Volume 2.0 11/04/14
Egyptian activist Alaa Abd El Fattah was released from prison on bail in September. In June, Alaa was sentenced to 15 years in jail under Egypt’s infamous anti-protest law. Abd El Fattah has been jailed or investigated under every Egyptian head of state who has served during his lifetime.
Digital Citizen is a monthly review of news, policy, and research on human rights and technology in the Arab World.
Egyptian activist Alaa Abd El Fattah was released from prison on bail in September. In June, Alaa was sentenced to 15 years in jail under Egypt’s infamous anti-protest law. Abd El Fattah has been jailed or investigated under every Egyptian head of state who has served during his lifetime.
On October 27, Alaa was once again detained along with 19 other activists, pending his retrial, which has been scheduled to take place on November 11. His sister, Sanaa Seif, also remains in prison. Their mother, Laila Soueif, and sister, Mona Seif, have commenced a dry hunger strike until they are released.
On September 1, an Algerian court confirmed Youcef Ould Dada’s two-year jail sentence for posting a video that shows police officers committing a robbery during violent unrest in the town of Guerrara. He was also ordered to pay a fine of 100.000 Algerian Dinars. Ould Dada was convicted of “making available to the public content that is likely to harm national interest” and “affront to a constitutional body” under articles 96 and 146 of the Algerian Penal Code.
Bahrain has been tightening its grip on freedom of expression by revoking the citizenship of activists and pro-democracy campaigners. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) stated that the tactic “is used to deprive [activists] of their right to freedom of expression and to form peaceful gatherings to claim self-determination.”
Ghada Jamsheer, President of the Women’s Petition Committee (WPC), was arrested on defamation charges related to comments she made on Twitter about corruption at King Hamad University Hospital. Jamsheer’s blog has been blocked in Bahrain since at least 2009.
Prominent human rights activist Maryam Al-Khawaja is awaiting trial after being released from prison on Sept. 18. Al-Khawaja was arrested on Aug. 30 when she traveled to Bahrain from Denmark, where she currently resides, to visit her jailed father, prominent human rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja.
A Bahraini court upheld five-year jail terms for nine persons including photographer Hussain Hubail and activist Jassim al-Nuaimi for promoting the overthrow of the regime “through illegal means via media and social networks.”
In mid-September, BuzzFeed published an exclusive report claiming that See Egypt, a sister company of the U.S.-based Blue Coat, has begun monitoring Egyptians’ online communications “on an unprecedented scale.”
Following BuzzFeed’s report, the Egyptian Ministry of Interior denied that it had signed a contract with SEE Egypt to monitor social media. At the same time, BlueCoat issued a statement distancing itself from SEE Egypt and denying that it is reselling surveillance products to the Egyptian government.
“SEE Egypt is a Blue Coat reseller, but is not otherwise affiliated with Blue Coat,” the company said in a statement provided to Mashable. “See Egypt has assured us that they have not bid or resold Blue Coat products to the Egyptian government for any social network monitoring operation.”
The blog a paper bird provides additional insight into Egypt’s surveillance apparatus, while another article from Egyptian lawyer Ahmed Ezzat claims that “by implementing this mass surveillance project, the Egyptian government is not only violating Egyptian laws concerning privacy, it is actually violating the Constitution itself.”
Activist Mahienour El-Masry was released from prison in September after spending 125 days in jail for taking part in a protest.
An administrative court announced that it will hear a lawsuit to ban Facebook and Twitter because they are not registered in Egypt.
In September, it was reported that the NSA assisted Israel’s military intelligence in collecting information on Palestinians to be used for blackmail and political persecution. The NSA has always worked closely with Unit 8200, Israel’s intelligence unit specializing in signals intelligence (SIGINT).
In response to the news, 43 veterans of Unit 8200 have decided to step down. Agents interviewed by the Guardian disclosed disturbing information about targeting “innocent people unconnected to any military activity.” Agents were explicitly asked to retain any embarrassing and extremely personal information that could be used to blackmail subjects in the future.
Palestinian Intelligence Services arrested Mujahed Al-Sa’di and Bara’ Al-Qadi for their social media related activities. Al-Sa’di, a producer at Filisteen Al-Yaum TV, was arrested by the Palestinian Intelligence Services on September 19 before being released the following day. He told the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) that he was arrested for insulting and accusing a Fatah member of treason on Facebook.
Social media activist Mahmoud Al Qadi, the head of Birzeit University Media Club was arrested on September 14. He is accused of defaming the public authority in posts he published on social networking sites and websites such as Al-Quds and Wattan.
Kuwaiti blogger Mohammed Al-Ajmi, better known by the blog name of Abo3asam, was released on Sept. 4 after being held for a week. He was however charged with blasphemy over a tweet dating back to August 11 and he is pending trial. In the tweet, Al-Ajmi criticized the Salafist group Al-Jamiya and accused its members of blindly following its religious leader, Hamad al-Uthman.
Authorities in Kuwait issued an arrest warrant for novelist Rania al-Saad. The warrant was issued after the Kuwaiti Ministry of Foreign Affairs filed a report against the novelist accusing her of “insulting Saudi Arabia” on Twitter.
Blogger Ralph Aoun posted a leaked government document proving that Lebanon blocked 6 porn websites. The sites were blocked without due process or transparency, and reflected a lack of understanding of the difference between consensual adult pornography and child sexual abuse imagery. Several Lebanese bloggers, including Mustapha Hamoui, expressed frustration with the lack of due process in the government’s decision.
Eighteen-year-old Benghazi blogger and journalist Tawfiq Bensaud was shot dead on Sept. 19, along with 17-year-old activist Sami Al-Kawafi. IBTimes described Bensaud as “one of Libya’s most prominent voices calling for a civil movement.” According to Reporters Without Borders, Bensaud had been receiving death threats for the preceding two months from the “Shura Council of the Benghazi Revolutionaries,” a coalition of radical Islamist militias, which had reportedly compiled a list of journalists and activists to be assassinated that included the young blogger.
On Sept. 15, a new cybercrime law went into force despite assertions by the prime minister last year that the proposed law would not restrict freedom of expression. Law 14/2014 contains broad, restrictive provisions that threaten freedom of expression and the press, which are ostensibly protected in the Qatari constitution. The bill threatens prison sentences and levees significant fines on those convicted of spreading false news.
A Saudi court of appeal upheld Raif Badawi’s conviction of “insulting Islam” and confirmed a 10-year prison sentence issued by the Jeddah Criminal Court on May 7. Founder of “Saudi Liberals,” a website discussing the role of religion in the conservative kingdom, Badawi was also sentenced to 1000 lashes. According to Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar, Saudi authorities may soon implement the lashing verdict against her husband.
The Saudi Interior Ministry forced human rights defender and blogger Mikhlif Al-Shammari to shut down his Twitter account. According to the Gulf Center for Human Rights, authorities summoned Al-Shammari and forced him to sign a pledge to shut down his Twitter account.
Some courses on the online education platform Coursera are now accessible for Sudan residents after the online educational course provider recently obtained a license from the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) granting them permission to offer courses in Sudan and Cuba. The OFAC license prohibits Coursera from offering certain advanced courses in science, technology, engineering and math.
On Sept. 18, Nuba Reports, a news website covering the Sudanese war-torn states of South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur suffered “a massive DDoS attack” shortly after the screening of a documentary film on Khartoum’s war on Sudan at the 7th meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Authorities arrested pro-Assad activist Mudar Khadur after he launched a social media campaign calling for information on the fate of soldiers at three military bases overrun by militants by the violent extremist group known as ISIS in July and August of 2014. Khadur launched the “Eagles of Tabqa Military Airport” and #Waynun (Where are they) campaigns, both of which directly criticized defense minister Fahd Jassem al-Freij.
Tunisia’s telecom industry regulator, the National Instance of Telecommunications (INT) denied plans to block VoIP services. The statement was issued in response to media reports suggesting that VoIP services like Skype and Viber would soon be blocked for 3G users, but would remain accessible for customers who subscribe to forthcoming special packages that do not restrict the use of VoIP.
In a separate statement (link in Arabic), the Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies hinted that such a move would violate the principle of network neutrality guaranteed under Article 26 of the Telecommunications Law.
Tunisia’s three main mobile providers (link in French) will soon stop offering the free service Facebook Zero. Many Tunisians who cannot afford smartphones or 3G subscriptions access the largest networking site through this service that groups like Access and EFF have said violate the principles of net neutrality. The plans are yet to be approved by the INT.
On Sept. 23, three members of the collective blog Nawaat—including its co-founder Sami Ben Gharbia—were briefly apprehended for “unauthorized filming”, as they were covering the trial of a comedian in the northernmost city of Bizerte.
Jabeur Mejri, a blogger who was jailed in 2012 for posting prophet Muhammad cartoons on Facebook, was threatened with death (link in French) by another prisoner. Though he was released from jail in March after obtaining an amnesty from president Moncef Marzouki, Mejri was sentenced again to eight months imprisonment in April for allegedly insulting a court clerk.
United Arab Emirates
Following media reports that authorities had blocked messaging app Viber, the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority said that Viber has never been licensed in the UAE and that only two telecom operators, Etisalat and Du, are licensed to provide VOIP services.
After spending six months in pre-trial detention, human rights activist Osama Al-Najjar appeared before the State Security Court at the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi on Sept. 23 for his first hearing. Al-Najjar is charged with “belonging to a banned group”, “offending and inciting hatred against the state via social media” and “passing information to foreign organisations.” Prior to his arrest, he advocated for better prison conditions and reported about poor treatment in detention. Al-Najjar’s father is one of 94 Emiratis jailed for “attempting to overthrow the government” and is currently serving an 11-year jail sentence.
A new law on the Right of Access to Information, adopted last July, “fails to adequately recognise the right to information and threatens free expression,” according to human rights advocacy group Article 19. The group wrote that the new draft is weaker than previous versions: It abandons the establishment of an independent commission and provides for criminal penalties for anyone who makes an “incorrect” statement when requesting information, the unauthorized use or reuse of information, or for “tampering” with it once it is released.
In other news:
- New research about Internet attitudes in the Arab region focusing on privacy and safety online and attitudes towards the acceptability of online censorship may have important implications for public policy in the MENA region.
- GISWatch has released its annual report, entitled “Communications Surveillance in the Digital Age.” The report includes chapters from Digital Citizen contributors Afef Abrougui, Jillian C. York, and Access.
From our partners:
- A Global Voices exclusive report looks at the sale of targeted surveillance technology by German companies to human rights-violating countries.
- EFF has launched Surveillance Self-Defense, a “guide to defending yourself and your friends from surveillance by using secure technology and developing careful practices.” The guide is currently available in English, Arabic, and Spanish.
- SMEX re-published in Arabic its aggregation of laws in the region affecting digital rights. The group invites interested individuals from around the region to contribute.
- EFF published a piece looking at the impact of the Internet on countries where books are often banned, with a special focus on Sudan.
- The Arab Internet Governance Forum will be held in Beirut Nov. 26-27.
Volume 1.9 10/27/14
In this volume, we look at the recent arrest of Bahraini activist Maryam Alkhawaja, a leaked cybercrime draft in Tunisia, and much more.
Leading Bahraini human rights defender Maryam Alkhawaja was detained on August 30 upon landing in the island kingdom to visit her ailing imprisoned father, also a prominent rights advocate, who had begun a hunger strike the week prior. In a piece for The Guardian, journalist Sara Yasin wrote of her friend:
“At 26, Maryam is the sort of woman that dictators have nightmares about: she is one of the most prominent voices condemning Bahrain’s ongoing human rights violations, which have only continued in the years following a brutal crackdown on popular protests in February 2011.”
Maryam Al Khawaja
Photo by Andy Carvin, CC-BY-SA 2.0
Following her detention, Alkhawaja—a dual Danish-Bahraini citizen—had her passport confiscated. On September 6, it was reported that her detention had been extended for an additional ten days for further investigation.
In July, the anonymous owner of the Twitter account @Takrooz was detained by Bahraini authorities on charges of “inciting hatred against the regime” and “using expressions that incite sectarianism.” Bahrain News Watch reported that @Takrooz was a frequent target of the Bahraini Cyber Crime Unit, which sent him malicious links.
Documents leaked in early August by the anonymous Twitter account @GammaGroupPR have confirmed previously-made allegations that the Bahraini government is using FinFisher spyware sold by Gamma International—a German-British surveillance company—to spy on activists and politicians. According to the same documents, the Bahraini government spied on two members of its own fact-finding commission put in place to investigate human rights violations.
A new telecommunications law approved last May calls for the creation of a Commission for Mass Communications and Information Technology that will be tasked with granting (and rescinding) operating licenses to telecom companies and monitoring social media content. The law also gives unspecified “competent authorities” the right to suspend service for reasons of “national security.”
Communication Law 37/2014 further prescribes harsh prison sentences for users who create or send messages that are “immoral” or “harm public order”, but also holds communication service providers liable for the dissemination of such messages. Human Rights Watch slammed the law, charging that it appeared as if it had been “designed to give prosecuting authorities even wider legal authorization for violating Kuwaitis’ right to free speech.”
These legal restrictions come as Kuwait continues to target social media commenters and users for expressing themselves online. On August 26, authorities detained satirist and human rights activist Abo Asam for posting a tweet “in contempt of religion.” According to Al Jazeera English, twenty-four year-old Hamad al-Naqi was also convicted of insulting Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, as well as spreading false information that was deemed to have tarnished Kuwait’s image abroad.
On September 15, Egyptian blogger and activist Alaa Abd El Fattah was released from prison on bail following a ruling by the Cairo Criminal Court. Abd El Fattah was sentenced in June to 15 years imprisonment for allegedly violating the country’s controversial anti-protest laws. Two weeks after his sentencing, Alaa’s sister, Sanaa Seif, was one of 23 activists arrested for protesting against the restrictions on protests.
The presiding judge recused himself from Abd El Fattah’s case after an incident in early September, in which the prosecution presented a video depicting Manal Hassan, Abd El Fattah’s wife, dancing. Taken from Hassan’s laptop, which confiscated by police when Abd El Fattah was arrested and taken from his family’s home in November of 2013, the video bore no discernible relationship with his political activities. In another twist on September 15, the judge ordered that the aforementioned video be presented to the prosecutor general and placed under investigation for violating Abd El Fattah’s privacy.
In August, the Media Legal Defence Initiative and Electronic Frontier Foundation petitioned the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to take all necessary steps to secure his immediate release. On August 26, after visiting his ailing father—renowned human rights lawyer Ahmed Seif—in the hospital, Abd El Fattah announced that he would be going on hunger strike. Seif passed away three days later. Shortly thereafter, other members of the extended family announced they too would be going on hunger strike. The “Down With Egypt’s Protest Laws” Tumblr has been set up to serve as a platform for disseminating information related to the draconian protest law, which requires demonstrators to obtain state permission prior to convening for protest.
An Egyptian Coptic youth was arrested on June 24 for defaming Islam on social media. The court of Armant sentenced the 19-year-old defendant, Kirolos Shawqy Attalah to six years in prison, along with a fine of LE6,000 ($US840) for posting photos that defame Islam on his Facebook page. The court sentenced Attalah to three years for “contempt of religion” and another three for “stirring up sectarian strife.” The verdict comes amidst increasing tensions of sectarian strife that have caused disorder in the town of Armant. Reports mentioned that angry assailants threw stones at Attalah’s home, while some shops owned by Coptic Christians were also targeted in attacks. Attalah’s lawyers may seek to overturn the verdict and ask for a reduced sentence. A report from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights states that 27 defendants were convicted on charges of defaming religion between 2011 and 2013.
Culture and social blog Cairo Scene revealed that Egyptian authorities are targeting the country’s LGBT community using dating applications like Grindr, in parallel with a recent crackdown that has resulted in the arrests of hundreds of gay and lesbian Egyptians in recent months. The website Gay Egypt warned users to avoid posting personal information or pictures on applications these sites. For its own part, Grindr advised users to be “extremely careful”. A spokesman told users, “remember, we are gay and we are in Egypt.”
Dar-al-ifta, Egypt’s primary authority responsible for issuing religious edicts, has issued a fatwa (religious edict) prohibiting chats between men and women “who are foreign to each other” except in “cases of necessity.” The edict also prohibits women from sending photos to people they don’t know.
Data scientist Tarek Amr has developed a quick guide on how to bypass the effects of Egypt’s proposed plan to ramp up digital surveillance. The guide suggests innovative ways of making it harder for Egyptian authorities to understand publicly posted content.
The Moroccan government recently approved Law 31-13, which establishes a set of standards governing access to public information. The law was adopted in accordance with chapter 27 of the 2011 constitution, which classifies access to information “within the essential rights and freedoms that ought to be respected.” Speech rights advocacy groups including Article19 have criticized the law, saying that it does not provide an adequate framework to fulfill its intended purpose and that its definition of public data is too narrow. Media freedom advocates also have pointed out that the government’s progress on the issue (albeit three years late) appears suspect, given the steady decline in rights protections for journalists that the country has seen for over a year.
Egypt yielded to pressure from Iraq’s Maliki government and closed down three Egypt-based Iraqi TV stations, Al-Baghdadiya, Al-Rafidin, and Al-Hadath. The Iraqi communications ministry filed a complaint to the Egyptian production company hosting the TV stations and accused them of broadcasting reports that “attack the security forces and Iraqi national unity.” On June 16, plain-clothes Iraqi security forces raided Al-Baghdadiya’s TV studios and used violence against the station’s security guards.
The shutdowns come amidst turmoil in Iraq that has endangered on freedom of speech online and offline. Journalists and social media users have been the victims of increased intolerance and censorship. The Iraqi government has already shut down access to most social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook as well as WhatsApp, Instagram and Youtube in order to keep extremist Sunnis from building support online. A Citizen Lab report looks at the extent of current Iraqi information controls.
In the wake of advancements from the Islamic State (IS)—which has been savvy in its use of social media—US-based social networks such as Twitter and Facebook have struggled with whether to censor graphic content. While in some cases the social networks have chosen to suspend accounts, such regulation has been inconsistent at times. In a piece for Slate, Digital Citizen contributor Jillian York asks if censoring the group online could backfire.
The Jordanian government tightened its grip on online content this summer. While still issuing blocking orders for websites that fail to get licensed, it also announced plans to begin monitoring online comments supporting the military group ISIS and persecuting its supporters under a new anti-terrorism law. On the other hand, the government has started holding websites accountable for users’ comments according to the 2012 amendments of Press and Publication law. One website owner was fined for publishing false news through users comments, which were considered part of the article, according to the law.
Digital Citizen partner organization 7iber reports that they are “reeling from the latest attempt to silence us.” After their website was first blocked in 2013, the organization found novel ways to get around the ban, including posting full stories to Facebook. In August, after 7iber.org was blocked, the group switched to 7iber.me, which was summarily blocked as well, “clearly signalling that [their] approach of bypassing censorship by switching domains can no longer work.” In their report summarizing the most recent censorship, 7iber also explains why they have not applied for a license and explains that they are “still looking for solutions.”
Resistance Brigades, an armed group affiliated with Hezbollah, attacked Abdel Basset Turjuman, owner of the news website Saida Gate near his home on July 3. According to a statement by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, Turjman was “severely beaten, verbally assaulted, and threatened with sexual abuse,” over the publication of articles critical of the Brigades on Saida Gate.
In a Facebook post, the Lebanese LGBT rights group Helem warned that police are using WhatsApp to target the country’s gay community. According to Helem, police are “summoning contacts from detainees based on their WhatsApp conversations to go down to the police station for questioning.”
After spending roughly a month behind bars, bloggers Noah Saad and Muawiyah Al-Rawahi were released by Omani authorities. They were arrested on July 12 for their online reporting of human rights violations. After Al-Rawahi’s arrest, a photo published on Twitter showed him being held at the psychiatric department of Sultan Qaboos University Hospital.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Al-Rawahi was arrested in connection to a blog post he posted a day before his arrest, in which he described “the persecution of activists and bloggers and the repressive methods used by the Omani security apparatus.” He is known for discussing atheism and criticising Sultan Qaboos on his blog and YouTube channel. No official reason had been given for the arrest of Saad, who was previously detained in September 2012 for criticizing Omani authorities on his blog. Saad was released on August 7 without charge.
Later in August, human rights defender and blogger Mohammed Al-Fazari was arrested and detained for a few days before being released without charge on September 4. According to the Gulf Center for Human Rights, Al-Fazari was summoned by the the General Directorate of Inquiries and Criminal Investigations of the Oman Police in Muscat to discuss “a personal matter.” Al-Fazari, who is the founder and editor of of the online magazine Citizen, was imprisoned in 2012 for illegal assembly, disturbing public order, and violating the cyber-crime law.
This summer’s incursion by Israeli forces in Gaza has resulted in the arrests of scores of Palestinian citizens of Israel. In one case, Rafat Awaisha, a 20-year-old from the south of the country, was arrested after calling on Facebook for demonstrations. He was released on bail on July 3.
Reporters Without Borders—which issued a special report on Palestinian journalists amidst the conflict—concluded that Israeli forces were deliberately attacking news professionals at the height of the conflict. Numerous journalists and media outlets were targets. On June 22, Israeli forces raided the offices of two printing companies in the city of Ramallah: Turbo Computers and Software Co. Ltd and Jeel Publishing Co. Ltd., which publish, respectively, the Palestinian cultural magazine This Week in Palestine and the monthly Filistin Ashabab. Seven computers were seized, dealing a serious blow to the printing of the two magazines.
The attacks taking place on the ground were paralleled by incitement taking place online. In a scathing report published by Digital Citizen partner Global Voices, Dalia Othman alleges that Facebook has been lax about regulating incitement to violence aimed at Palestinians.
Saudi Arabia’s government is alleged to have surveillance software that is intended to target individuals in Qatif, in eastern Saudi Arabia. Qatif has been the location of protests and peaceful dissent that the government condemns. Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemns the government’s crackdown on privacy and freedom of speech and claims that “authorities may now be hacking into mobile phones, turning digital tools into just another way for the government to intimidate and silence independent voices.” The surveillance software is an altered version of an app that provides mobile news in Arabic. This altered version, if installed on a mobile phone, infects the phone with spyware made by the Italian firm Hacking Team.
Hacking Team states that it only sells its products to governments and markets its products for “lawful intercept”. The company told Human Rights Watch that it would suspend technical support for its products for any customer it believed was misusing the technology, yet no official actions have been taken to address this issue.
The NSA expanded its cooperation with Saudi Arabia, according to a report by the Intercept. The report, based on a document leaked by Edward Snowden, shows that the NSA has been providing technical and analytical assistance to Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior. This included highly advanced surveillance technology, despite the US government’s recognition of extensive human rights abuses and torture of activists in the Gulf nation.
A Saudi judge was put on trial for posting tweets of “religious and preaching content,” the Arabic news site aleqt.com reported on July 8. According to a source quoted by Aleqt, the judge violated a royal decree issued on April 16, 2012, which bans judges from “media appearances, talks and participation.”
Lawyer and human rights defender Waleed Abu Al-Khair—who founded the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA)—was sentenced to 15 years in prison on July 6. He was arrested in April on charges of “preparing, storing and transmitting information that undermines public order;” inciting rebellion; “publishing false information with the aim of harming the state”; contempt of court; and “creating an NGO without permission.”
The initial five-year jail term of human rights activist Mukhlif Al-Shammari was upheld on appeal. He was convicted in connection with the many articles he has written and, in particular, a video he posted on YouTube in which two girls described being mistreated, Reporters Without Borders said.
A Gulf Center for Human Rights report published in partnership with Global Voices in July shows seven cases proving that “online activism is under siege in Saudi Arabia.”
On June 17, authorities in Syria blocked local site Syria News. The move came after the National Media Council issued an order requiring media sites in Syria to abide by the media law and register with authorities.
In more positive news, a report from media researchers Enrico de Angelis, Donatella della Ratta, and Yazan Badran demonstrates that despite the odds, media is flourishing in Syria. The researchers found more than 93 online and broadcast radio stations focused on Syria, a stark contrast from the “media desert” that existed prior to the start of the conflict in 2011.
In an in-depth interview with veteran security journalist James Bamford in the August edition of Wired, Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA was responsible for a 2012 Internet outage in Syria. An NSA hacker attempted but failed to install an exploit in one of the core routers of a major Internet service provider in Syria, rendering the router inoperable. At the time, the broad consensus among advocates was that the Syrian government—not the US—was to blame for the near-total blackout.
Vague provisions contained within the leaked cybercrime draft law have begun to threaten user rights and strides achieved by Tunisia in the field of internet freedom over the past three years. The bill has not been submitted to the constituent assembly yet, but has nonetheless raised concerns.
Under Article 24 of the bill, anyone who spreads content “showing obscene acts and assaulting good morals” is subject to six months’ imprisonment. The punishment increases to a three-year jail term if the content in question “incites to immorality.” Publication of content that “damages others’ reputation or prejudice[s] their esteem” is punishable by six years in prison. In addition, hacking activities are punishable by six years in jails and a fine of fifty-thousand Tunisian dinars.
On July 25, the interior ministry announced the arrest of a Facebook page administrator and confiscated his computer. The ministry said that the arrested Facebook user “adopts and spreads Takfiri Salafi-jihadist ideology” and that the page had previously posted comments “that glorify terrorism” and that it “rejected State institutions.”
The arrest came one week after armed Islamist groups waged deadly attacks on Tunisian armed forces leaving fifteen soldiers dead. Following the attack, the government ordered the ICT ministry to “take the necessary precautions to confront social media pages inciting violence and terrorism,” while Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou reiterated his calls for the filtering and monitoring of the Internet.
In August, six more users were arrested for “inciting terrorist acts on social networking sites,” the ministry announced on its Facebook page.
Tunisia’s electoral commission [ISIE] announced on July 10 that remote voter registration had been briefly disrupted by hackers. The commission specified that the attacks disrupted registration via SMS and the commission’s online registration platform. Voter registration processes at physical offices were not affected.
United Arab Emirates
The UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) published white papers on the use of a number of social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and LinkedIn. These “awareness documents,” as described by TRA, “are designed specifically to highlight the terms and conditions of the most popular social networks in use in the United Arab Emirates.”
The UAE has moved to adopt new amendments to its anti-terrorism law providing a death sentence for those found guilty of “terror-related crimes,” such as “attacking and threatening UAE rulers” and “conspiring against the state and government.”
In other news
- A June resolution from the UN Human Rights Council reaffirms that the human rights people enjoy offline, also apply online, including the right to freedom of expression.
- A study by Middle Eastern firm EMC found that Internet users in the Middle East are “more willing to compromise online security for greater convenience than almost anywhere else in the world.”
- The Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government has released its sixth annual Arab Social Media Report [PDF].
- Citizen Evidence Lab, an innovative resource from Amnesty International, provides authentication techniques for human rights researchers.
- Global Information Society Watch 2014 includes a chapter by noted Bahraini activist Ali Abdulemam entitled “The struggle of online activists against surveillance technology.”
From our partners
- The Digital Defenders Partnership (which includes Global Voices and the EFF) has launched a Digital First Aid Kit to help people identify and address digital threats.
- 7iber reports on the Tunisian Pirate Party, embattled blogger Azyz Amami, and intellectual property.
- A 7iber report [ar] looks at Israeli surveillance in Gaza.
- Digital Citizen contributor Jillian York and project co-founder Ramzi Jaber received a Knight News Challenge award for their project, OnlineCensorship.org, which crowdsources instances of censorship on social networks.
- The Arab Internet Governance Forum will take place in Beirut November 26-27.
- 4M will hold a forum in Beirut on social media October 17-19.
Volume 1.8 07/09/14
In This Issue
Digital Citizen is a monthly review of news, policy, and research on human rights and technology in the Arab World. In this report, we look at the ongoing crisis in Iraq and how it is affecting Internet usage, as well as new developments in surveillance in Egypt and Tunisia. We also honor an imprisoned friend.
Leading Egyptian activist Alaa Abd El Fattah is behind bars once again. Convicted of violating Egypt’s protest law and attacking a police officer, the 31-year-old was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison, along with 24 other activists, all found guilty of threatening public order.
Reporting on the case,Reuters called Alaa an “anti-Mubarak activist.” This was true, but incomplete. Alaa is an activist for social justice, dignity, and human rights; anti-Mubarak, but also anti-SCAF, anti-Morsi, and anti-Sisi. His is a voice for freedom and against abuses of power.
He is also a friend and an ally to many members of the Digital Citizen team and broader regional community.
Alaa Abd El Fattah has been jailed or investigated under every Egyptian head of state who has served during his lifetime. In 2006, he was arrested for taking part in a peaceful protest. In 2011, he spent two months in prison, missing his first child’s birth. In 2013, he was arrested and detained for 115 days without trial. Less than three months after his last release, Alaa is now facing 15 years in prison.
Alaa openly acknowledged the toll this would take on his life. In a letter to his family during his most recent detention,he wrote: “It is not only impossible to live life fully under oppression, it is also dangerous and futile to pretend one can. I can only live here as a prisoner.”
The sentences borne by Alaa and the 24 others are the longest yet in astring of crackdowns on freedom of expression, assembly, and opinion. The protest law has been used to jail other prominent activists, including outspoken human rights lawyer Mahienour El-Massry, and April 6 movement founder Ahmed Maher. This month, three Al Jazeera journalists were sentenced to seven and ten years in prison for “reporting false news.” As we edited this edition, it was reported that Alaa’s 20-year-old sister, Sanaa Seif, is facing charges along with human rights lawyer Yara Sallam.
This unjust sentence deprives Alaa of his freedom. It denies his son Khaled his father, his wife Manal her husband. Along with those handed to dozens of other peaceful protesters, lawyers, and journalists, this sentence deprives Egypt of the justice and freedom it so greatly deserves.
At the Digital Citizen, we stand for human rights and freedom. We stand with Alaa and with the many Egyptians unjustly detained under this and other regimes. We call for an end to police brutality, judicial impunity, and the abuse of executive power.Join us. #FreeAlaa.
As reported last month, the Egyptian Ministry of Interior plans to formalize social media surveillance in Egypt. Writing for the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, Ramy Raoof takes on questions and debunks myths about the proposal. “Monitoring should take place over a limited period of time and focus on a specific set of issues or individuals posing a legitimate threat to safety,” he writes. Digital security expert and advocate Amr Gharbeia called the proposal “Orwellian,” stating that it would further empower the already-authoritarian state while Privacy International said the proposal would “[turn] social media in Egypt into an intelligence resource for the authorities.”
On June 17, a coalition of human rights groups and individuals filed a lawsuit in the Administrative Court to put a stop to [ar] the Ministry of Interior’s tender to procure software for social media monitoring.
The surveillance proposal is merely one piece of a broader crackdown. Three journalists with Al Jazeera English were sentenced to 15 years in jail on charges of making a “devilish pact” with the ousted Muslim Brotherhood. Prosecutors charged Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohammed of smearing Egypt’s reputation, aiding the Brotherhood, and falsifying footage. Another Al Jazeera journalist, Abdullah al-Shamy, was released June 17 after being imprisoned since August 2013.
Amid a security crisis, the embattled Iraqi government blocked Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. A a leaked document from the Iraqi Ministry of Telecommunications revealed that ISPs were ordered to shut down the Internet in five provinces and to block the leading social media platforms countrywide, all in an attempt to stop ISIS militants from using social media to spread propaganda.
Jillian York told the BBC: “The Iraqi government will not achieve anything by blocking social media websites…in doing so, they’re cutting off a lifeline for activists and others to the outside world.” the embattled Iraqi government blocked Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Citizen Lab released a report documenting how the Internet is being controlled amidst the ISIS insurgency.
In response to the alleged kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, a Facebook page emerged entitled “Until our boys are returned – we will kill a terrorist every hour.” The page, which is in Hebrew and displays photographs of specific individuals calling for their execution, has sparked outrage from many who believe that Facebook gives preferential treatment to users from Israel, in contrast to those from Palestine. In 2011, the company took down a page calling for a third intifada (uprising) after Israeli officials complained that it incited violence against Jewish people.
Facebook’s Community Standards state: “We remove content and may escalate to law enforcement when we perceive a genuine risk of physical harm, or a direct threat to public safety. You may not credibly threaten others, or organize acts of real-world violence…” Facebook has not commented publicly on whether the page violates their standards.
Kuwait plans to pass laws aimed at regulating the use of social media and giving authorities the power to block websites, monitor phone calls, and terminate phone lines for “security reasons.” A single tweet violating the law could send a Twitter user to jail for a year. Authorities claim these new measures will be used to combat cases of alleged blasphemy and sectarianism as well as ensure national security.
Kuwait’s Supreme Court sentenced online activist Hejab Al Hajeri to two years in jail for writing tweets that were allegedly offensive to the country’s Emir, Sheikh Sabah al Ahmad Al Sabah. The verdict came amid unrest in the region, prompting the Kuwaiti government to tighten its grip on freedom of expression. Al Hajeri is not alone however; there have been reports of several other cases such as the woman who was sentenced to11 years in prison for remarks she made on Twitter. Al Hajeriwrote on this Twitter account after the ruling that his “determination is bigger than their jail.”
The climate is getting more dangerous for media workers in Libya. This month an editor and a journalist were killed within three days of each other. Muftah Buseid, editor of the state-owned newspaper Burniq and a vocal critic of extremist groups, was gunned down shortly after receiving a death threat. Three days after the shooting, Naseeb Miloud Karfana, a TV journalist with the state-run Libya Al-Wataniya, was found dead along with her fiancé.
Ali Anouzla, the Lakome editor facing terrorism charges for linking to a blog post that linked to a video posted by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), “continues to be targeted by the justice system seven months after his conditional release,” writes Reporters Without Borders. Anouzla was scheduled to appear in front of a judge in late May, but his hearing was postponed indefinitely, reportedly because the scheduled judge was on vacation. Lakome’s English and Arabic editions both remain blocked in the country.
Reports that authorities are targeting members of the February 20 movement—that emerged in 2011 amidst the regional uprisings—abound. Movement leaders used digital media to gain widespread attention in 2011, but faltered amid crackdowns.
El Haqed (aka I7a9ed), a rapper and icon of the movement, was arrested on May 18 and remains in detention. Visit the campaign site for his release.
Working from information leaked by Edward Snowden, the Register revealed the existence of a spy hub located on the northern coast of Oman and operated by Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).
GCHQ has three spy bases located in Oman, “where it taps into various undersea cables passing through the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian/Arabian Gulf,” the Register’s Duncan Campbell reported on June 3. These “above-top-secret” details were not known to the public until recently, due to government pressure on media organizations reporting on the Snowden files, the Register said.
Lawyer and fundamental rights defender Waleed Abu Al-Khair was charged on May 28 under the Anti-Cyber Crime Law for allegedly preparing, storing and sending information that prejudices public order and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
A report from the Committee to Protect Journalist claims that Saudi Arabia’s censorship “blurs lines between journalism [and] activism.” The Ministry of Culture has blocked local news websites that refuse to register and new anti-terrorism regulations threaten to restrict criticism of the government or Islam.
A new report from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab looks at the use of Hacking Team’s Remote Control System (RCS) by the government of Saudi Arabia as part of a broader campaign of information control.
The US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) fined the Dubai-based arm of Aramex USD $125,000 for the unlicensed export to Syria of Internet monitoring devices and software. According to BIS, which controls the export and of US commodities, technology and software relating to national security, the Aramex fine relates to a USD $2.8 million penalty imposed last year on Dubai-based Computerlinks FZCO for similar activity. BIS said Computerlinks knew the order it placed with Blue Coat Systems was destined for end users in Syria but claimed it was for Iraq’s Ministry of Telecom and the Afghan Internet service provider, Liwalnet.
Speaking to the local web magazine Webdo, Jamel Zenkri, head of the newly-established Technical Telecommunications Agency (ATT), said that ATT will start operating at full capacity between late July and early August. Zenkri added that the ATT currently has surveillance technologies at its disposal but declined to reveal where the agency obtained such equipment.
The ATT will start by monitoring the Internet, while the Interior Ministry is set to carry out phone-tapping practices. “Under the decree, phone surveillance lies in the ATT’s field of intervention,” Zenkri said. He explained that they could not carry out the decree in full until next year, due to “equipment problems”.
ATT’s creation by government decree in November 2013 raised human rights concerns among activists due to vague language and lack of independent oversight mechanisms in the law.
Ould Dada wassentenced [fr] to two years in prison for allegedly posting videos that show Algerian police officers stealing from a local shop in the region of Ghardai. Dada was accused of disseminating pictures and videos detrimental to the national interest. The videos come from a larger network of shared content on incidents of sectarian violence that played out nearby. Algerian activists released a number of videos exposing police brutality during the incidents. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information demanded that authorities release the journalist saying that, “Instead of punishing the citizen- who exercised his natural right of filing and publishing the violations- the state should rather punish the policemen involved in the theft.”
Jordan’s parliament will soon discuss a series of draft amendments to the country’s Telecommunication Law. Under the proposed amendments, Internet Service Providers would be required to block adult content while the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission would be in charge of issuing filtering orders.
“Centralizing online filtering could endow the government with a sort of “moral custodianship” over Jordanian Internet users, telling them what content they should or should not access,” said Reem Almasri, research director for the Amman-based media organization, 7iber, which declined to seek a license for their website under the new law. The 7iber site has been blocked twice in Jordan since last year.
These newly-proposed restrictions come a year after the blocking of 300 websites by the Jordanian authorities under a series of amendments to the Press and Publication Law that require news websites to register with the authorities and hold editors liable for readers’ comments.
CPJ’s Sherif Mansour wrote: “Jordan’s press freedom climate, once a shining light in the Middle East, has quickly deteriorated as journalists grapple with last year’s governmentban on nearly 300 news websites.”
The Bahraini crackdown on Internet users seems to be having its ups and downs. While one man wasreleased from police custody after being incarcerated for allegedly insulting and slandering people, as well as attacking the honor and reputation of Bahraini families on social media, another man has beenimprisoned for the same acts. The second man was arrested for inciting hatred towards Bahrain’s leadership and was accused of posting sectarian-tainted tweets, despite his claim that he does not have a Twitter account. He will face trial at the nation’s criminal court.
United Arab Emirates
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoumlaunched the Arab Social Media Award, which will showcase important social media initiatives in the Arab world and promote “best practices” platforms and technologies at a ceremony to be held annually in Dubai. “[By] honoring online influencers, we stress the great value that an innovative and effective social media presence can bring,” said Sheikh Mohammad. The Award will honor individuals or organizations from government entities, the private sector, blogs, media, sports, tolerance, social service, education, youth, technology, economy, politics for their ability to communicate effectively and creativity, and for their overall impact on society.
At the recent Al Jazeera Forum held in Doha, Qatar, one panel managed to make headlines for its bold take on free speech. The panel featured young Arab comedians who use YouTube to push boundaries and tackle topics that news channels in their countries treat as taboo.
Commenting on sanctions that prevent access to vital technologies in Sudan, the Electronic Frontier Foundation says “…The Department of Treasury is unjustly preventing Sudanese from accessing information and technologies that are necessary for the advancement, innovation, and democracy of the country.” The organization is calling on the US government and US companies to take action to ease the sanctions.
A new online news platform in Sudan, Al-Tareeq, is making headlines in a country that Reporters Without Borders ranks as one of the world’s 10 worst countries for press intimidation. The platform’s journalists use encrypted communications and rely on a web server in Sweden to protect their site from attacks.
In other news…
- The MIT Enterprise Startup Competition brought thirty Arab entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley in early June to meet with industry experts.
- A meeting of Gulf Cooperation Council leaders resulted in an agreement [ar] among ministers for more cooperation in policing social media sites.
- This summer, the Arab Digital Expression Camps program will once again help children develop a sense of self-expression and learn about technology. Learn more at their website.
- Freedom of the Press Foundation is encouraging news organizations to apply for their next crowd-funding campaign to pay for an installation of SecureDrop in their newsroom.
- The ninth annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF) will take place September 2-5 in Istanbul, Turkey.
- The Open Knowledge Festival will take place in Berlin July 15-17.
To Jailed Syrian Engineer Bassel Khartabil On His 33rd Birthday 05/22/14
Bassel (Safadi) Khartabil is a respect Palestinian-Syrian computer engineer and open source advocate who, on March 15, 2012, was detained in a wave of arrests in the Mazzeh district of Damascus. Today, May 22, marks both Bassel’s 33rd birthday and his 799th spent in prison.
Digital Citizen dedicates this special edition to our friend Bassel.
Show your support for Bassel today:
- Post a message for Bassel on Twitter with the hashtags #freebassel and #itsaboutallofus. In particular, people are encouraged to tweet between 13:00 and 16:00 GMT.
- Submit a photo or message of support to the #freebassel Tumblr.
- Print one of these beautiful posters by artist Kalie Taylor, or create your own, and distribute it in your community.
To read more about Bassel’s plight:
- To Bassel On His 33rd Birthday, Electronic Frontier Foundation
- On May 22nd, Say Happy Birthday to Bassel, Global Voices Advocacy
- Cookbook in Honor of Bassel Khartabil, Creative Commons
- Blog: #FreeBassel – 2 Years of Detention for Bassel Khartabil in Syria, Front Line Defenders
- Show your support for imprisoned CC community leader Bassel Khartabil, Creative Commons
Volume 1.6 05/12/14
Since our last report, access to communications networks has been contested across the Arab region — Internet blackouts continue in Syria and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, while changes in telecommunications industry and infrastructure have sparked controversy among authorities and civilians alike in Egypt, Yemen and Kuwait. Threats of censorship are on the rise in with newly proposed cyber laws in Mauritania and Morocco and measures to rid the Internet of “negative websites” in Sudan. And state surveillance continues to loom large across the region, notably in Lebanon, where security agencies have been granted unrestricted access to citizens’ communications data.
Activists used the Formula 1 auto racing event, held in Bahrain, as an opportunity to raise awareness about ongoing restrictions on journalists and freedom of expression in the country. Numerous small-scale demonstrations took place in the weeks leading up to the event, many of which resulted in the arrest of protesters. The “Bahrain Racing in Circles” social media campaign, led by the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, launched on April 6 as the starting gun of the F1 race was fired. Using the mass messaging social media tool Thunderclap, they reached a combined audience of 4.4 million Twitter followers with the message, “Whether they cover changing tires or burning tires, journalists must be allowed to work freely in Bahrain. #F1 http://thndr.it/1haU78B.”
On April 8, a Bahraini court sentenced blogger Ali Maaraj to a thirty-month jail sentence. He was convicted of “insulting the king” and the “improper handling of information technology.”
Internet and mobile network blackouts that have become commonplace in the Sinai Peninsula since the Egyptian military stepped up its presence in the area in September 2013. Officials claim the communication cuts are necessary to secure military campaigns against terrorist groups. Network blackouts last for up to 12 hours each day, affecting myriad aspects of daily life.
The National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority deactivated 1.5 million unregistered SIM cards at the end of February claiming they facilitated had phone harassment and other crimes. The Chamber of Commerce called for the deactivation of all informal SIM contracts in the country, which account for an estimated 80% of all contracts in Egypt, according to Al Masry Al Youm.
Fighting for Egyptian citizens’ rights to a faster and cheaper Internet, The Internet Revolution user rights group is threatened to launch a boycott of local ISPs on April 15. The group is demanding faster, cheaper and more accessible Internet service, improved infrastructure, and regulatory reforms to prevent market monopolization. Since its start in February 2014, the group has been in talks with telcos, the Ministry of Telecommunication, and the National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (NTRA). However, they refused to continue meeting with the NTRA after its director described them as a violent political group in an article in ElWafd, a newspaper owned by a right-wing party of the same name.
The Los Angeles Times published an article detailing NSA mass spying activities in Iraq. The story quotes former NSA Deputy Director John Inglis saying that every Iraqi insurgent email, text message and phone-location signal was collected in real time, while noting other officials’ assertion that “obtaining the messages among insurgents required the agency to acquire virtually all Iraqi communications.”
The Jordanian Government approved amendments to the nation’s telecom law, choosing the censorship side of the Internet porn debate. Other amendments include renaming the Telecom Regulatory Commision the Telecom and IT Regulatory Commision, and expanding its mandate to monitor and censor content sent over public access networks, as well as increasing all fines included in the law. Meanwhile, the Government revealed that it spent 250k Jordanian Dinars [ar] on consultations for the new law, boasting that the draft law hopes to be modern, and not unlike “developed countries’ experiences.”
After ten years of discussion, Kuwait’s parliament finally approved the establishment of an independent telecom regulatory commission on April 1. A conflict of interest occurred with the previous regulatory system as the owner of the fixed line infrastructure in Kuwait, Ministry of Telecommunication, undertook a regulatory role for the industry. Currently there are three major Internet service providers in Kuwait: Zain, Saudi Telecom affiliate Viva and Wataniya, a subsidiary of Qatar’s Ooredoo.
On March 27, Lebanon’s cabinet granted the nation’s security agency unbridled access to citizens’ telecommunications data, reportedly in an effort to bolster counter terrorism measures. Despite objections from ministers of the March 8 Alliance (Hezbollah, Amal and the Free Patriotic Movement), the new prime minister Tamam Salam approved the decision. According to SMEX, the decision stands in violation of Surveillance Law Article 140, which guarantees secrecy of communication to all Lebanese citizens. This is not the first time authorities have been granted broad access to user data: the first known instance of this kind took place in February of 2012, after the attempted assassination of the Intelligence Information Branch Director (who was ultimately killed several months later.)
The Mauritanian presidency has convened the parliament for a special session to discuss several laws, including a draft cybercrime law. Activists in Mauritania voiced their opposition to the proposed law draft, citing articles they perceive as threatening to freedom of expression online.
The parliament is also due to discuss a legal framework for the Mauritanian Information Society, which among several things, has proposed a law that would regulate (and in some circumstances forbids) the use of encryption.
A leaked draft of a new cyber law has triggered fears of increased censorship and restrictions to online privacy. Similar to existing press laws, the proposed law would limit free expression “when it comes to offending the King or the Monarchy, Islam, Morocco Territorial Integrity, public order, homeland security, necessities of public service, or public policy.” Article 54 holds online service providers responsible for user-generated content, with punishments ranging from one month to a year imprisonment and fines of up to 100,000 dirham (roughly $12,300 USD). Authorities would have the power to block “offending websites” that are perceived as “inconsistent with the public political beliefs” under Article 73. Impersonating someone or using their information or image online without permission would be prohibited, but authorities would be authorized to participate in online conversations without identifying themselves, namely in an effort to curb child pornography and abuse. The law would also require mobile phone users to register using their real names.
Another political website bit the dust: the website “Republican Moroccans Radio” was blocked on the evening of Sunday March 23, according to a message on the site’s Facebook page. The site hosts web conferences and promotes views opposed to the Moroccan monarchy.
Journalist and Lakome.com editor Ali Anouzla is currently out of prison on bail, but still faces terrorism charges that could mean up to 20 years in prison. Anouzla’s next court hearing is set for May 20.
Human Rights Watch issued a brief on online freedom in the Western Sahara. The report highlights cases in which individuals have been forced to hand over the passwords to online accounts to authorities. While websites are not blocked, the report notes that “on the ground in Western Sahara, [Morocco’s] police censor via bullying and batons.”
On 7 May, a criminal court in Jeddah sentenced blogger Raif Badawi to ten years in prison and a thousand lashes for “insulting Islam”. Badawi was prosecuted for developing “Saudi Arabian Liberals”, an online forum he launched in 2008 debating the role of religion in the conservative kingdom. The 32-year-old was also ordered to pay a one million riyals fine (approximately US$266,600). The verdict is subject to appeal. But Badawi’s lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, has also been jailed for setting up a human rights monitoring group, according to Human Rights Watch.
After a wave of YouTube videoss in which Saudis described their dire living situations in an open appeal to King Abdullah, three citizens who appeared in the videos were detained by Saudi authorities. Under the charges of incitement, sedition and “breaching obedience to the king,” Abdulaziz Al Dusari, Abdullah Al Ghamdi, and Saud Alharbi were detained. Abdulrahman Al-Asiri is currently outside the country and thus remains free.
Following in the footsteps of numerous European countries, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Information and Culture blocked access to The Pirate Bay.
Sudanese authorities are seeking to block “negative” websites, state-owned media reported in late March citing officials. “In coming days, the negative websites will be blocked 100 percent,” the Sudanese Media Centre (SMC) quoted Mustafa Abdul-Hafiz of the National Telecommunication Corporation as saying. According to the same source, authorities also plan to begin monitoring Internet cafes.
From March 20-22, various sources reported complete Internet outages in Syria. According to network monitoring group Renesys, an outage affecting most of the country — with the exception of Aleppo, which is served by TurkTelecom — lasted for roughly seven hours. State-owned Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) blamed the outage on a damaged fibre optic cable in the outskirts of Damascus, while the European Cyber Army, a hacktivist group, claimed responsibility for the blackout, tweeting that it was in retaliation for attacks on Western systems by the Syrian Electronic Army.
Collective blog Nawaat launched Nawaat Leaks, a secure document sharing platform in collaboration with GlobaLeaks, a worldwide open source whistleblowing software. One must use online anonymity software Tor in order to upload information to the platform. Nawaat says it will delete all metadata before publishing any leaked document.
Meanwhile, free speech NGO Article 19 urged the Tunisian government and the National Constituent Assembly to adopt an access to information law before presidential and legislative elections take place later this year. In 2011, the Tunisian government issued Decree 41 guaranteeing the right to access administrative documents. However, the organization argues that a law adopted by the legislative body would “afford greater legal protection than” a decree.
United Arab Emirates
On March 17, the Gulf Center for Human Rights reported that Emirati security officers arrested activist Osama al-Najjar. It is unclear why al-Najjar was arrested. The Center says he had been active on social media, posting tweets related to the trial of the UAE94, a group of Emirati citizens imprisoned for allegedly plotting a coup against the UAE government. Al-Najjar’s father, Hossain Al-Najjar, is among the UAE94 detainees currently serving a ten-year jail term.
Controversy over proposals to privatize the telecommunications industry has resurged since the Yemeni government signed an agreement to join the WTO in December 2013. Yemeni Ministry of Telecommunications and its employees protested government plans to liberalize the country’s telecom sector on April 2. Employees refused the agreement that lacked a plan to protect the laborrights of the 12,000 employees in the telecom and post office sector.
The Yemeni Consumer Protection Association has supported the decision, blaming monopolies, bad laws and lack of a comprehensive telecom strategy for the bleak state of telecommunications in the country. Yemen has the lowest Internet penetration rate in the gulf region. The number of Internet cafes in the capital city of Sana’a, which peaked at 800 in 2010, has since been reduced by nearly fifty percent. This is attributed to both the energy crisis and the spread of wireless and mobile connectivity in the country.
The Guardian named Yemeni journalist Farea Al-Muslimi one of thirty “top young people in digital media.” “Al-Muslimi is the ultimate example of what it’s possible to do if you have an internet connection and a story to tell,” the article read.
- Turkey’s ban on Twitter in early March has been condemned by human rights and free speech groups around the world.
- The story of ZunZuneo, a USAID-funded Twitter-like SMS platform in Cuba, has drawn widespread criticism for its reductionist approach to using social media for social change, and has also drawn attention to the broader use of social media for intelligence operations by US, UK and other Five Eye member countries.
- The newly published book Wired Citizenship: Youth Learning and Activism in the Middle Eastexamines evolving patterns of youth learning and activism in the Middle East and North Africa.
From our partners:
- 7iber launched a research project dubbed
- “Digital Privacy in Jordan: Perceptions and Implication.”
- EFF, Access, and Global Voices Advocacy signed a statement calling on the Freedom Online Coalition take a stand against the surveillance of human rights organizations worldwide.
Volume 1.5 04/01/14
Digital Citizen brings you the latest human rights and technology news from the Arab World. This edition looks anti-terror measures that could threaten free expression in Algeria, Egypt, and Tunisia, among other states.
In Tunisia, as military and security forces continue to hunt for armed groups in different regions of the country, the Interior Ministry has reiterated its calls for the filtering of “terrorist” web pages.
In an interview with Tunisia’s Achourouk newspaper, Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jedou said [ar] that his ministry had previously called on the Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies to filter content “inciting to terrorism,” but received “no response.” Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the ICT ministry said that such content can only be taken down following a judicial order.
On March 10, the ICT ministry announced the appointment of Jamel Zenkri as head of the country’s new electronic communications surveillance entity: the Technical Telecommunications Agency (ATT). The creation of the ATT last November sparked massive surveillance concerns among privacy advocates.
Pardoned for posting Prophet Muhammad cartoons on Facebook, Jabeur Mejri was released on March 4. Mejri has been in prison since March 2012 over the publication of content deemed “liable to cause harm to public order and morality,” “insulting and disrupting the lives of others through publication communication networks” and “assaulting [to] good morals.” Mejri, who was originally sentenced to seven and a half years in prison, was released early.
Meanwhile, a military court of appeals confirmed the initial verdict in the case of blogger Hakim Ghanmi. Last year, a primary court fined Ghanmi fined 240 TND for “accusing without proof a public official” over the posting of a blog post critical of the staff of a military hospital. More serious charges of “insulting others through public communication networks” and “undermining the reputation of the army” were dismissed.
Blogger Abdelghani Aloui, who was detained for posting on Facebook cartoons of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, remains in prison. Aloui was initially arrested on September 25, 2013 and charged on October 10 with “insulting the president” and “glorifying terrorism.” Despite calls for his release, he has been held without trial for nearly six months.
As the interim military government continues to crack down on activists and media alike, free speech is suffering. New draft anti-terrorism legislation has sparked concerns about censorship; the proposed law, which was leaked to the public, could allow for social networking sites to be banned if deemed to be“endangering public order and would potentially allow for greater surveillance.
Alaa Abd El Fattah was released from prison on bail on March 23. The renowned Egyptian blogger spent 115 days behind bars without trial after being violently beaten and arrested from his Cairo home on November 28, 2013. He stands accused of organising a protest with the ‘No to Military Trial for Civilians’ group without prior permission, a violation of Egypt’s “anti-protest” law. Police violently dispersed the November 26 protest and detained 24 demonstrators for two weeks. Only Abd El Fattah and Ahmed Abdel Rahman — a bystander who intervened in an attempt to protect female protesters — were imprisoned long-term. Both men were released early this week. They will stand trial April 6.
Other overt attempts to silence opposition have taken place over the past few weeks: In Minya, two brothers were arrested for creating a Facebook page dubbed “Samalout Revolution”. According to police, the page published personal information of police officers, and was found to incite violence and promote the overthrow of the government. In a separate case, seven members of the Muslim Brotherhood were detained, allegedly for sharing information on weapons manufacturing on Facebook.
New findings from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab show that numerous governments—including Egypt’s—have employed Italian company Hacking Team’s Remote Control System (RCS) surveillance technology. Earlier this year, research by the same group showed US company Blue Coat’s deep packet inspection technology being used on public networks in Cairo.
In better news, a group of Egyptian activists began a campaign calling for better Internet service and lower prices for Internet access in Egypt. The campaign, which uses the hashtags #InternetRevolution and #ثورة_الانترنت, started in response to rising prices from telecoms.
The controversial “Innocence of Muslims” [ar] video that sparked outrage and frustration in countries throughout the Muslim world is no longer accessible on YouTube or any other site affiliated with the movie. Last week, the “Freedoms Committee” of the Jordan Bar Association has finally won its case against Google, the owner of YouTube, for not blocking “Innocence of Muslims,” charging the company with blasphemy and insulting prophets.
A new anti-terrorism law based on Saudi Arabia’s recently enacted anti-terrorism law prohibits “joining the extremist religious and intellectual groups and movements that are classified terrorists locally or regionally, or supporting them or expressing sympathy with them by any means, including providing moral or material support or promoting them or advocating them through writing or otherwise.”
Crackdowns on social media have increased in recent years. In late 2012, Abdul Aziz Mohamed El Baz—an Egyptian resident of Kuwait—was accused by the Electronics and Cyber Crime Combating Department of being an “atheist and an infidel” and charged with contempt of religion and attempting to spread atheism through his blog. He served a sentence of hard labor, paid a $270 fine, and was deported back to Egypt in February 2014.
In February, a man who posted an image of himself kissing a statue of the Virgin Mary to Facebook was arrested. Ali Itawi had posted a comment alongside the image suggesting that the Virgin Mary was “no longer a virgin.” The image was originally posted to the account in 2011. President Michel Suleiman has called for “appropriate measures” to be taken against Itawi.
In February, web developer Jean Assy was sentenced to two months in prison on defamation and libel charges concerning tweets published last year that allegedly defamed the president. Assy recently apologized for the tweets, saying to Suleiman that the tweets: “do not befit you or your post as a president, or me as a Lebanese citizen who believes in the state of law and in the respect for the regulations and the Lebanese constitution.” Suleiman accepted the apology.
Mauritanian journalist Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed may face the death penalty over an article he published on December 31, on the news website Aqlame Horra (Free Pens). The article was deemed blasphemous to the Prophet Mohammed. Cheikh was charged with apostasy under Article 306 of the Mauritanian criminal code. Aqlame took down the article later, claiming that it had been posted “accidently” and by one of the editors “without reading it.”
“The charges against Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed belong to the era of medieval inquisitions,” said the Committee to Protect Journalists, which called for the journalist’s immediate release.
United Arab Emirates
Six Emiratis have been sent to prison by government authorities for comments they made on Twitter. Both Khalifa Rabeiah and Othman al-Shehhi were convicted on March 10 of criticizing security services on Twitter. Both were sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay fines after being detained for at least six months in unknown locations. Authorities in the UAE are using legislation governing the use of the Internet (passed in November 2012) as a way to arrest any citizen that criticizes security forces using social media.
The Abu Dhabi Police would like to regulate the use of Internet cafés in the emirate. The possible regulations, aimed at protecting children, would limit the hours that youth could access cafés.
Lakome, the popular site that was blocked in October following the arrest on terrorism charges of its co-founder, Ali Anouzla, remains blocked in the country. Anouzla, who was later released on bail, has yet to appear before an investigating judge, with his appearance postponed until May 20. Anouzla recently announced plans to start a new website, Lakome2.com.
Concern for two activists detained without charge by Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) is growing amid reports that one of the two may have been subjected to torture. The two activists—journalist and blogger Taj Aldeen Arjaa and university lecturer Sidig Noreen Ali Abdalla—have been held without access to legal representation. Their cases do not appear to be connected.
Sudan was among twenty nations that appeared on the annual “Enemies of the Internet” report created by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Sudan was cited for the country’s “Cyber Jihadist Unit,” which is reportedly tasked with “crushing” Internet dissidents.
Palestine’s IT sector faces numerous challenges. Israel refuses to release 3G frequencies for Palestinian mobile carriers restrictions that in turn create difficulties for entrepreneurs, but despite these setbacks, the sector is reportedly growing. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, former minister of telecommunications and information technology Mashhour Abudaka declared the Quartet’s efforts to overcome infrastructural barriers “totally useless” but stated that the technology sector was expanding in various ways.
A new app is being developed by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The app would create a barcode scanner that would tell users the origin of a given product. Palestinian apps have been censored by Apple’s App Store in the past.
Qatar’s troubling draft cybercrime law, proposed in 2013, is moving forward after the Cabinet reportedly took “necessary measures” on the draft, taking into account comments from the government’s advisory council. After Cabinet approval, the legislation will only need the Emir’s signature before becoming law.
Two new Internet cable projects—one undersea and one terrestrial—will improve broadband connectivity for Qatar and much of the Gulf region, Gulf Times recently reported. More than 85% of Qatar’s population uses the Internet.
In Libya, where low Internet penetration often hinders the effectiveness of online platforms for mass communication, bloggers are reportedly discussing the draft constitution, expressing the need for it to be inclusive of diverse segments of Libyan society. No previous Libyan constitution has taken into account freedom of expression.
The Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh upheld a verdict against Human Rights activist Mukhlif AlShammari (whose trial started in March 2013) for writing about human rights abuses in 2009, and 2010, and for posting a video of Tabouk girls subjected to violence. On top of the ten-year travel ban placed on him, Al Shammari was sentenced to five years in prison and banned from writing in newspapers and on social networking websites. It also prevented him from appearing in media. Three years of the sentence were applied under the Cyber Crimes law. Al-Shammari will appeal the verdict before the Competent Court of Appeal on State Security and Terrorism in Riyadh within thirty days.
In March, two unidentified Saudi men were sentenced to eight and ten years in jail and banned from posting on social media because of their activities on Twitter and YouTube. The men faced charges ranging from mocking the monarch, to “re-tweeting calls for protests,” to “contacting people that called themselves the reformists,” and utilizing websites that are “hostile to the government and that promote deviant ideologies.”
RSF declared Saudi Arabia an “Enemy of the Internet” for its aggressive content blocking practices.
On March 15, activists marked the third anniversary of the Syrian uprising and the second anniversary of the imprisonment of Syrian web developer and activist Bassel Khartabil (aka Bassel Safadi) with the #FreeBassel campaign. Khartabil is one of many peaceful activists unjustly detained by the Syrian regime. A day prior, leading human rights organizations launched “Free Syria’s Silenced Voices” documenting the stories of human rights activists, independent journalists, and humanitarian workers who have been targeted by the Syrian regime. The new ebookBehind the Screens of the Syrian Resistance was also released for the occasion. Written by Monique Doppert, a media analyst and personal friend of Khartabil’s, the story chronicles Khartabil’s work as a web developer and open knowledge advocate, and his role in the Syrian uprising.
Researchers at the French firm Inria analyzed a 2011 data leak from the Syrian government’s BlueCoat proxy servers, revealing for the first time the scope and scale of an authoritarian regime’s censorship practices. The raw 600GB of data, obtained by the net activist group Telecomix under the #OpSyria initiative, documents 750 million requests. The analysis revealed that the government was blocking roughly 1% of traffic, but that censorship was highly targeted, affecting instant messaging software such as Skype, keywords, political news sites, video sharing, and circumvention technology. Social media was “lightly” censored, with the exception of select keywords, such as “proxy” and “Israel”. In the period since this data was obtained, the government reportedly invested an additional $500k in surveillance equipment, “suggesting that a more powerful filtering architecture” may now be in place.
A recent review by a researcher of the Syrian civil war estimates that Facebook content takedown policies have been responsible for the loss of some critical documentation about the conflict. One sample set found as many as 78% of original sources now missing. The social network’s practice of user-reported content violations has led both opposition and governments supporters to begin engineering takedowns of each others’ content. In October 2013, Facebook announced it had updated its policies to consider the context of “violent” or “controversial” content. Shortly thereafter, a number of popular activist pages disappeared from the site.
RSF’s “Enemies of the Internet” report detailed the threats on the Syrian internet to users. This includes censorship, infiltration by security services, targeted malware, hacking and intimidation by the ‘Syrian Electronic Army,’ and efforts by jihadi groups to monitoring online content.
In early February, well-known Yemeni blogger Feras Shamsan was detained while conducting an interview at Cairo’s international book fair, allegedly after a passerby objected to his interviewee’s response to a question. Shamsan was released after 36 days.
Yemeni officials, including the Minister of Telecommunications and Information Technology, met with Egyptian counterparts to discuss opportunities and collaboration for improving Yemeni Internet infrastructure.
The Freedom Foundation, a Yemeni media watchdog, presented its 2013 report on media freedom in the country. The report found that press freedom violations had fallen by nearly 35% from the previous year, but that murders and abductions remained a severe threat for media workers.
Approximately 80% of households in Oman have access to the Internet, according to a recent report. Only one quarter of individuals interviewed, however, said they use Twitter, and only 7% use blogs. 51% of Oman residents interviewed use YouTube.
Bahrain made it back onto RSF’s “Enemies of the Internet” list, following appearances in 2012 and 2013.
- Egyptian organization Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression published the second edition of a legal study on Freedom of Access of Information [ar].
- Online payment provider Payfort has will soon launch a program for e-commerce startups that will benefit companies in the region.
- Reporters Without Borders released their annual report on Enemies of the Internet, prompting EFF’s Jillian York to point out more countries deserving of the moniker
- Voting on the Best of Blogs (The BOBs) awards will begin April 2.
- A report released by Pew Research’s Global Attitudes Project suggests that support for an open Internet is high in emerging countries; more than 80% of Egyptians and Lebanese surveyed support Internet freedom.
From our partners:
- 7iber is asking participants from the 2014 Arab Bloggers Meeting: What is the hardest topic to tackle in your countries?
- EFF released an updated version of its Encrypt the Web report, that explains which companies are engaging in best practices for user security.
- At Access Now’s RightsCon Silicon Valley conference, a statement from Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah, then still in prison, was read. Access announced the next RightsCon will be held in Manila, Philippines, in March 2015.
- The International Press Institute’s World Congress takes place 12-15 April in Cape Town, South Africa.
- The next confab of the Freedom Online Coalition will take place in Tallinn, Estonia, April 28-29, 2014
- The International Journalism Festival will take place in Perugia, Italy 30 April-4 May and will feature speakers from all over the world.
- Deutsche Welle’s Global Media Forum takes place 30 June-2 July in Bonn, Germany.
Volume 1.4 02/05/14
Digital Citizen is a monthly review of news, policy, and research on human rights and technology in the Arab World.
“When detainees ask to see a warrant, they may be hit over the head with the butt of a gun, as in the case of a leftist blogger, Alaa Abd El Fattah, and his wife, Manal. When a prominent international judge reviewed Manal’s account of the arrest, he described it as reminiscent of the days of apartheid in South Africa.” – Bahey El Din Hassan, New York Times, February 12, 2014
Alaa Abd El Fattah has been in prison since late November, when he was arrested on accusation of organizing a protest without obtaining legal permission. In January, both Alaa and his sister, Mona Seif, received one-year suspended sentences in a case in which they were accused of torching former Presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq’s campaign headquarters. Other prominent activists, including Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma, and Mohamed Adel have also faced similar charges.
In January, a coalition of more than 40 organizations called for the release of Alaa Abd El Fattah and other unjustly detained Egyptian activists. In the statement, Alaa’s father, Ahmed Seif, is quoted as saying:
“The Prosecution has done everything in its power to impede Alaa’s appeal against his imprisonment on remand. It has been more than a month since the Prosecution completed its investigations and referred the case to the Criminal Court, but lawyers have still not been allowed access to the case file, and neither a district nor a date have been set for the trial.”
As with the detention of several Al Jazeera journalists, these cases are emblematic of the brazen censorship being imposed by Egypt’s current military regime. Press freedom advocates have described current restrictions on the press as “greater than those imposed by either Morsi or his predecessor, autocrat Hosni Mubarak.”
Tunisia’s new Technical Telecommunications Agency, also known as A2T, will undertake electronic surveillance in service of judicial investigations. Index on Censorship’s Afef Abrougui writes:
“Tunisia’s interim authorities have failed to introduce real reforms in order to cut ties with the surveillance abuses of the past. Before taking the step to establish a surveillance entity the priority should have been repealing the dictatorship era laws and legally consolidating personal data protection.”
Local activists organized a “Stop #A2T” campaign, urging the government to hold public hearings about the agency’s structure and legal obligations, but thus far authorities have not sought to engage civil society in planning discussions.
Activists and legal experts fear that Morocco’s Code Numérique, a draft bill put forward by Ahmed Reda Chami, former Minister of Industry, Trade, and New Technologies, could jeopardize online freedoms. Activist Zineb Belmkaddem explained:
“[The] strategy of the Moroccan authorities has been to “watch” the internet, and often times intimidate and humiliate those who criticize the regime, rather than censor…However, as the numbers of protesters shrank due to police violence, arrests and intimidation, the authorities had regained control of the streets and tried to control the Internet.”
Journalist Ali Anouzla, arrested in last September and released provisionally on bail in late October, still faces charges under Morocco’s terrorism statutes for linking to an article containing a YouTube video allegedly posted by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. At a January press conference in Rabat, Khadija Ryadi, head of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, called for all charges against Anouzla to be dropped “because we are convinced of his innocence. This is not just for Ali…we are fighting for freedom for all.”
On January 10, Aisha Ibrahim Al-Zaabi was arbitrarily detained as she attempted to leave the UAE with her 18-month-old son in an effort to reunite with her husband, human rights defender Mohamed Saqer Al-Zaabi. Currently exiled in the UK, Saqer Al-Zaabi was convicted in absentia in the trial of 94 human rights defenders and activists in July 2013. His wife is not known to be involved in any political activity but rather appears to be the target of a campaign of punishment against her husband. Ibrahim Al-Zaabi was arrested at the Omani border and taken away by state security officers, leaving her father and her son behind.
Shezanne Cassim, an American citizen imprisoned for posting a satirical video on Dubai youth culture on YouTube, was released on January 9. Cassim was accused of “defaming the country’s image abroad” under the country’s cybercrime law and sentenced to jail, deportation, and a fine in December 2013. Upon his return to the US, Cassim sharply criticized the UAE, saying: “I did nothing wrong. There was nothing illegal about the video, even under UAE law. I was tried in a textbook kangaroo court, and I was convicted without any evidence.”
On December 25, 2013, the Abu Dhabi Federal Court sentenced human rights advocate Mohamed Salem Al-Zumer to three years in prison and a fine of 500,000 Emirati Dirhams (US$136,091) over accusations of insulting the president and the prince of Abu Dhabi on Twitter.
The Abu Dhabi court also issued a verdict against human rights advocate Abdul Rahman Omar Bajubair, who lives outside the UAE, demanding that he be detained for five years on accusations of managing a website called Motadaminoon, which the court claims had offended the honor of the Federal Court’s judges and the court’s prestige.
A new policy requires mobile phone users to register their devices — those using local SIM cards will have their service deactivated if they do not comply with the rule. On a similar note, Jordan’s Telecommunication Regulatory Commission is seeking to implement a system for tracking phones coming in and out of Jordan. The Commission’s stated aim is to track stolen devices and protect consumers from counterfeited ones, but the system could also lead to broad mobile phone surveillance.
In addition to traditional and chemical warfare used in Syria, malicious software is being deployed against the Syrian opposition and being used to hijack Facebook pages, install malware, and trick targets into clicking malicious links. A study by EFF and the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab analyzes and documents evidence of these trends. The study warns Syrians to use caution when opening email attachments or clicking links posted to Facebook and YouTube.
US-based online learning platform Coursera was recently blocked in all countries under US trade sanctions, including Syria. The block on Syria was lifted shortly thereafter, following a series of activist reports on the issue.
Sudan has been known to censor the Internet, but—as analysts with the New America Foundation recently pointed out—they’re not the only government affecting what Sudanese citizens can see and use online. In an article for Slate, Danielle Kehl and Tim Maurer write:
“Currently, Sudan is one of five countries in the world subject to comprehensive U.S. sanctions, which are designed to change governments’ behavior. But some of the provisions of those sanctions have become outdated—especially when it comes to new technologies like personal communication tools…
…You might think that the Internet doesn’t play an important role in Sudan. But Dalia Haj-Omar, a Sudanese activist and blogger, told us in an email that the Internet is “the only platform for free civic engagement in Sudan.”
The Council on Foreign Relations joined their call to push back against technology sanctions affecting the country, pointing readers to a call from Sudanese civil society to end the burden of technology sanctions.
Sudanese blogger Tajeldin Arja, arrested on December 24 2013, remains in detention for his criticism of the Sudanese and Chadian presidents. Arja, who hails from North Darfur, was arrested for standing in the front row of a press conference in Khartoum and shouting criticism at the presidents of both Sudan and Chad. His arrest was caught on video by an anonymous attendee and uploaded to YouTube. On February 18, activists called for his release at a peaceful sit-in before the national Human Rights Commission.
In mid-January, Hamas announced that their Twitter account, @alqassambrigade, had been suspended by Twitter. Writing for Index on Censorship, Ruth Michaelson said:
“Social media, while potentially a tool for propaganda, is one of the few ways that the wider public is able to know what is happening inside Al Qassam Brigades and Hamas. Cutting off this line further maligns part of a regime that uses this seclusion to its political advantage within Gaza, and allows Hamas to further clamp down on free speech within the Strip. In short: the content may be a strange development on Twitter, but its absence potentially has tangible effects for people on the ground.”
In early December, the head of the Doha Centre for Media Freedom—an institution that provides training and support for journalists and advocates for press freedom—was fired without explanation. Jan Keulen, a Dutch journalist who has worked in the region for many years, called his sacking a “political decision.”
Activist Zainab Al-Khawaja was released from prison on February 16 after spending one year behind bars. Although Al-Khawaja was sentenced for “participating in an illegal gathering,” she is an outspoken Twitter user and drew the government’s ire for her tweets posted at @angryarabiya.
Protests in Bahrain on February 14 marked the third anniversary of the 2011 uprisings in the Gulf nation. Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights used a crowdsourcing tool to map arrests and other abuses of protesters.
Social Media Exchange has identified several instances of Internet filtering in Lebanon, a country where traditional censorship is not uncommon but Internet censorship has been rare. The filtering is applied inconsistently across ISPs and demonstrates a lack of transparency in the blocking process.
Twitter user Jean Assy was sentenced to two months in prison on charges of insulting the president on Twitter. The decision found that Assy’s tweets constituted “defamation and libel” and stood in violation of Lebanon’s broadly-worded media and publications law. Assy remains free for now, and plans to appeal the verdict, challenging the court’s interpretation of Twitter as a “media outlet” in Lebanon. Freedom of speech advocates in Lebanon are highlighting Assy’s case in a call for reforms to existing law, including an end to the “criminalization of public expression.”
A new anti-terrorism law in the Gulf country threatens free speech, says Human Rights Watch (HRW). The new law reportedly defines terrorism as:
“Any act carried out by an offender in furtherance of an individual or collective project, directly or indirectly, intended to disturb the public order of the state, or to shake the security of society, or the stability of the state, or to expose its national unity to danger, or to suspend the basic law of governance or some of its articles, or to insult the reputation of the state or its position, or to inflict damage upon one of its public utilities or its natural resources, or to attempt to force a governmental authority to carry out or prevent it from carrying out an action, or to threaten to carry out acts that lead to the named purposes or incite [these acts].”
HRW’s Sarah Leah Whitson stated that the terrorism law “would allow the government to label any Saudi who demands reform or exposes corruption as a terrorist.”
From our partners:
- An Advox article by Walid Al-Saqaf, head of ISOC Yemen, explores the false dichotomy of surveillance vs. censorship.
- A December 2013 EFF blog post looks at the ways in which Arab activists are fighting back against censorship and surveillance.
- Social Media Exchange is collecting and sharing high-quality guides on media policy and Internet governance in the Arab world on their new platform, Tasharuk.
- 7iber’s Doaa Ali wrote a review of the Heinrich Boell Foundation conference, “Whatever Happened to Privacy?” [ar]
Research and collaboration:
- The fourth Arab Bloggers Meeting (#AB14) took place in late January in Amman, Jordan, bringing together over 70 individuals from across the region and around the world.
- A November 2013 paper by The Citizen Lab shows how content filtering software Smartfilter—used by the Saudi and UAE governments—miscategorizes content.
- Participants in the Arab Free Press Forum, which took place in November in Tunisia, say the Arab world needs more access to independent media.
- In December the Institute for War and Peace Reporting launched the Cyber Arabs Online Academy, a platform dedicated to providing online training and resources on digital security issues in Arabic.
- Egyptian Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) publishes an Arabic Introduction to Open Knowledge.