convicted of “inciting protests” and “harming public order” on Facebook and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 5 to 10 years. The men were held in pre-trial detention for a year and a half at the General Investigations Prison in Damman.


The United Arab Emirates has also gone after Twitter users recently, sentencing Abdullah al Haddidi to ten months in prison for “spreading false news” about an ongoing trial of activists. Al Haddidi was charged with Article 265 of the Penal Code, which essentially criminalizes the dissemination of false news, with police and courts determining what communication is “truthful.”

In another case, Salah Yafie, a Bahraini national, was allegedly detained at Dubai International Airport for a “controversial” tweet. Little has been reported about Yafie, but a recent article from Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News reports that human rights groups in the country are urging Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry to secure Yafie’s release.


Iran, which according to reports has been plotting to cut itself off from the world’s Internet, has reportedly offered its services to Iraq for the same. Earlier this year, Iraq revoked the controversial proposed Cyber Crime Law, showing initiative to protect the open Internet.

The Iraq Network for Social Media, which was instrumental in campaigning to revoke the Cyber Crime Law, is working to organize the first conference for Iraqi bloggers.


According to Zawya, Oman ranks second highest amongst GCC countries in terms of smart phone usage. The same report found a 2,000 percent increase in Internet usage in the region.

Blogger Diab Al Amiri was reportedly detained in late May, but released just two days later pending formal charges. No further information has been reported on his case.


Morocco will soon be launching 4G services. According to recent reports, the National Telecommunications Regulatory Agency (ANRT) will invite bids for 4G licences by year’s end. Morocco already boasts nearly 50 percent Internet penetration.

In other news, the first online community radio project was launched in June in Morocco. The project, called E-Joussour, will reportedly function as an advocacy tool for free expression and will offer broadcasts in Amazigh, Arabic, and French.


In Mauritania, where only an estimated 3 percent of the population has access to the Internet, a hacking community has emerged. A recent report from Lebanon’s Daily Star profiled hacker Mauritania Attacker, who “[targets] websites worldwide in the name of Islam.”

Deutsche Welle’s Best of Blogs competition has yielded a winner this year from Mauritania. Ahmed Ould Jedou, who is a contributor to Global Voices, won this year’s award for ‘Best Arabic Blog.’ In a recent interview, Jedou stated that: “Blogging for me is a space for electronic resistance and for the spread of a culture of human rights. It is the victory of humanity and stands in the face of tyranny…”


Recent research found that devices made by Blue Coat—an American company—have been found in Sudan, possibly in violation of US sanctions. The devices, which can be used for monitoring network traffic, have also been found in Iran, Syria, and other countries.

Popular blogger Amir Ahmad Nasr (formerly known by the pseudonym ‘Sudanese Thinker’) has released his first book, entitled My Islam: How Fundamentalism Stole My Mind—and Doubt Freed My Soul. Nasr was the subject of a recent Wall Street Journal piece.


A report by Good Governance Africa details Internet censorship and social activism in Algeria which—although its Internet penetration rate is nearly 15 percent—is rarely reported on in this space.


Yemen recently launched a satellite Internet service that will provide access to previously unconnected villages in the country. The country’s Internet penetration currently sits at around 14.9 percent.

In other news:

  • A recent study conducted by Northwestern University in Qatar found that support for online free expression in the Middle East and North Africa is widespread. An analysis of the report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) tackles some of the apparent contradictions in the Northwestern report’s findings.
  • A new report from Hivos entitled “Internet Governance: The quest for an open Internet in the Middle East and North Africa” [PDF] looks at the state of Internet governance in six countries: Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, and Tunisia.
  • A new UNESCO report looks at how ICTs are being used in education across five Arab countries: Egypt, Jordan, Oman, Palestine (West Bank only) and Qatar.
  • The 4th edition of the Arab Social Media Forum was held in Ramallah, Palestine on June 8, 2013.
  • The second Arab Internet Governance Forum (Arab IGF) will be held this autumn in Algiers.