Volume 4.0 12/01/15
As a diverse group of writers, researchers, technologists, and advocates, we have been closely following the discussions around refugees and technology. While not always an issue of digital rights, these discussions are nevertheless about rights. Although our views may differ as to the impact of technologies on society, we agree that technology is shaping both the conversation about and the situation of refugees and have therefore decided to dedicate Volume 4.0 to the aspects of that discussion.
Why does every refugee have a smartphone?
There has been much discussion about refugees’ use of technology, in particular, mobile phones. While some have scoffed at Syrian refugees for having smartphones, others have rightly pointed out that mobile phones can be an essential resource. As CNBC reports, “Phones not only allow refugees to keep in touch with their families, but also to share crucial information about prices, traffickers or how to travel safely through Europe.”
“The first thing people running the Za’atri [refugee] camp in Jordan ask for is not tents and blankets, but where they can charge their mobile phone,” Nagina Kaur Dhanoa, chief information officer for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHRC), has said.
The discussion has prompted a flurry of articles and projects investigating how refugees are using technology. The International Rescue Committee’s “What’s in my bag?” project shows what refugees have carried with them—nearly every bag shown contains a smartphone or other device. Germany’s Zeit Online has gone deeper, asking refugees why they have mobile phones and how they use them.
How is technology aiding refugees?
While technology can be an essential resource for individual refugees, it’s also essential to the agencies tasked with registering and housing them. The technologies used by aid and other agencies have the potential to do a world of good…but also come with risks.
- Iris-scanning technology is being used to register refugees, CNBC reports. The “space-age technology” was deployed after UNHCR saw how it was being used by banks in the Middle East.
- Forbes reflects on the benefits and risks of the big data being generated by refugee registrations, and on how Silicon Valley companies are contributing to the cause.
- Computer Weekly reports on how technology is helping to deliver aid to refugees.
- The BBC reports on how new technology is enabling more affordable and sustainable refugee housing.
In Germany, Facebook has been criticized for being slow to remove racist and xenophobic content targeting asylum seekers, and threats against politicians supporting the integration of refugees. Members of the pro-refugee Green party have been attacked on Facebook, while several users were convicted for violating Germany’s anti-hate speech law. The Sun Herald reports that a 34-year-old man in Berlin was fined 4,800 euro for posting: “I’m in favor of reopening the gas chambers and putting the whole brood inside”, while another 25 year-old from Passau in Bavaria was fined 7,500 euro for posting that he would deliver “a gas canister and hand grenade, for free”, to a group of refugees.
The paper also reported that German prosecutors are investigating possible charges against three Facebook managers for failing to act against such comments.
In August, Germany’s justice ministry criticized Facebook for not doing enough, adding that the social networking site reacts faster to remove sexual imagery than it does with racist content. In September, the ministry announced the formation of a task force that includes Facebook and other social networks, and Internet service providers, to flag and remove hateful content faster.
Tools for Refugees
- Google launched the project “Crisis Info Hub” to provide information for refugees in Europe. The site, which is translated into five languages including Arabic, provides information to help find transit, lodging and medical help in a number of areas in Europe. The open source platform is also available on mobile phones and Google has partnered with a number of organizations to better understand how they can help refugees coming in from the Middle East, Africa and other regions.
- Refugees in Berlin have created an online map of essential resources for new arrivals, reported The Next Web. The map points to relevant laws, services, and even halal restaurants and cafés.
- A group of Syrians have launched an app that helps refugees after arrival. The app has information on finding essentials and seeking jobs, among other things.
- The “Refugees Welcome” site is a project by German organization Flüchtlinge Wilkommen and links up refugees looking for housing with locals who have housing to provide.
- The EU has launched the ‘science4refugees’ online initiative to help refugee scientists and researchers find jobs.
- The “Refugees on Rails” project in Berlin offers one-day coding sessions for migrants and refugees.
- A hackathon was organized in Berlin between October 24th – 25th aimed at finding digital solutions for the refugees in Germany.
In other news
- Ranking Digital Rights, released the corporate accountability index evaluating 16 telecommunications and internet companies on their public commitments to privacy and free speech rights.
- Freedom House released their annual Freedom on the Net report.
- Palestinians in the West Bank are using new media to document abuse and violations by Israeli forces during the recent escalation of violence, reports Raseef22.
- December 18th will mark the international migrants day and the International Organization for Migrant is calling on people to remember the migrants that have lost their lives seeking a better life. By holding candlelight vigils across the world to remember the names of those who lost their lives. The hashtag #IamaMigrant will be used as part of this campaign.
To help refugees in your area, here are a number of organizations that you can donate to.
Volume 3.9 11/05/15
Digital Citizen is a biweekly review of news, policy, and research on human rights and technology in the Arab World.
Zoulikha Belarbi, an activist and human rights defender was arrested on 20 October in Tlemcen, western Algeria by local police, after publishing on her Facebook page a caricature of the Algerian president Bouteflika. The activist spent the night at the central police station of Tlemcen before being presented to the public prosecutor on Wednesday afternoon. Her laptop, phone and SIM card were confiscated, she told Al-Watan newspaper. She was released and placed under judicial supervision by an investigating judge. The picture that the activist published is from the famous Turkish series “Harim Sultan” with the faces of the main characters replaced by those of Algerian politicians: president Abdelaziz Bouteflika; his brother, the Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal; and the Secretary General of the FLN ruling party. The young activist told the newspaper El-Watan: “I’m not afraid, I will continue to fight with my colleagues for a free and independent Algeria.”
According to local media reports, police on 7 October stormed the offices of the privately-owned Masr Al-Arabiya news website, confiscating equipment and interrogating staff members. However, the site’s chief editor Mahmoud al-Naggar denied these reports saying that it was just “a routine inspection” to search for pirated software.
Since early October, many users have been reporting that they are unable to use VoIP services on Skype, Viber and WhatsApp. The country’s telecommunication industry regulator, the National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (NTRA) denied the blocking, while ISPs have been telling users that the blocking was ordered by the NTRA. On Facebook, digital rights activist Amr Gharbeia wrote that VoIP calls via Skype have been blocked in Egypt since 2010, while they were only blocked on WhatsApp during the first week of October.
A military court sentenced user Amr Nohan to three years in jail for putting Mickey Mouse ears on president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and posting the photo on Facebook.
Kuwaiti netizens slammed a bill submitted to the parliament by the government cabinet to regulate online media. According to an official at the ministry of information, the bill will not apply to content on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, but is only meant to regulate “professional media work” such as online newspapers and channels, and private news agencies. The law will establish a licensing scheme for online media. Websites that do not abide by the law’s provisions would be fined between 3000 and 10 thousand kuwaiti dinars (10 thousand and 30 thousand USD) and blocked. The law further bans the spreading of content prohibited under the 2006 publication law such as religious blasphemy or criticism of the country’s ruler.
Digital rights in Lebanon record a setback as authorities prosecute a number of users for expressing themselves online. On 6 October, activist Michel Douaihy was released after spending 9 days in detention and fined 200 USD over a Facebook post critical of the country’s general security. While, al-Akhbar journalist Mohammad Nazzal was sentenced in absentia to six months in jail and a fine of US $633 over a Facebook post published two years ago in which he said: “the judicial system is as low as my shoes”.
In addition, SMEX recorded three other incidents against online free expression. On 13 October, the anti-cybercrime bureau summoned blogger and activist Zoulfikar Harakeh for investigation over a satirical video he published on facebook three weeks ago, in which he makes fun of a new song by Lebanese singer Mohamad Iskandar. A week earlier, blogger Khodor Salameh wrote that he was summoned by the same bureau for investigation over a post he published on Facebook, without specifying why. Another Al-Akhbar journalist, Mohammad Zbeeb, was questioned by a court in Beirut, for publishing on Facebook a copy of a cheque worth of 1.4 billion Lebanese pounds (more than 900 thousand US dollars) in name of interior minister Nouhad Machnouk. The minister filed a defamation complaint against Zbeeb.
Ali Anouzla, journalist and editor of the news site Lakome, was awarded the 2015 Raif Badawi Award for courageous journalists. The International Media Alliance, which gives the award, described Anouzla as ‘one of the very few Moroccan journalists who does not practice self-censorship’, and ‘continuously crosses red lines’. Anouzla is facing up to 20 years in jail over a ‘terrorism apology’ in a politically motivated case that dates back to 2013. In that year, his site lakome.com was blocked by the Moroccan authorities, but in August 2015, Anouzla launched lakome2.com. Anouzla’s award comes as the government continues its crackdown on journalists and activists.
Omani blogger Muawiya al-Ruwahi was put on trial by the security court in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on charges of “establishing and managing online accounts for the purpose of inciting hate and disrupting public order and social peace” and “ridiculing the State and its leaders,” Amnesty International reported on 1 October. Al-Rawahi was arrested on 23 February as he crossed the border to the UAE over his online criticism of the authorities and the rulers there.
During the recent escalation of violence in Israel and Palestine, the Israeli government took action against content on Facebook and YouTube it claims incites violence. In a letter to Google, the Israeli Foreign Ministry claimed that these videos praise the “assailants and present Jews and Israel in a hateful and racist manner”. The Foreign Ministry also made contact with Facebook, officially requesting the takedown of content. Since then, Israelis have vandalized Facebook offices in Israel, claiming that Facebook didn’t comply with the government’s takedown requests and a pro-Israel group is threatening to sue Facebook for promoting terrorism. The Palestinian group Hamas is now claiming that a number of their Facebook pages and their YouTube channel have been taken down since October 20th, blaming the takedowns on pressure from the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
In the span of one week, the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced three human rights activists to long term prison sentences under a draconian counter-terrorism law. On 13 October, the court sentenced activist, Abdulaziz Abdulatif Alsonaidi, to eight years in prison and a travel ban upon release and a $13,300 fine for writing a petition, and insulting the King and inciting public opinion on twitter. A day later, Abdulrahman al-Hamid from the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) was sentenced to nine years in prison for charges that include inciting against public order, and setting up an unlicensed organization, the ACPRA. Al-Hamid was arrested in April 2014, a day after he posted a tweet accusing the interior minister of “repressing public freedoms and dignity” with a link to a petition calling for the minister’s trial. On 19 October, Abdulkareem al-Khoder, a co-founder of the ACPRA was sentenced to ten years in jail also over his human rights activities.
Technologist Bassel (Safadi) Khartabil was moved from Adra Prison, on the outskirts of Damascus, to an unknown location on October 4, prompting concern amongst activists as to his whereabouts. The move sparked a new wave of activism for the beleaguered open source software developer, who has been imprisoned since 2012. Wikimedia, Index on Censorship, Global Voices, EFF, and Creative Commons were among the organizations to call on Syrian authorities to disclose Khartabil’s whereabouts and ensure his immediate release.
After withdrawing a bill on the right to access information without any explanation in July, the government submitted a new version to the parliament on 21 September. Exemptions on the right to access information in this bill, are the subject of a disagreement between the government and the rights and liberties parliamentary commission. The commission only suggests three exemptions which are: security and national defense, international relations, and the protections of privacy. The government, however, argued for five more vague exemptions including the State’s economic interests or the legitimate commercial interests of others.
The Mwatana Organization for Human Rights has called on the Houthi rebel group, which controls vast areas of the country, to stop targeting journalists and to reveal the whereabouts of at least 13 media workers abducted by the group. Mwatana also numbered 36 news websites blocked by the Houthis.
Citizen Lab released a report on information controls during the ongoing armed conflict in Yemen. Among several findings, the research confirms that filtering products by the Canadian company Netsweeper are being used to filter critical political content, independent media websites, and all URLs belonging to the Israeli (.il) top-level domain. This censorship is implemented by YemenNet, the state-owned ISP currently under the control of the Houthis.
- MedMedia, an online digital library launched last year to support media reform processes in the Southern Mediterranean, has announced that 300 expert reports and legal documents are now available on its site.
- Citizen Lab has issued a new report mapping the proliferation of spy tool FinFisher.
In other news
- Two flaws have been discovered in the TrueCrypt disk encryption software program
- In Sudan, amid a government crackdown on the press Whatsapp is ‘fuelling a sharing revolution’
- Facebook announces a new system for alerting users of ‘state sponsored’ hacking attempts.
- Privatizing censorship in fight against extremism is risk to press freedom, writes CPJ’s Courtney Radsch
From our partners
- Facebook’s real name policy puts speech before privacy, writes Global Voices Advocacy’s Ellery Biddle.
- EFF has launched Offline, a platform advocating for the release of jailed bloggers, online activists, and technologists.
- The 4th Annual Arab Internet Governance Forum will be held in Beirut for the second year in a row, from December 17-18, 2015. Submit your proposal here [download].
Volume 3.8 10/14/15
Digital Citizen is a biweekly review of news, policy, and research on human rights and technology in the Arab World.
Police arrested activist Ibrahim Karimi for his alleged involvement in managing the Twitter account “FreejKarimi”, which shares news related to the human rights situation in Bahrain and other Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) addressed a letter to President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, urging him to release all imprisoned journalists. On 23 September, Sisi pardoned Al-Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed. However, several other journalists still languish in jail.
After more than two years in jail, photojournalist Mohammed Abu Zeid—known as Shawkan—is set to go on trial on 12 December. Shawkan was arrested in August 2013 while covering clashes between Egyptian security forces and supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi for the citizen photography website Demotix. Along with more than 700 other defendants, Shawkan stands accused of accused of belonging to a banned group, murder and attempted murder.
Cairo Scene interviews outspoken Egyptian atheist Sherif Gaber, who in 2013 was arrested for running what the authorities described as an atheist Facebook page.
On 14 September, the Iraqi parliament approved a bill requiring the telecommunications ministry to filter pornography. In late July, 150 parliamentarians signed a petition to censor adult content inside the country.
Internet freedom in Iraq is threatened as both ISIS and the government seek to control the networks. While ISIS controls the internet in areas under its control, the government previously resorted to blocking entire and social networking sites, allegedly to combat the terror group’s online propaganda. Meanwhile users continue to face high internet subscription costs and daily outages.
Satirist Omar Zorba was released from jail, after a former prime minister and his son dropped a defamation lawsuit against him. Zorba was arrested on 15 September over a Facebook post in which he criticized excessive spending in the wedding party of Amjad al-Dahabi, the son of former prime minister Nader al-Dahabi. Zorba who did not mention the son by name, wrote: “half a million JOD (705,200 USD) for the son of former minister’s wedding party in the most luxurious five star hotel in Amman—the preparations alone cost 300,000 JOD (or 423,100 USD)”.
On 18 September, the Special Tribunal of Lebanon (STL) in the Hague, which is investigating the 2005 assassination of PM Rafik Hariri, convicted Al-Jadeed TV journalist Karma Khayat of contempt of court and obstruction of justice for refusing take down from the station’s website and YouTube account reports originally aired in August 2012. The STL deemed the reports endangering to witnesses, while Khayat said they aimed at highlighting the court’s problems. Though Khayat was acquitted from the charge of endangering witnesses, she still faces up to seven years in jail.
On 21 September, the Lebanese army arrested a woman after she spoke about her alleged rape to local media. In an interview posted on 4 September on the news site NOW, Layal al-Kayaje revealed that in 2013 two members of the military raped her while she was in detention for expressing on Facebook her support to hard-line cleric Ahmad al-Assir. The Lebanese army claimed that al-Kayaje was detained after confessing to lying about being raped.
On 11 September, a primary court in the city of Marrakech sentenced editor of the news site hibapress.com Kamel Krouu and its director Mohamed Lekbir to 10 months in jail each for defaming Marrakech governor in an article publised on the site.
On 17 September, Reporters Without Borders expressed its concerns about the state of freedom of expression and information in Morocco. Since the start of the year, several journalists have faced harassment and prosecutions for criticizing the government or reporting on wrongdoing by officials.
On 8 September, police in the city of Casablanca interrogated Hisham Almiraat and Karima Nadir—respectively president and vice-president of the Association of Digital Rights (ADN)—following a lawsuit filed by the interior ministry.They are both accused of making false accusations, denigrating the State, and contempt of a constituted body over the association’s role in the publication of “Their Eyes On Me”, a report that sheds light on the authorities’ surveillance of journalists and rights activists. They have also been placed under travel bans.
Omani lawyers Riyadh Al Balushi and Yousuf Al-Busaidi launched qanoon.com, a platform that publishes Omani laws and make them available to the public.
Saudi Arabia has been appointed to the UN Human Rights Council, prompting widespread fury. Ensaf Haidar, the wife of imprisoned pro-democracy blogger Raif Badawi, told the Independent that the appointment was effectively “a green light to start flogging [him] again”. Reporters Without Borders was one of several rights groups to condemn the decision.
Hundreds of Facebook pages are reportedly being monitored by the authorities over terror links. According to ICT minister Noomene Fehri, the number ranges between 500 and 1000. He also added that 200 websites, mostly hosted outside Tunisia, are also under surveillance. Following two deadly attacks targeting foreign tourists this year, the government stepped up its efforts to combat individuals or groups supporting terror activities or groups online. According to lawyer Samir Ben Amor, following the 26 of June resort attack in Sousse, at least 50 cases were filed against users who posted online comments questioning official government accounts. Ben Amor represents Facebook user and mathematics teacher Abdelfatteh Saied who has been in jail for more than two months for alleging on Facebook that the Sousse attack was a conspiracy.
On 16 September, police union leader Walid Zarrouk was arrested after a libel complaint filed against him by judge Sofiane Selliti. The judge accuses Zarrouk of defaming him on Facebook. Zarrouk’s Facebook page seems to have been removed. In a separate case, Zarrouk was sentenced in absentia to one year in jail last May, over defamation of a state prosecutor in a 2013 Facebook post.
On 30 September, police officers assaulted Nawaat journalists Arwa Barakat and Mohamed Ali Mensali, while they were covering a protest against a controversial corruption amnesty bill. According to Nawaat, Mensali was detained and only released after police made sure he deleted footage showing them beating protesters.
- UNESCO and Maharat Foundation released the ‘internet freedom report in Lebanon’.
- A talk presented at the Chaos Communications Camp in August focuses on the infiltration and physical surveillance of social movements.
- The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms released a report on citizen journalism and freedom of expression in Palestine.
- A new report by the United Nations Broadband Commission reveals that almost three quarters of women online have been exposed to some form of cyber violence.
In other news
- The Syrian Archive preserves documentation of human rights violations in Syria.
- Joshua Goldberg, a prolific Internet troll, was arrested after posing as an Australian jihadi and encouraging a terrorist attack.
- The Telegraph reports that people smugglers are using Facebook to sell fake Syrian passports to economic migrants.
- The Tactical Technology Collective has released “Zen and the art of making tech work for you,” a guide to online safety and security that takes gender into account.
- In two separate interviews, the Association for Progressive Communication highlights the work of the Article 19 office in Tunisia and the Open Source Association in Jordan to advance digital rights.
From our partners
- As part of its Surveillance Self-Defense project, EFF has released a playlist for academic researchers looking to stay safer online.
- The 4th Annual Arab Internet Governance Forum will be held in Beirut for the second year in a row, from December 17-18, 2015. Submit your proposal here.
Volume 3.7 09/21/15
Digital Citizen is a biweekly review of news, policy, and research on human rights and technology in the Arab World. Subscribe here!
The Committee to Protect Journalists, along with 40 human rights and press freedom groups, has called on Bahraini authorities to release imprisoned blogger Abduljalil Alsingace. Alsingace has been on hunger strike since 21 March 2015. He is serving a life sentence for taking part in anti-government protests in 2011.
Police arrested pharmacist Islam al-Menshawy for criticizing the hepatitis C drug Sovaldi on Facebook. Al-Menshawi said that some patients taking Sovaldi were suffering from negative side effects, and that the Ministry of Health bought the drug from the US, even though the Food and Drug Administration has not finished testing it on hepatitis c genotype 4, the most common strain in Egypt. He stands accused of spreading false information on Facebook and disturbing public peace.
On 26 August, the Administrative Court rejected a lawsuit to block Facebook. The lawsuit was filed by lawyer Mahmoud Goueily, who argued that the social networking site is unregulated, threatens the security of Egypt, and is used to spread rumors.
A court in Cairo released Yahya Khalaf, the director of the news site Yaqeen News Network after ordering him to pay a fine of 10,000 Egyptian pounds. Khakaf was arrested during a police raid against the network’s offices in July.
Egypt’s state commissioner issued a report recommending the Administrative Court reject a lawsuit to censor the Rassd News Network. Lawyer Samir Sabry, who filed the lawsuit, accuses Rassd of spreading false news and supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood.
On 5 September, authorities arrested the owner of the Twitter account @Kabret1, which has 121 followers. The user, who has not been identified by local media, has been using the account to criticize the country’s government and officials. He stands accused of insulting public figures including the country’s ruler, and undermining security.
After having trouble accessing mobile networks during the #youstink protests in downtown Beirut on 22 August, SMEX launched a petition requesting that Alfa and Touch, Lebanon’s two mobile network operators, boost coverage in downtown for the planned 29 August protest, which was expected to bring tens of thousands to Martyr’s Square. It looks like the effort worked: Alfa and Touch sent two mobile installations supporting the internet connection to Martyr’s Square on the evening before the protest, during which more than 50,000 people demonstrated against the garbage crisis, corruption, and the sectarian system.
LBC has released a video report on internet freedom setbacks in Lebanon.
On 20 August, the cabinet adopted two draft laws on cybercrime, and on the Mauritanian information society. In a blog post, blogger and activist Ahmed Ould Jedou lists what he describes as the dangerous, vague, and disastrous provisions of the legislation. Article 11 states the aim of the information society law as regulating the cyberspace in accordance with “morality,” while article 21 punishes “insults” by up to seven years in jail.
On 5 September, police arrested Abdelghafour Tarhouchi, editor of the local news site freerif.com, over a document he published that was supposedly leaked from the Interior Ministry. In it, the ministry is ordering its “cooperators” to “carry out plans” for the local elections in the Rif region, according to Morocco’s Alt Presse. Though the document had already been shared on social media, when Tarhouchi posted it to Facebook, police arrested him and confiscated his electronic devices. He was released few hours later.
On 25 August, Samad Ayach from the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism (AMJI) was prevented by authorities at Casablanca airport from boarding a plane to Tunis. Earlier that month, Ayach had been interrogated by police over trainings on the use of Free Press Unlimited’s StoryMaker App. His colleague Hicham Mansouri is spending a 10-month prison term for what local and international press freedom groups believe to be trumped up adultery charges.
During campaigning for September’s local elections, mobile phone subscribers reported receiving e-mails and SMSes from candidates, despite the fact that they never opted in for such messages.
The first Digital Rights Campaign was launched by the Palestinian Center for Development of Media Freedoms (MADA). The campaign includes a 3-day workshop aimed at journalists and media students that was held during the month of August. The workshop focused on training the participants on social media campaigns, highlighting human rights in the digital era and the right to Internet access. The campaign will continue to conduct further events promoting digital rights in Palestine.
Gazans are increasingly using Whatsapp to stay updated with current events and news. According to Al-Monitor, 17 media outlets are using Whatsapp as a tool to spread news.
On September 11, the Raif Badawi Foundation for Freedom was launched by family members and friends. The foundation seeks to freedom of expression in the Arab region. Badawi is serving a ten year jail term for criticizing the kingdom’s religious clerics on his blog.
On 10 September, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on the Saudi authorities to released blogger Alaa Brinji held without trial for the past 16 months. A journalist with the local online media outlet Al Sharq, Brinji was arrested on 13 May 2014 on returning from Bahrain with his family. He has been in prison ever since without any formal charges. According to RSF, his arrest was prompted by his comments about religious fatwas on a Facebook page that he created and then deleted for fear of reprisals. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) however, stated that he was arrested for posting comments critical of the counter-terrorism law to Facebook.
Waleed al-Hussein al-Dood, journalist and founder of the news site Al-Rakoba, has been detained for more than a month without charge in a jail in the city of Dammam, Saudi Arabia. Al-Dood could face deportation to Sudan, where he is at risk of abuse and arrest by security forces. His website, which has been blocked by Sudanese authorities on several occasions, is critical of the government and covers corruption as well as human rights violations.
On 31 August, the anti-terrorism court in Damascus ruled that Mazen Darwish—founder of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)—and four of his colleagues are covered by a general political amnesty issued by the Syrian government in June 2014. As a result, Darwish and his colleagues are now cleared of the accusation of “spreading terrorist activities” in relation to their human rights activities, including the monitoring of online news and the publication of human rights reports.
Writing for the collective blog Nawaat, net freedom advocate Dhouha Ben Youssef, analyzes loopholes in the new counter-terrorism law adopted by the parliament on 25 July, including threats to privacy and access to information rights, and the exclusion of the country’s personal data protection authority from a counter-terrorism commission.
In other news
- The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) has announced a new organizational strategy.
- Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdelfatteh speaks to Huffpost Arabi from jail.
- In Jordan, the noose tightens on freedom of speech.
From our partners
- SMEX has launched a new project, a one-of-a-kind data visualization of more than 140 legal instruments from 20 countries.
- As part of its Surveillance Self-Defense project, EFF has launched a guide to avoiding phishing attacks.
- The Stockholm Internet Forum will take place 21-22 October.
Volume 3.6 09/09/15
On 11 August, Al-Wasat, the country’s only independent newspaper, resumed publishing following a government ban that lasted a few days. The newspaper was suspended by the Information Affairs Authority on 6 August for its “repeated dissemination of information that affects national unity and the Kingdom’s relationship with other countries”, according to the official news agency. Two days earlier, Al-Wasat received a warning from the information authority over an opinion piece entitled “And they will never approve of you”. In it, columnist Hani Al-Farden said that despite members of the opposition’s rejection of violence, they regularly face accusations of treason.
On 8 August, authorities at the Manama International Airport arrested interfaith activist Maytham Al Salman as he was returning from a trip abroad. Al Salman spent 12 hours at the Criminal Investigation Division, Economic Crimes Unit. He was charged with “inciting hatred against the regime”, a crime punishable by imprisonment of up to three years, over tweets tackling incitement to religious hatred in Bahrain.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi approved a new anti-terrorism law which criminalizes ‘false’ reporting on terror activities. The law prescribe fines ranging from 200,000 to 500,000 Egyptian pounds (25,500 to 64,000 USD) for publishing “false news or statements” about terror acts, or reports that contradict government accounts. The law also punishes by at least five years in jail those convicted of the “promotion, directly or indirectly, of any perpetration of terrorist crimes, verbally or in writing or by any other means.”
Atef Al-Joulani, the Editor-in-chief of the Assabeel news portal, was detained Aug. 18 under Article 11 of the Cybercrime Law, for an article he wrote criticizing the government’s handling of a shipment of gas canisters. He was accused of violations under the press and publications law prohibition against publishing false news and for defamation.
Residents in Beirut launched the #YouStink campaign amid a trash crisis that became the tipping point for broader public dissatisfaction with political corruption and inaction by a government that has been unable to fill the presidency left vacant since last year. Thousands of protesters descended on downtown Beirut on Aug. 22 and Aug. 23, prompting confrontations with police forces that included water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets.
An undated video showing Saad Qaddafi—son of the deposed leader Muammar Qaddafi—blindfolded in Hadba prison as two other men are beaten was broadcast Aug. 2, prompting calls for an investigation into the abuse. Throughout the nearly 10-minute video men, some uniformed and others not, are shown and heard beating another man. At one point, Qaddafi is shown blindfolded before being asked if he preferred to be beaten on his back or his feet.
A court in the city of Meknés ordered news website badil.info to suspend its activities for three months and fined its editor Hamid Mahdaoui 30,000 dirhams (US$3,000) for publishing a news report of a car bombing in the city. The story, which the government says was false, was published in January. A complaint was only filed in April by the local governor. In June, a court in Casablanca sentenced Mahdaoui to a four-month suspended jail term for publishing a report on the death of political activist Karim Lachkar while under police custody.
Authorities in Marrakesh summoned Samad Ayach from the Moroccan Association for Education and Youth (AMEJ) for investigation over trainings on the use of Free Press Unlimited’s StoryMaker App. Authorities accuse him of “destabilizing citizens’ allegiance to constitutional institutions”, “seeking to sow discord” and serving a “foreign agenda” by training youths to make stories that tarnish the image of the kingdom. Last June, police interrupted a training session by FPU and AMAJ and confiscated the smartphones of all participants, without a warrant. StoryMaker is a mobile application that helps journalists produce and publish stories.
Prosecutors in the city of Khenifra ordered the arrest of rap singer Al-Montakim (‘the avenger’), over his video clip ‘Korsika’, published on youtube on 4 July. In it, the singer describes life in his neighborhood and insults police.
Omani authorities arrested five human rights activists, known for their criticism of the government on social media. On 3 August, Salih Al-Azri, Ali Al-Muqbali and Talib Al-Saedi were arrested without warrant, and are being held incommunicado, according to the Gulf Center for Human Rights. A day later, blogger Muktar Al-Hanaei and activist Ahmed Al-Blushi were arrested as they were on their way to the UAE. The activists were however released about 20 days later, on August 24. In 2012, Al-Hanaei was sentenced to for allegedly insulting Sultan Qaboos by publishing “offensive writings and violating the information technology law.”
Qatari poet Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb Al-Ajami is being featured as August’s prisoner of conscience in a campaign called ‘their freedom their right’. Maharat Foundation, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and IFEX launched the campaign in May to shed light on the many activists languishing in jail across the region for merely expressing themselves. Al-Ajami is serving a 15 year jail term over poems in support of the so-called Arab spring and critical of members of the Qatari ruling family and Arab governments. Al-Ajami recorded and posted some of his poems online.
3G and 4G services may soon be launched in the occupied Palestinian territories, following a meeting of the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Information and Telecommunications with Israeli officials. Citing security and economic concerns, Israel has always refused to give Palestinian companies the frequencies needed to have 3G services or allow them to import 3G equipment.
Saudi Arabia’s supreme court is once again reviewing the case of blogger Raif Badawi, in prison since June 2012 for criticising the kingdom’s clerics on his Saudi Arabian Liberals blog. Badawi is serving a ten year jail term. He was also sentenced to 1000 lashes. On 7 June, the same court upheld Badawi’s conviction. He received the first round of 50 lashes on 9 January, sparking outrage and international condemnation. The cruel punishment has since been postponed on medical grounds. In meeting in Berlin on 10 August, German minister of foreign affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier raised the case of Badawi with his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir. Al-Jubeir said that his government “would not tolerate any outside interference” in the case, and that the judiciary in his country is independent.
On 10 August, the Syrian regime released Mazen Darwish, a free speech advocate and founder of the Syrian Centre for Media and Free Expression (SCM). Darwish was arrested in February 2012 along with two of his colleagues, Hussein Ghreir and Hani Al-Zitani, in relation to their rights-defending activities, including the monitoring of online news and the publication of human rights reports.. Ghreir and Al-Zitani were released in July.
United Arab Emirates
The number of Facebook users under the age of 30 in the UAE continues to decrease. Between June 2010 and October 2014, their number decreased by almost 5 percent. Emergence of new social media platforms and privacy concerns could explain this shift, experts say, although this matches global trends.
In other news
- The Palestinian Center for for Development and Media Freedoms recorded 224 media freedom violations during the first half of 2015
- Rory Peck Trust and the Committee to Protect Journalists released the Syria Media Safety Resource, which provides security information for Syrian journalists.
- The Tactical Technology Collective has released ononymous.org, a collection of resources on digital safety.
- Digital rights and security researcher Ramy Raoof speaks to correspondents.org about government surveillance in Egypt and the region.
- Global Voices’ Ahmed Ould Jedou writes about the decline of Arabic language content
- Media and journalists in Tunisia are struggling to balance democracy and security, following terror attacks.
From our partners
- As it fights terror, the Tunisian government is cracking down on rights, reports Global Voices.
- EFF has announced its Pioneer Awards winners for 2015. This year’s winners include the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, and Anriette Esterhuysen, executive director of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC).
- The Stockholm Internet Forum, October 21-22, Stockholm, Sweden
- Middle East Cyber Security Summit, September 15-16, Muscat, Oman
- Middle East Info Security Summit, October 12-13, Cairo, Egypt
- FrontLine Defenders’ 8th annual Platform for Human Rights Defenders will take place November 4-6 in Dublin.
Volume 3.5 08/17/15
Digital Citizen is a biweekly review of news, policy, and research on human rights and technology in the Arab World. Subscribe here!
The Bahrain Center for Human rights reported that on 9 July 2015, the Bahraini electronic crimes directorate started investigations some Twitter users for alleged insults toward elected members of parliament, and that one user was arrested.
A new draft of the Right to Information law will reportedly criminalize spreading rumors on social media that could potentially harm the state, according to Egypt’s Al-Watan newspaper. The new law will also reportedly define “cybercrime” in greater detail, a definition that will include “disclosing classified national security information” and “spreading harmful rumors.”
Yaqeen News Network (YNN) announced on 20 July the suspension of all of its activities, six days after a police raid against its offices. The network’s director Yahia Khalaf—who was arrested in the raid—remains in detention.
The government has dropped a two-year jail sentence against journalists from a proposed counter-terrorism law. The draft previously prescribed a two-year jail term against journalists if they publish non-government data about terror operations. Journalists still, however, face fines ranging from 200,000 to 500,000 Egyptian pounds.
An Iraqi member of parliament collected 150 signatures from fellow MPs to censor pornographic websites inside the country. On social media, campaigns were launched to support the process, while others protested the move arguing that the parliament should instead focus on more important priorities. The issue was first raised by the highest Shiite authority in the country represented by Ali al-Sistani, who declared that watching pornography is forbidden in Islam.
Jordanian journalist Jihad Muheisen faces charges of undermining the regime and lèse-majesté for comments made on Facebook, the International Press Institute recently reported. Muheisen, who is a columnist with Al Ghad, allegedly criticized Jordan’s democratic process and said he would become a Shiite. The State Security Court detained Muheisen on 12 July, the same day it released Al Rai journalist Ghazi Mrayat. Mrayat spent five days in detention for violating a gag order in relation to a foiled terror plot allegedly backed by Iran.
Human Rights Watch has called Kuwait’s new cybercrime law “a blow to free speech.” The law establishes criminal penalties for various offenses, including hacking electronic systems, fraud, publishing pornography, and engaging in human trafficking via the Internet, but it also broadens the reach of existing restrictions on print publications to cover online content, resulting in expansion of censorship in the country.
Lebanon’s Cybercrime Bureau ordered from the Italian surveillance and security technology firm “HackingTeam” spying software and surveilled the actions of its citizens “by exploiting a security flaw in the mobile phone game application Angry Birds”. According to the advocacy groups Legal Agenda, SMEX, and Maharat, these attempts of the Bureau to implement targeted surveillance are outside the sphere of legality and violates Law 140/1999.
Apple refused to publish a new application for the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas on the Apple Store.. The application is available in the Google Play store.
Israeli blog +972 recently reported on how the government of Israel spies on citizens using social media. According to their report, the IDF contracts Israeli companies to monitor posts on social media, while Army Intelligence filed a request to gather data on citizens of Israel who write about protests, as well as users who write in Arabic and use words like “the Zionist state” and “al-Quds” (“Jerusalem” in Arabic).
Members of the Syrian Centre for Media and Free Expression (SCM), Hussein Ghreir and Hani Al-Zitani were released from prison, while their colleague Mazen Darwish remains in jail. Ghreir, Al-Zitani, and Darwish were arrested in 2012 in relation to their rights-defending activities, including the monitoring of online news and the publication of human rights reports. On 22 July their trial was postponed for the 25th time.
Police arrested a mathematics teacher for alleging on Facebook that the 26 June beach resort attack in Sousse, which left 38 foreign tourists dead, was a conspiracy carried out by security officers. The teacher, identified as Abdelfattah Said, stood before an investigative judge on 27 July. According to Human Rights Watch, he was charged with complicity in terrorism under the 2003 counter-terrorism law. He further stands accused of insulting government figures for sharing and commenting on a photoshopped picture of PM Habib Essid. The picture, which was originally shared by another user, shows Essid holding a shovel. Said posted the photo on 12 July, along with a comment on a decision by the broadcast regulator to close a number of religious radios and TV stations. He said: “as if they [the government] are waiting and thirsty for the Sousse crime to happen, to shut down all sources of moderate Islam. As if it is a gift they got from heaven”.
Following the Sousse attack, the interior ministry launched a crackdown on individuals using social media to “support terrorism”. On 20 July, the ministry announced the arrest of eight individuals for “incitement to terrorism” on social media.
On 25 July, the parliament adopted a new anti-terror law. Human rights groups criticized the law for endangering rights and containing a number of flaws including the granting of security and intelligence services exceptional powers to use “special investigative techniques” including surveillance, interception of communication, recording of phone conversations for a period not exceeding four months after obtaining judicial authorization.
United Arab Emirates
Cyberpoint, a Maryland-based company reported to be a customer of Hacking Team, has been granted a license by the US State Department to provide “cyberdefense” assistance to the UAE. The company claims their work in the country is “defensive” and not “operational.”
The UAE passed an anti-hate speech law which prescribes jail terms to those who violate it, ranging from six months to ten years and fines from 50,000 to million Emirati Dirhams. The law criminalises acts inciting religious hatred and insulting religion through any form of expression, including online media. The law was quickly put to use when a former police chief filed a case against a Saudi writer for “spreading hate” against the UAE on social media using his Twitter account.
On 5 July, Houthi rebels kidnapped rights activist Abd al-Kader al-Guneid from his home in the city of Taizz. On Twitter, al-Guneid has been critical of the Houthis, who took control of much of the country and forced president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to flee the capital Sanaa in February. According to his wife and son, he has been receiving threats on Facebook and over the phone by Houthi supporters.
- In its 2015 law enforcement disclosure report, Vodafone outlines government efforts to censor telecom networks.
- A collection of essays on digital activism in Asia is critical reading for students of the genre.
- “The Digital Freedom Risk: Too Fragile an Acknowledgement” [pdf] has been released in honor of sociologist Ulrich Beck, who passed away in January.
- A new paper, entitled “(Social) Media and Politics and the Arab Spring Moment” [pdf], has been released by Northwestern University, Qatar.
In other news
- For Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan, who spent more than five years in prison before being released last year, “the rich, diverse, free web that [he] loved — and spent years in an Iranian jail for — is dying”.
From our partners
- EFF is seeking volunteer translators to work on technology projects
- “Hacking Team leaks confirm what Arab privacy advocates already knew,” writes EFF’s Jillian York
- Access puts surveillance on the agenda for Human Rights Council elections
- SMEX has published an update to the ongoing story of mobile providers breaching customer rights in Lebanon.
- EFF has submitted comment to the US Commerce Department regarding the implementation of the Wassenaar Arrangement export controls.
- The Stockholm Internet Forum will take place October 21-22 in Sweden. Anyone can recommend participants this year.
Volume 3.4 07/30/15
For several years, Hacking Team—a Milan-based company that produces offensive intrusion and surveillance software to governments—has been a thorn in the side of digital rights activists. A 2014 paper from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which detailed how the company’s software works, relied heavily on its alleged use by Saudi Arabia to target individuals during protests in the eastern governorate of Qatif.
On July 5, the hackers were hacked, resulting in the release of a 400GB trove of documents demonstrating, among other things, that Hacking Team sold its software to repressive governments, something the company had previously denied.
“For Arab human rights defenders,” wrote Abir Ghattas shortly after the hack, the Hacking Team files confirm what they already knew: That Arab governments—including Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, Bahrain, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia—had purchased and used Hacking Team’s remote intrusion tool, often against activists. The leaks showed that Israel’s police and defence ministry had also considered purchasing the software.
A debate centered on whether the export of such technologies should be controlled by the states in which they are produced has been ongoing for several years, with proponents arguing for export regulations and opponents claiming that such regulations could curb online freedoms. While that debate is sure to continue, one thing is certain: Repression, once mainly the domain of governments, has become a multi-million dollar industry and governments, the would-be regulators of these tools, have now become its customers.
The Algerian police’s specialized cybercrime units in the southern city of Ghardaia summoned and arrested 27 Facebook users for investigation over charges of incitement. The users stand accused of inciting violence and hatred between Arab and Berber communities through a number of Facebook pages including “Ghardaia HD3”. The arrests followed clashes between the two ethnic communities in Ghardaia in early July, which resulted in twenty-two deaths and dozens of injuries. Police allege that evidence they obtained proves that the recent clashes were provoked by a group of persons who published rumors, lies and fake photos on Facebook pages and online forums.
On 2 July, authorities released labor rights activist Rachid Aouine after spending four and half months in jail. Aouine was arrested in March and sentenced to six-months in jail for “instigating an unarmed gathering” in an ironic Facebook update. The sarcastic post responded to a government announcement warning law enforcement officers not to take part in protests. Aouine wrote: “Police officers, why don’t you go out today to protest against the arbitrary decisions against your colleagues…, instead of controlling the free activists and the protesters against the shale gas?”
Human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was released from prison on 13 July, after receiving a royal pardon. Rajab was arrested at his home on 2 April for tweeting about abuse in Bahrain’s Jaw Prison and the Saudi-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen. While in detention, a court upheld a six-month jail term against him in the separate case of insulting security institutions on Twitter.
On 11 July, Bahrain handed over Kuwaiti citizen Yousef Shamlan Al-Essa to his country. Al-Essa stands accused of “spreading false news” for taking part in conversations hosted by a WhatsApp group called “Fontas”. In the conversations, the group accused judges at the constitutional court of receiving bribes.
Under a new terrorism bill, journalists in Egypt could face up to two years in jail if they report non-government statistics. Article 33 of the law bans the publication of “false news or data about any terrorist operations that contradicts the official statements released by the relevant authorities”. The bill is set to be approved by President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and has been criticized by rights groups in the country.
On 14 July, police raided the offices of Yaqeen News Network, arresting its director Yahia Khalaf, along with Ibrahim Abubaker, another employee of the network. Police also confiscated all of the network’s equipment and devices. While Abubaker was released, Khalaf remains in detention.
Iraq’s government ordered a complete shutdown of Internet services in the country to prevent cheating during the national exams for entry into junior high school. The shutdown lasted for three hours between 5am and 8am on 27 June. A one-hour outage was recorded on 29 June, but may have been connected to network testing.
Ghazi Mrayat, a journalist at the state-owned daily Al-Rai, was sentenced to 15 days in jail by the state security court for violating a gag order in relation to a foiled terror plot allegedly backed by Iran. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, on 6 July, Al-Rai published on its website an article written by Mrayat, claiming that a suspect of Norwegian and Iraqi citizenship had been arrested with nearly 100 pounds of explosives. On 8 July, the newspaper published a follow-up article also written by Mrayat, with more details about the suspect and the Iranian link to the plot.
SMEX reports that mobile phone users in Lebanon are being charged for a service they didn’t request, and forced to pay even more than the cost of one month of that service to cancel. The digital rights group offers suggestions to telecoms on how they can respect users and their privacy.
Annahar enumerates 22 reasons behind slow internet speeds in Lebanon. According to the newspaper which quoted an official at the state run Ogero Telecom, in most cases these reasons are linked to the customer and not the provider such as age of the computer, opening several tabs and applications at the same time or not updating the software.
On 2 July, a primary court in Rabat delayed the trial of Khalad Boubakri and Ibrahim Safi, journalists at the news site barlamane.com who are facing trial for their role in a nepotism scandal involving the Minister of Higher Education Lahcen Daoudi. The minister filed a defamation lawsuit against the site for publishing articles alleging that he exploited his position to appoint members of his party at Moroccan universities.
Activist Ahmed Al-Moghairi spent three weeks in solitary confinement after Oman’s Internal Security Service summoned him for investigation on 16 June. He was released on 9 July. The Gulf Center for Human Rights believes that Al-Moghairi was detained for discussing corruption and calling for democratic reforms on social media.
In a recent article, 972mag exposes the double-standards of Israeli authorities with respect to inciting speech online. While Palestinians often face imprisonment or house arrests for petty acts such as sharing the logo of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Israelis do not face repercussions for “racist and inciting Facebook statuses” which have become “commonplace”. According to 972mag, “not a single Israeli has ever been sent to prison for publishing a status on social media.” The article points to the recent case of Uday Biyumi, a 23-year-old Palestinian from Jerusalem, sentenced to seventeen months in prison for publishing Facebook posts “systematically and widely.” The authors also note: “The court takes into account how much exposure these statuses receive when determining the defendant’s sentence.”
On 8 July, the ISIS-affiliated “Cyber Army of the Caliph” hacked the website of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and threatened its director, Rami Abdelrahman. The observatory documents human rights violations by all warring parties in the ongoing conflict.
Noureddine Mbarki, editor-in-chief of the news site akherkhabaronline.com, is accused of “complicity” under Article 18 of the country’s 2003 counter-terrorism law for publishing on his site a photo showing Sousse terror attacker Seiffeding Rezgui leaving a car right before killing 38 foreign tourists on a beach resort on 26 June. The photo, which was published on 5 July, has since been taken down at the request of the authorities. Prosecutors are seeking the source of the photo.
On 3 July, the Tunisian government withdrew the draft law on the right to access information without explanation. The draft was submitted to the National Constituent Assembly last year was only awaiting to be presented to the plenary of the People’s Representatives’ Assembly for its final approval. Article 19 described the withdrawal of the bill as “a step in the wrong direction”.
United Arab Emirates
The UAE jailed and deported Australian artist Jodi Magi for posting on facebook a photo of a parked car blocking two disabled parking spaces outside her apartment block in Abu Dhabi. Magi, who spent 53 hours in custody before her deportation, was convicted of “writing bad words on social media about a person”.
- Recent research indicates that state violence and internet shutdowns go hand-in-hand in Syria.
- Women Journalists Without Chains released a report documenting media freedom violations during the first half of 2015 in Yemen.
In other news
- The global privacy community lost two of its fiercest advocates in the past two weeks. British privacy activist Caspar Bowden, who had fought to ensure global privacy rights for all, passed away on July 9. Turkish activist Dr. Özgür Uçkan, a co-founder digital rights group Alternatif Bilisim, passed away on July 10. Both will be sorely missed.
- Europol will form a new Europe-wide police team to combat the online presence of Islamic State (IS) beginning in July. The police team will work with social media platforms to track and block social media accounts linked to IS and aims to shut down any new accounts within two hours of their creation.”
- From her prison cell, Egyptian photographer Esraa Al-Taweel writes about the last days before her arrest and what she has witnessed in prison since her detention.
- Mohamed ElTaher explains the capabilities of RCS technology used by Egyptian authorities after news of Hacking Team exporting the technology to the Egyptian government.
- ICANN’s Rafik Dammak discusses the current debate around the Domain Name System (DNS) and why activists should get involved in ICANN’s work.
- Digital Citizen contributor Mohammed Tarakiyee writes about the feminist practice of digital security in the MENA region.
- The UAE and the US launched the Sawab Center to counter the online propaganda of ISIS.
From our partners
- EFF has published a report on how Microsoft Bing censors search results in the Middle East.
- Access submitted a letter to Iraqi authorities calling on the country to stop shutting down the Internet.
- The Stockholm Internet forum will take place October 21-22, 2015.
Volume 3.3 07/10/15
Opposition activist Fadhil Abbas has been handed a jail sentence over tweets he wrote criticising the Saudi-led airstrikes against Houthis in Yemen, in which Bahrain is involved. Abbas was arrested on March 27, a day after the launch of the airstrikes, which he described as an ‘invasion’ and an ‘act of aggression’. He was convicted of “disseminating erroneous information and spreading tendentious rumours” and sentenced to five years in jail.
Surveillance of two non-governmental organisations (NGOs) by the UK’s GCHQ intelligence agency is illegal, said the country’s investigative powers tribunal (IPT). According to the Guardian, The IPT “upheld complaints by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the South African non-profit Legal Resources Centre that their communications had been illegally retained and examined.”
A group of doctors launched a Facebook page exposing the poor conditions of Egypt’s public hospitals on 7 June. The page has been sharing photos of the difficult and sometimes filthy conditions under which health professionals have to work, and has attracted more than 300,000 “likes” and media attention. Shortly afterwards, another page was launched to draw attention to the situation in schools. However, this page has since been deleted by its administrator, who cited “security concerns”.
On 12 June, Kuwait’s Court of Cassation upheld a 6-year jail sentence against blogger Saleh al-Saeed for criticizing neighboring Saudi Arabia. In a series of tweets posted in October 2014, Saeed accused Saudi Arabia of grabbing land in the neutral zone between it and Kuwait to exploit the area’s oil reserves, and slammed country’s inaction.
On 22 June a Casablanca court ordered news website Goud to pay 5 million Moroccan dirhams in damages to the king’s private secretary, Mounir el-Majidi. The website was convicted of defamation for republishing an article accusing el-Majidi of of corruption and mismanagement of funds. The website is set to appeal the conviction.
On 29 June, a court in Casablanca sentenced in absentia the director of the news site badil.info, Hamid Mahdaoui. Mahdaoui was handed a suspended jail term of four months for publishing a report on the death of political activist Karim Lachkar in police custody. He was also ordered to pay a 10 million Moroccan dirhams in damages to the head of the general directorate of national security and a fine of 6000 dirhams. On the same day, and in a separate case, a court in the city of Meknes delayed Mahdaoui’s trial over a story about a car bombing that was published on his site.
On 22 June, an Israeli court sentenced Uday Mufid Ibrahim Bayomi, a Palestinian man from East Jerusalem, to 17 months in jail over Facebook posts the court deemed as incitement against Israel. There was no further information about the content of the posts.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, user Ayman Mahareeq is facing charges of insulting Palestinian officials over posts he published on Facebook. In one post, reports NPR, Mahareeq accused Palestinian security forces of “withdrawing and hiding” whenever Israeli forces enter the West Bank. In another post, he wrote: “May the rule of the Palestinian Authority collapse”. Mahareeq was arrested in November 2014, and spent one month in detention, during which he claims he was interrogated and beaten.
Following the release by Wikileaks of 61,000 documents leaked from Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government warned its citizens against sharing and accessing the documents. According to Global Voices, in two tweets posted on 19 June, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked “aware citizens” not to “spread any documents that may be forged and which will help the enemies of the state achieve their goals”, and not to “access leaked information, which may be fabricated, with the goal of harming national security”.
Quebec’s government has granted imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi an immigration certificate. Badawi is currently serving a 10-year jail sentence for criticizing senior religious figures on his website, ‘Free Saudi Liberals’. He was also sentenced to 1,000 lashes, and received the first round of 50 lashes on 9 January. The lashing punishment has since been postponed on medical grounds.
United Arab Emirates
A court in Abu Dhabi sentenced user Nasser al-Faresi to three years in jail and fined him 500,000 dirham (136,000 USD) for posting on Twitter, “rumors, ideas and information that could incite hatred, and disturb public order”. In one tweet, Al-Faresi reportedly described a 2012 sedition trial against him, a “judicial farce”.
State-owned Yemen Net, the largest Internet service provider (ISP) in the country, blocked more news sites, including Hadhramaut news portal, al-ayyam.net and Observers’ Press. Since the beginning of the Saudi-led war against them, Houthi rebels who control the capital Sanaa—as well as government offices including the Ministry of Communications and Information—have been blocking websites, particularly those critical of the agencies’ policies.
After the adoption of Resolution 2222 by the UN Security Council, which “condemns all violations and abuses committed against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel in situations of armed conflict”, IFEX members have urged the Council to protect journalists in Yemen, noting that 12 journalists are currently being held hostage in the country.
In other news
- Mada Masr published an article looking at increased attempts by Egypt’s government to control online spaces.
- Al-Monitor looks at how security forces keep critics quiet in the “progressive” UAE.
From our partners
- 7iber has a new report on how digital content is controlled in Jordan.
- Global Voices looks at which Arab media covered the #SaudiCables released by WikiLeaks.
- Applications for SMEX’s new online course for aspiring Arab digital journalists are being accepted until July 20. Pro-tip: Submitting a brief bio video increases your chances of selection exponentially. Apply here.
- Chaos Communication Camp, Germany (August 2015)
Volume 3.2 06/23/15
Digital Citizen is a biweekly review of news, policy, and research on human rights and technology in the Arab World. Subscribe here!
Women’s rights activist Ghada Jamsheer was sentenced to 20 months in jail for posting tweets exposing corruption at King Hamad University Hospital.
Two Egyptian journalists were recently sentenced to prison in unrelated cases that are emblematic of the broader crackdown on the press in the country and the rollback in human rights over the past year. The editor of the independent news website Al-Bedaiah was sentenced to 15 months in prison for assaulting a police officer. In a separate case, Islam Behery, a presenter for the privately-owned Alkahera Walnas TV station, was sentenced in absentia to five years on charges of blasphemy in relation to comments made on his daily show on religious issues.
The Endowments Ministry began training 300 imams how to use WhatsApp and Facebook to get immediate advice from the ministry on how to deal with hardliners as part of the government’s initiative on countering violent extremism.
The Cairo administrative court upheld a travel ban imposed on Esraa Abdel Fattah, a blogger and journalist at the Al-Youm Al-Sabea newspaper. The decision followed a lawsuit filed by Abdel Fattah demanding the lifting of the ban, which she learnt about on 13 January when she attempted to board a flight to Germany.
Journalist Hayat Mirshad will not be investigated by the cyber-crime bureau, despite TV host Tony Khalife filed a libel complaint against her over a tweet in which she accused him of receiving a bribe to attack anti-domestic violence NGOs. After Mirshad refused on 15 June to appear before the bureau for its “illegal legitimacy”, the case was referred back to the publication court.
Police arrested twenty-two protesters on 11 June for staging a peaceful sit-in in front of the Special Section of the Omani Police in Muscat, where they believe that several of the nine online activists arrested between 31 May and 9 June are being held, according to Human Rights Watch. Activists said the imprisoned bloggers had written critically about the human rights situation in the country. Amongst the imprisoned activists are three founding members of the Omani Group for Human Rights, which uses Facebook and a website to document human rights developments.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has issued a letter to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, requesting the pardon of blogger Raif Badawi and human rights activist Waleed Abu-Khair. On 7 June, the Saudi Supreme Court upheld Badawi’s sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail on charges of insulting Islam. On 9 January, Badawi received the first round of 50 lashes. The cruel punishment has since been postponed on medical grounds.
The pro-Assad ‘Syrian Electronic Army’ claimed responsibility for the 8 June hacking of the US Army’s website, army.mil. In the hack, the group posted a message denouncing US military training of rebels fighting the Assad regime.
United Arab Emirates
UAE citizens swearing at others online could now be jailed and fined $68,000, and expatriates could face deportation. This new punishment was brought to light on 16 June, after the UAE Supreme Court ordered the retrial of a man convicted of swearing at a colleague in a Whatsapp message. The man was initially ordered to pay a fine of $800. However, prosecutors have appealed the verdict and requested the $68,000 fine or imprisonment under the new law.
- The 7th Annual ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey 2015, which explores attitudes among Arab youth in 16 MENA countries, found that 40% of young Arabs get their news from online sources and 25% from social media, significantly more than newspapers and radio but less than TV at 60%, with the GCC home to the largest number of social media users per capita
- The Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) published a report on Arab cybercrime legislation
- Article 19 published a report on disability and access to information in Lebanon
In other news
- Saudi Arabia is attempting to direct “YouTube imams” to voice support for its ongoing war in Yemen
From our partners
- SMEX has launched a call for applications for an online course in citizen and community journalism
- In this post, SMEX reveals how two Lebanese operators are forcing users to pay for a service they never requested
- Newsweek published a story on 7iber fighting censorship online
- EFF released its annual Who Has Your Back? report, ranking companies on how they respond to government requests
Volume 3.1 06/11/15
Digital Citizen is a biweekly review of news, policy, and research on human rights and technology in the Arab World.
On 26 May, a court acquitted cartoonist Tahar Djehiche of insulting the Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika over cartoons he published on Facebook. In the cartoons, Djehiche expressed his opposition to the exploitation of shale gas in In Salah, a town in the center of the country.
On 20 May, an administrative court has once again ordered the Egyptian government to block online porn. The ministry of telecommunication had previously cited “difficulties,” to enforce two previous similar orders issued in 2009 and 2012. Though, the latest decision is immediately enforceable, it is subject to appeal.
Egypt’s draconian cybercrime bill, which was approved by the cabinet in April, is currently awaiting the approval of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The Egyptian government argues that the bill aims at combating the promotion of terrorism and extremism on social networks. Yet, Mada Masr which obtained a copy of the bill, revealed that the new law “could usher in unprecedented punishments for online activity far away from ‘extremist thought’.” The bill prescribes severe prison sentences for blasphemy, hacking activities and the dissemination of rumors.
Prosecutors are investigating blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah for insulting the judiciary. The charges Abdel Fattah face include calling for demonstrations and the toppling of the regime on Twitter, and disturbing others via communication tools. The 33 year-old blogger is already serving a five-year jail term for taking part in an unauthorised protest.
On 19 May, authorities released Ibrahim Aref, editor of the weekly El-Bayan after arresting him a day earlier and accusing him of publishing false news. Aref was arrested over an article posted on the newspaper’s website, alleging that six prosecutors had been killed. El-Bayan has since removed the article and denied the allegations.
The International Press Institute (IPI) has urged Jordan to meet its pledges on ending website licensing, following remarks made by the country’s media commission and members of Parliament that a parliamentary discussion would be held in October to end the practice. Under the 2012 amendments of Jordan’s Press and Publications Law, news websites are required to get licensed by the authorities, and those that fail or refuse are liable to be blocked.
SMEX collaborated with Privacy International and the Association for Progressive Communication (APC) to submit a joint stakeholder report raising shared concerns about the respect, protection and promotion of the right to privacy before the Human Rights Council.
A court of appeal in the capital Rabat confirmed an initial ten-month prison sentence for press freedom advocate Hicham Mansouri, on what his colleagues believe to be trumped-up ‘adultery’ charges. Mansouri, who was arrested in mid-March, was also ordered to pay a $4,057 fine. Prior to his arrest, he was working on a report about alleged Internet surveillance of activists and journalists by the Moroccan authorities.
The Register revealed that the Sultanate of Oman’s intelligence services tapped into the internal phone systems of Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), a company owned by the government and various Western energy companies including Shell. The tapping was carried out by the European spying firms Gamma and Trovicor.
UAE authorities transferred Omani blogger Muawiya Al-Rawahi to Al Wathba prison, where he was placed in solitary confinement. Al-Rawahi is known for his political activism and has been critical of the UAE royal family on his Twitter account, @muawiyaalrawahi. He was arrested on 21 February by Emirati security while attempting to cross the border to the UAE.
A court in Tayma sentenced a disabled twitter user to 18 months in jail and 100 lashes over tweets critical of the poor service of the city’s hospital. Dawlan Ben Bekhit criticized the hospital’s administration for failing to provide him with the needed medical treatment after having a traffic accident that caused his disability.
Nawaat.org published an analysis of a draft law regulating the right to access to information. The bill contains commendable improvements over decree 41 of 2011 which regulates access to administrative documents, as it expands the list of organisms required to answer freedom of information requests, and establishes an authority tasked with hearing appeals in FOI requests and imposing sanctions on non-abiding organisms. However, the list of exceptions on the right to access information is broad and protections for whistleblowers remain minimal.
Net freedom advocate Dhouha Ben Youssef slammed the composition of the the Strategic Council for Digital Economy (CSEN), which has as its mission the adoption of a plan to develop the country’s digital economy sector. Ben Youssef described the council’s composition as “restrictive as it does not include representation from civil society and the technical community”.
Tunisia’s ICT minister, Noomane Fehri, reiterated his commitment not to censor the Internet in a meeting with media during the African Internet Summit.
United Arab Emirates
A Qatari national was jailed for 10 years for posting insulting images of the UAE royal family on twitter and instagram. Four other Qataris were sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment in the same case.
In a separate case, an Emirati man identified as Ahmad Abdullah Al Wahdi, was also sentenced to 10 years in jail by the State Security Court, for creating and running a social media account deemed insulting to UAE leaders and institutions.
In addition, in early June the same court is set to issue verdicts in the cases of a Kuwaiti national and an Emirati citizen also facing charges for insulting UAE royals on social media.
A 13 year-old girl has been taken to court for reportedly posting on Facebook a picture of her friend without her permission.
The use of the soon-to-be-released Windows 10 middle-finger emoji could land users in jail in the UAE, if a complaint is filed by the receiver. The act could be punished by up to three years in jail and a fine of up to Dhs 500,000.
As the Saudi-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen continues, Internet users reported on 30 May difficulties accessing Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, raising fears that the sites could have been blocked. However, an official at the Houthi-controlled Telecommunications Authority denied any blocking of social networking sites, blaming instead ‘acts of vandalism’ against fiber optics. As a result of these acts, three quarters of the country’s bandwidth capacity is now out of service. The Houthis have previously blocked a number of local and regional news sites over their coverage of the conflict.
Journalists covering the conflict continue to face life and safety risks. On 21 May, two journalists were killed in the southwestern province of Dhamar after being kidnapped by Houthis and held in a building which was bombed the following day by the Saudi-led coalition’s jet fighters. Yemeni Shabab TV correspondent Abdullah Kabil and Shuhail TV correspondent Yousef Alaizry were kidnapped on 20 May after covering a meeting organized by members of tribes opposed to the Houthi rebels in Al Hadi district in Dhamar, a province to the south of the capital, Sanaa. Three other journalists remain under the detention of Houthis. Broadcast journalist Galal al-Sharabi,, photographer Mohammed Aidha and Waheed al-Sofi, the editor-in-chief of the al-Arabiyya news website were arrested early this year and no one knows their whereabouts.
- Digital security and privacy are essential to maintaining freedom of opinion and expression around the world, says a new report from the United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
In other news
- Gamal Eid, director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), is interviewed by Mada Masr.
- The Huffington Post looks at risks to Saudi Arabian Internet users.
- Global Voices looks at e-diplomacy in Egypt.
Volume 3.0 05/27/15
Digital Citizen is a biweekly review of news, policy, and research on human rights and technology in the Arab World. Subscribe!
On 14 May, an appeals court upheld a six-month jail sentence against prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab over a tweet deemed insulting to the country’s interior and defence ministries. In the tweet posted last September, Rajab accused the kingdom’s security institutions of serving as ‘the first ideological incubator’ for those joining the hardline militant group ISIS.
In a separate case, Rajab was arrested in early April for tweeting about torture of inmates at Jaw prison and criticizing the Saudi-led war in Yemen. On 11 May, Bahraini authorities extended Rajab’s pre-trial detention for two weeks.
A criminal court in Cairo extended the pre-trial detention of photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid, known as Shawkan, for another 45 days. Shawkan has been in detention since August 2013, when he was arrested while covering clashes between Egyptian security forces and supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi for the citizen photography website Demotix.
Former MP Waleed al-Tabtabai was arrested on 1 May for alleging on Twitter that Iran is pressuring Kuwait to replace the crown prince with another one who has strong relations with Tehran. Tabtabai faces the accusations of spreading false news about the internal situation and undermining the status of the crown prince on social media.
“The Beirut Spring Festival“—created and launched in 2009 by the Samir Kassir Foundation—is inspired by the title of one of the last articles written by Samir Kassir, shortly before his assassination in 2005.
This event, targeting the broad general public, is unique both in its concept and program. In the first week of May, a panel discussion was organized on Freedom and Privacy: The Impossible Equation?, where two of Digital Citizen’s founders, Reem AlMasri and Mohamad Najem, shared their thoughts.
The Moroccan Interior Ministry filed a lawsuit against a civil society group over a report that sheds light on the authorities’ surveillance of journalists and rights activists, reported state news agency MAP, without specifying the group. The 40-page report, entitled ‘Their Eyes on Me’, was published by Privacy International and their Moroccan partner, the Association for Digital Rights (ADN). ADN is assuming that the authorities are referring to them. On 5 May, authorities sought to prevent a press conference by ADN to present the report, from taking place at the headquarters of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights in the capital Rabat. Police officers reportedly surrounded the association’s headquarters to prevent journalists from attending the conference. The conference did eventually take place.
On 4 May, Hamid Mahdaoui, director of the news site badil.info stood trial over a report published on his site on the death of political activist Karim Lachkar in police custody. In a separate case, Mahdaoui stands accused of publishing false news and publishing an unlicensed newspaper over a news item on the explosion of a car in Meknes.
Journalists from ARD and WDR—two public broadcasting networks in Germany—were arrested and interrogated by state security on 27 March while shooting a documentary critical of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, it was revealed on 4 May. The Qatari authorities had also confiscated the journalists’ camera equipment, cell phones, and notebooks, and deleted all of their data. The journalists were released after 14 hours but their equipment was only returned to them after four weeks.
A Saudi columnist has called for the filtering of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube as the solution to terrorism, describing these sites as ‘satanic’. Mohammad Alshaikh, who is ironically on Twitter and has more than 120,000 followers, argues that filtering has been effective in preventing terror acts in China, despite the fact that 130 million Muslims live there. This column is but a reflection of the declining support for freedom of expression online in the Arab region, as a recent poll suggests.
On 7 May, a primary court sentenced in absentia Walid Zarrouk, former leader of the Union of Republican Security Forces, to one year in prison for criticizing a state prosecutor on Facebook. Zarrouk was found guilty of ‘disturbing others through public communication networks’ under article 86 of the country’s telecommunication code because of a 2013 post criticizing the politicization of prosecutions. In the same post, Zarrouk slammed former justice minister Noureddine Bhiri and the then-general prosecutor of Tunis, Tarek Chkioua. Zarrouk claimed that the court did not inform him or his lawyers of the trial date.
United Arab Emirates
Three sisters were released after spending three months in secret detention, for campaigning online for their imprisoned activist brother. Asma Khalifa al-Suwaidi, Mariam Khalifa al-Suwaidi and Alyaziyah Khalifa al-Suwaidi disappeared after they were summoned for questioning at a police station in Abu Dhabi on 15 February. According to Amnesty International, they were detained after tweeting about the unfair trial of their brother Dr. Issa al-Suwaidi, who is one of 69 government critics convicted for their activism in 2013.
An official at the Houthi-controlled telecommunications authority denied reports of Internet shutdowns in Yemen, despite the fact that two major disruptions were already noted in the southern seaport city of Aden in early April. Another official in Aden accused Houthi rebels of damaging the cooling system of a central telecommunications base station and of spying on the communications of their opponents.
As the war opposing the Saudi-led coalition to Houthi rebels continues, journalists and human rights activists remain at risk, the Gulf Center for Human Rights said.
- In a piece for Global Arab Network, Raied T. Shuqum writes on how social media is changing the face of the Arab world
- Writing for IFEX, Katie Moffatt asks: “Are hashtags for human rights hot air, or a powerful tool for change
- Digital Citizen contributor Courtney Radsch writes on how the Internet is being treated as an enemy in the Middle East
- The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) released a report covering the state of Internet freedom in 11 Arab countries between mid-2012 and early 2015
- The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) and ARTICLE 19 released a legal analysis of Egypt’s Telecommunication Regulation Law
In other news
- ‘Their Freedom Is Their Right’: A campaign for prisoners of conscience in the Arab World
- BBC reports on Jordan’s e-Muftis battling ISIS online
- On AJ+, a Saudi LGBTQ blogger shares how he came under the scrutiny of the conservative kingdom’s cybersecurity machine
- Elle magazine published a profile of Enab Baladi, a women-run citizen media outlet covering the ongoing war in Syria
- To mark World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, DW Akademie launched a website featuring information about media freedom worldwide
- A programme focusing on the electronic documentation and protection of cultural heritage is digitising lost objects from Mosul Museum
From our partners
- Access and Global Voices were both signatories to a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, challenging the Facebook CEO to consider free expression and neutrality in implementing its Internet.org platform.
- EFF also criticized Facebook’s Internet.org, calling it “not neutral, not secure, and not the Internet”
- IG MENA’s online training for internet governance is accepting applications
Volume 2.9 05/18/15
On 20 April, cartoonist Tahar Djehiche was summoned by police for investigation over cartoons he published on facebook. Djehiche was accused of defaming and insulting Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, over cartoons opposing the exploitation of shale gas in In Salah, a town in the center of the country.
On 26 April, Bahrain once again extended the detention of activist Nabeel Rajab. Rajab, who has been in and out of prison over the past few years, was arrested on April 2 for comments made on Twitter denouncing alleged torture in a prison where Shia activists are held. Rajab is currently awaiting appeal from an earlier case.
A court set 27 May as the trial date of poet and columnist Fatima Naoot, accused of insulting Islam on social media. Naoot is facing trial for publishing on Twitter and Facebook posts critical of the sacrifice of animals during the religious festival of Eid al-Adha.
The Egyptian government has approved a cybercrime bill that many say would undermine freedom of expression. Writing for the Atlantic Council, Ragab Saad claims that the bill is being “publicized as [a tool] in Egypt’s war on terror” and that Egypt is currently collaborating with other Arab states on fighting cybercrime.
A Cairo court acquitted photojournalist at Yaqeen Online News Network Ahmed Gamal Ziyada after he spent more than a year in pre-trial detention. Ziyada was arrested in December 2013 while covering protests by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.
On 23 April, journalist and opinion writer Jamal Ayyoub was arrested by police for publishing on the web an article critical of the Saudi led airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Ayyoub will remain in prison for 15 days pending investigation. He is accused of disrupting the kingdom’s relationships with foreign states.
Jordan is set to adopt four new laws regulating the telecommunication industry, electronic transactions, cybercrime and personal data.
A court sentenced in absentia activist Sager al-Hashash to ten years in jail for calling for protests and showing how to make a Molotov cocktail is made in a series of tweets posted last July. Hashash who is currently based outside Kuwait was convicted of inciting attacks on policemen, providing training on the manufacture of Molotov cocktails, taking part in an unlicensed protest, and disobeying police orders. In January, Hashash received a twenty month jail sentence for insulting the country’s ruler.
At the request of Saudi authorities, Kuwait is prosecuting twenty-five of its nationals for insulting the kingdom on Twitter. The tweets were critical of the late Saudi king Abdullah, the role of the kingdom in the war against Houthi rebels in Yemen, and a decision by Kuwait to deport activist Saad al Ajmi to his native country Saudi Arabia.
March NGO hosted a conference on the illegal practices of the cyber crime unit in Lebanon. The organization posted on YouTube testimonies of Internet users who were questioned by the country’s cybercrime bureau for expressing themselves online.
The director of news site badil.info Hamid Mahdaoui is facing trial over the publication of a breaking news story on the explosion of a car in a neighborhood in Meknes, a city in northern Morocco. He stands accused of publishing false news over and publishing an unlicensed newspaper. His trial is set to take place on 18 May.
On 28 April, an appeal court referred the case of journalist Hicham Mansouri back to the primary court that originally sentenced him to 10 months in jail him over trumped up adultery charges. The appeal court claimed that Mansouri’s case does not fall in its subject matter jurisdiction. A new trial date has not been fixed. Prior to his arrest, Mansouri, who is the project manager of Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism (AMJI), was investigating internet surveillance by his country’s authorities.
A report from Belgian site Mondiaal Nieuws tells the inside story of Mamfakinch, the Moroccan news site that, after being targeted by malware, shut down last year. Another recent report, from Privacy International, delves into the effects of surveillance on four Moroccans.
MADA, the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms, has released an app for reporting and getting information on violations of media freedom in or related to Palestine.
Waleed Abu Khair, the prominent rights attorney who was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment in February, was reportedly beaten in prison. The Gulf Center for Human Rights has called for Abu Khair’s immediate release.
Istanbul based blogger and global voices contributor Assad Hanna was stabbed four times in the stomach at his home on the night of 20 April. Hanna reported receiving threats from different factions in his war-torn country. ‘I don’t accuse anyone but I cannot say it was a coincidence as the assailant knocked on the door, attacked me and did not steal anything from the house’, he said following the attack.
United Arab Emirates
UAE’s telecom operators have blocked Whatsapp’s new VoIP-based free voice calling feature, in compliance with local telecommunication regulations that allow VoIP services to be provided in the country only by licensed operators.
US citizen Shezanne Cassim is seeking a pardon over his role in a parody video of a Dubai martial art school posted on YouTube in late 2012. Cassim was arrested in 2013 and sentenced to one year in jail, a fine and deportation for taking part in the video. UAE later freed him.
As the Saudi led airstrikes against Houthi rebels continue, Yemen is facing internet shutdowns due to fuel shortages and electricity blackouts. On 27 April, the country’s Houthi-controlled telecommunications authority warned from a total disruption in local and overseas calls and internet services, as its fuel supplies are dwindling.
Two major disruptions were already noted in the southern seaport city of Aden in early April as fighting intensified there. Aden has a submarine cable that connects Yemen to Djibouti, one of only two cables that connect the country to the global Internet.
On Global Voices, Fahmi Albaheth warned that these disruptions will only ‘isolate Yemen from the world’, since ‘social networking sites are an important source for foreign media outlets’ that rely on content posted by local activists in their coverage of the war.
In addition to disruption, internet users in Yemen face the challenge of filtering by Houthi rebels who are controlling government offices including the ministry of communications and information and the National Security Bureau. On 14 April, the bureau ordered telecom operators to suspend SMS news services of a number of local and international media outlets including those of Aljazeera, CNN and Mareb Press.
- Cory Doctorow writes that Internet.org—a Facebook initiative that has provided zero-rated (free) data in certain countries, including Tunisia—is providing “poor Internet to poor people.”
- Digital Citizen contributor Dalia Othman presented research on the Arab networked public sphere at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, where she is a fellow.
- Freedom House has released its 2015 Freedom in the World report.
- Freedom of the Internet in 11 Arab countries, a new report for the Arab Network for Human Rights Information.
In other news
- New research indicates that hackers have penetrated Israeli military networks. The hackers are thought to be Arabic-speaking.
- The Committee to Protect Journalists’ Tom Lowenthal writes that “surveillance forces journalists to think and act like spies.
- An Israeli company has been contracted to install a civil surveillance system in Abu Dhabi, reports MEE
From our parteners
- Global Voices has published an excellent guide to understanding copyright in the Arab world.
- AJ+ has released a series of videos, based on the EFF’s Surveillance Self-Defense, demonstrating how to be safer online.
Volume 2.8 04/29/15
Arrests in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Oman and DDoS attacks in Lebanon – Volume 2.8 looks at these things and more.
On 15 April, a court in Algeria confirmed a six month prison sentence against labor rights activist Rachid Aouine. Last month, Aouine was convicted of “instigating an unarmed gathering” in a Facebook update. The sarcastic post responded to a government announcement warning law enforcement officers not to take part in protests. Aouine wrote: “Police officers, why don’t you go out today to protest against the arbitrary decisions against your colleagues…, instead of controlling the free activists and the protesters against the shale gas?”
On March 14, Ghada Jamsheer, a blogger and women’s and religious rights campaigner, was stopped at the Bahrain International Airport on her way to seek medical treatment in France. The decision to prevent her from travelling was implemented in accordance with an order issued by the prosecutor general. No explanation was given. Jamsheer has previously been investigated by electronic crimes department of the criminal investigations bureau for tweeting about corruption at a hospital run by the ruling family in Bahrain.
According to Alaraby, blasphemy and electronic crimes committed for the purpose of disturbing public order, endangering the safety and security of society, damaging national unity and social peace, are punished by a life-term imprisonment. The draft prescribes a punishment of up to three years in jail for hacking of e-mail accounts, personal and government information and incitement to terrorism. The draft law does not require websites to register with the authorities, but lists punishments for the dissemination of rumors.
On 11 April, a court in Cairo sentenced Rassd news website’s executive director Abdullah al-Fakharany and the site’s co-founder Samhi Mustafa to life in prison, along with Amgad TV presenter Mohamed al-Adly. The three were arrested in August 2013 two weeks after the dispersal of a sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square in Cairo, where supporters of former president Mohamed Morsi gathered to protest his ouster by the army. They were accused of working with the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to undermine Egypt’s military and its government. Rassd’s public relations director Amrou Faraj also received a life sentence in absentia. Egyptian authorities arrested several journalists in the aftermath of its crackdown on the sit-in, including freelance photographer Mahmoud Abou Zeid, known as Shawkan, who has recently completed more than 600 days in pre-trial detention. Shawkan was also arrested in August 2013, while covering clashes between Egyptian security forces and supporters of Morsi for the citizen journalism website Demotix.
Iraq’s minister of communications Hassan Rashed announced that new ‘procedures to control online outlets’ will be imposed next June. It is not clear what are exactly these procedures, and whether they will only apply to online media or all internet users in the country.
On 5 April, Kuwait’s Supreme Court upheld a two year jail term against opposition activist Ayyad al-Harbi over tweets critical of the country’s ruler. Al-Harbi, who is also a journalist at the Sabr news site has been behind bars since May last year for reportedly posting on Twitter verses of a poem critical of Arab rulers. On the same day, two activists had been set free after spending five days for questioning over tweets about the Saudi led military operation in Yemen.
Al-Akhbar, a left-leaning news site, went offline on April 4th as a result of a DDoS attack. The publication opposes the ongoing war against Houthi rebels in Yemen. A day before the DDoS attack, Saudi Arabia’s Al-Watan newspaper reported that the kingdom’s embassy in Beirut plans to file a lawsuit against the publication and quoted the ambassador as saying “the time has come to put an end to this”.
IT security company Check Point identified a piece of malware believed to be operated by the Lebanese government or a political group in the country. The malware is called Explosive and gives attackers remote access to the communications hardware of their targets, allowing them to see what they do and say online. Organizations in Israel and neighbouring countries, such as defense contractors, telecommunications companies, media outlets and educational institutions are among its confirmed targets.
Two hundred Lebanese villages, each inhabited by more than 200,000 people, are deprived of high speed DSL internet, according to a report published by the daily An-Nahar.
On 31 March, a court in the capital Rabat sentenced press freedom advocate Hicham Mansouri to a ten-month jail term and a $4,057 fine over what his colleagues describe as a trumped-up adultery charge. Mansouri is the project manager for the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism (AMJI), a group which works to promote freedom of expression, access to information and investigative journalism. Prior to his arrest, he was working on a report about alleged Internet surveillance of activists and journalists by the Moroccan authorities. On 7 April, Mansouri started a hunger strike to protest his conviction.
Police in the province of Taroudant arrested an activist named Alhassine Boujeghmat for writing on facebook about hardships in his village and criticising local officials.
On 7 April, three civil-society groups announced the official launch of marsadhouriyat.org, an online platform to monitor free expression and media freedom violations.
Omani authorities continue to target activists and bloggers for speaking out about rights violations online.
Four activists from Liwa in the north of the country, were arrested after they called for the release of parliamentarian Taleb Al-Maamari, who has been in prison since August 2013 for taking part in a protest against environmental pollution. Majid Al-Bloushi, Abdullah Al-Kundi, and Saed Al-Khourosi were arrested on 5 April, while Mohammed Al-Manaee was arrested a day later. The four activists are reportedly being held incommunicado and have no access to their lawyers.
Meanwhile, human rights defender Saed Jadad was released on bail on 7 April. Jadad was sentenced to three years in jail in March for addressing a letter to US president Barack Obama. In the letter published on the web on 31 May 2013, Jadad criticized US human rights policies in Gulf countries. In a different case, he was sentenced to one year in prison for allegedly violating the country’s cyber-crime law.
On 6 April, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights—a monitoring group that documents rights violations committed in the ongoing Syrian conflict—reported that ISIS militants stormed internet cafes in the city of Deir Ezzor, seizing computers and arresting 15 individuals.
Mazen Darwish, the detained director of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) has been awarded the 2015 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. Darwish along with his colleagues Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir have been in prison since 2012 and are accused of “publishing information about terrorist actions” for their rights activities including monitoring of online news and publication of human rights reports. On 15 April, the Damascus terrorism court postponed issuing a verdict in the case of Darwish, Al-Zitani and Gharir for the twenty-first time.
On 16 April, a judge ordered the conditional release of blogger Yassine Ayari, who was arrested last December for insulting the military through Facebook posts. Ayari was first sentenced in absentia to three years in prison last November, before his sentence was reduced to one year in a retrial in January. In March, a court of appeal further reduced his jail sentence to six months.
State-owned Yemen Net, the largest internet service provider in the country, has continued to block websites over their coverage of the Saudi-led war against Houthi rebels. The rebels are now in control of the capital Sana’a and its government offices, including the ministry of communications and information. After blocking a number of local search news sites in late March, websites of the regional news networks Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya were also blocked on 7 April.
In other news
- From his prison cell, Nabeel Rajab addresses an open letter to the US president.
- Kirolos Nathan, from the Cairo Institute for Human Rights, writes about Arab governments’ draconian response against free expression online.
From our partners
- EFF has released a new Surveillance Self-Defense playlist for LGBTQ youth.
- re:publica, May 5-7, Berlin, Germany
Volume 2.7 04/15/15
Amidst war in Yemen and a terrorist attack in Tunis, a free Internet remains important as ever. In this volume, we zoom in on those countries, and more.
On 26 March, state-owned Yemen Net, the largest internet service provider in the country, blocked several news websites critical of the Houthi rebels, who are now in control of the capital Sana’a and government offices, including the ministry of communications and information. The blocked websites include news sites like Mareb Press and Yemen Press who have been reporting on rights violations committed by the Houthis, such as arbitrary arrests and attacks against media workers and journalists. The search engine site Sahafa Net was also blocked. The blocking came as a Saudi Arabia–led coalition waged a military campaign on Houthi positions.
Walid Al-Saqaf, president of ISOC-Yemen, described the blocking as similar to what took place between 2005 and 2011, under former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, only now it includes websites critical of the Houthis. The Yemeni chapter of the Internet Society condemned the blocking stressing that “the current turmoil in Yemen should not be used as a pretext to tamper with accessing the Internet, which should remain open for all users to use without restrictions”.
Following the attack by gunmen at the Bardo Museum in Tunis on 18 March that resulted in the deaths of 22 people, activists and bloggers expressed concerns over the potential for rights setbacks, including internet rights. After the attack, calls by politicians and commentators to filter pages inciting to violence and extremism multiplied. Some even suggested following in the footsteps of France, which blocked five websites without a judicial order on March 16.
Writing for Nawaat, net freedom and privacy advocate Dhouha Ben Youssef said that the “French model should not be adopted in Tunisia”. She cautioned that “It would represent an unprecedented drift away from gains in fundamental freedoms constitutionalized in 2014: net freedom and neutrality, freedom of the press, the rights to privacy and the freedom to access information on the internet”.
Noomane Fehri, minister of communication technologies and digital economy, said that filtering ‘won’t solve the problem’, adding that ‘it’s better to keep these sites open to follow them [its administrators], know where they are located, and what they are saying’. His ministry is coordinating with social media companies to suspend pages inciting to violence and extremism.
In other news, three members of the hacking group Fallaga were released on 25 March after spending nearly two months in prison. The group targeted French websites as part of the ‘Je ne suis pas Charlie’ cyberattack. They also hacked several Tunisian government websites calling for the release of blogger Yassine Ayari, imprisoned in January for a one-year term for criticizing the military on Facebook.
Labor rights activist Rachid Aouine is on hunger strike after being sentenced on 9 March to six months in prison for “inciting an unarmed gathering” in a Facebook update. The ironic post responded to a government announcement warning law-enforcement officers not to take part in protests. Aouine wrote: “Police officers, why don’t you go out today to protest against the arbitrary decisions against your colleagues…, instead of controlling the free activists and the protesters against the shale gas?”
Nabeel Rajab, free speech activist and president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was taken into custody on April 2 on charges that he “posted information that could incite others and disrupt civil peace,” and that he “illegally defamed a statutory body.” Rajab had reported on torture and humiliation of inmates in Bahrain’s Jaw prison and criticized Bahrain’s participation in airstrikes in Yemen. The detention coincides with Rajab’s appeal of a six-month sentence handed down in January for insulting government ministries on Twitter. The appeal, which had been scheduled for April 15, was moved to April 5 and then adjourned until May 4, “as prosecutors consider new charges against him over online comments”.
In his speech at the 26th Arab League summit on 28 March, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi warned of the “danger of a new and untraditional mode of terrorism” that uses information technology to its advantage and called for “pooling all efforts together to outline general principles for the safe use of telecommunication and information technology and activating international agreements regulating this issue”.
Bara’a Anwar, a 20-year-old university student, was arrested for instigating strife through a post published on Facebook. It was not clear what is it that he published exactly. He is set to appear before state security court.
Criticizing Saudi Arabia on social media has landed several Kuwaitis in hot water in recent months. Following the death of King Abdullah on January 23, several individuals were detained for insulting the late Saudi monarch. Blogger Salah al Saeed’s sentence for jeopardizing Saudi-Kuwaiti relations in 16 tweets was increased from four to six years in February. Opposition activist Tariq al-Mutairi, head of the Civil Democratic Movement, was arrested on March 18 and charged with “publishing a number of tweets insulting the sister Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”, according to a statement by the interior ministry. He was released on bail on 19 March. A recent Al Monitor report explains how the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Internal Security Pact, only recently ratified by Kuwait, is being used to crackdown on dissent and prevent dissidents from one GCC country from finding safe havens in another.
A group of 24 human rights and civil society groups have called on Mauritanian authorities to release blogger Mohamed Cheikh ould Mohamed Mkhaïtir, the first person in Mauritania to be sentenced to death for apostasy. Mohamed Mkhaitir, held in pre-trial detention for almost one year, was accused of apostasy for “speaking lightly” of the Prophet Muhammed in “Religion, Religiosity and Craftsmen”, an online article since taken down that denounced his country’s discriminatory caste system. Article 306 of the Mauritanian penal code provides for leniency with repentance. While Mohamed Mkhaitir has repented repeatedly in court, his verdict still stands.
Journalist Hicham Mansouri has been sentenced to 10 months in prison on an adultery charge, after his home was raided and he was beaten. Hicham had been working on an investigative piece about electronic state surveillance.
Online activist Talib Al-Saedi is believed to be held incommunicado for calling for reform in Oman on social media. He disappeared on 23 March after appearing for investigation before the Special Division of the Omani Police in Muscat.
The criminal court in Al Qatif in Eastern Saudi Arabia ordered a 32-year-old woman to pay a fine of $5,300 and sentenced her to 70 lashes for insulting and defaming a man—some reports say her husband—over the messaging application WhatsApp. The case was prosecuted under article three of the kingdom’s Anti-Cybercrime Law, which states “Defamation and infliction of damage upon others through the use of various information technology devices” is subject to imprisonment of up to a year and/or a fine of up to 500,000 riyals.
The trial of Mazen Darwish, Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir from the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) has once again been postponed. A verdict was set to be issued on 25 March but the three defendants were not brought to court preventing the trial from taking place. The three activists, who have been in prison since 2012, are accused of “publishing information about terrorist actions” for activities including monitoring of online news and publication of human rights reports and records of those killed or missing in the ongoing Syrian conflict. Darwish, Al-Zitania and Gharir were amnestied in 2014 but to date they have not been released.
United Arab Emirates
Three sisters have been held incommunicado for tweeting about the unfair trial and of their imprisoned activist brother. Asma Khalifa al-Suwaidi, Mariam Khalifa al-Suwaidi and Alyaziyah Khalifa al-Suwaidi disappeared after they were summoned for questioning at a police station in Abu Dhabi on 15 February. According to Amnesty, they had been campaigning online for their brother Dr. Issa al-Suwaidi, who is one of 69 government critics convicted for their activism in 2013.
A group of five men, reportedly from another Gulf country, have been accused of “insulting symbols of the country” using social media accounts. One of the men, a 33-year-old identified by the initials HH, appeared before the State Security Court on 2 March. The other four did not appear.
New research and reports
- The Chairperson’s Report of the third Arab Internet Governance Forum, which took place last November, has been published (Arabic only)
- Privacy International has published Their Eyes on Me, a collection of stories of surveillance from Morocco
In other news
- Reporters without Borders mirrors censored sites, including Gulf Centre for Human Rights and Bahrain Mirror, as part of its Collateral Freedom campaign
- Can governments in the Gulf truly foster creativity while suppressing dissent? IFEX takes a look at the inaugural Arab Social Media Awards in Dubai
- An infographic from George Washington University’s master’s in paralegal studies online program visualizes the various forms that internet censorship can take
- Qatar hosted a regional symposium on “Freedom of Opinion and Expression in the Arab World; Reality and Aspiration”. See the agenda
- More than 40 civil society organizations signed a joint statement calling on technology companies to expand their transparency reporting
- A book titled “1,000 Lashes: Why I Say What I Think” that includes an introduction dictated by imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi to his wife was published earlier this month in German
- In Muftah, Mend Mariwany describes the first Arab Social Media Influencers Summit in Dubai as the ‘the latest in a slew of similar conferences aimed at covering up the region’s track record of censorship and problematic cyberlaws”
From our partners
- 7iber.com: What does Net Neutrality Victory Mean? (Arabic) and an interview with Lina Ejeilat on the site’s decision to accede to a licensing requirement
- SMEX has counted 50 websites blocked in Lebanon, including gambling and pornography sites, selected Israeli sites, sites that allegedly breach copyright law, and an LGBT forum
- Istanbul: Applications are open until May 15 for the Internet Policy in the MENA Region: Research Methods for Advocates, which will take place in Istanbul on September 1-4
- Beirut: A press conference will be held on April 28 to discuss online censorship and recent interrogations carried out by Lebanon’s controversial Bureau of Cyber Crime and Intellectual Property
Volume 2.6 04/01/15
In this volume, we look at social media and terrorism, harassment, and more.
In the face of regular suspensions from platforms like Facebook and Twitter, supporters of Daesh (also known as ISIS, or Islamic State), launched their own social networking site called 5elefabook, which comes from the Arabic word for “caliphate.” The site, which was created on 3 March, has been removed by its creators on 8 March out of security concerns for its members a day after it went live. A Twitter account associated with the site has also been suspended. Registered with Arizona-based GoDaddy web-hosting company by an admin based in Egypt, the site did not even use encryption which would make it easy for intelligence agencies to spy on its users.
And in other social media-related news, Twitter has begun requiring phone numbers from Tor users in order to register new accounts on the service, endangering those who count on Twitter’s relative anonymity.
The Facebook page of the news site elbark.com was hacked and a link to an article about declarations made by director of a telecommunications company was removed. In the article, elbark.com reported that Joseph Ged, director of Ooredoo Algeria, said that his company won’t advertise on media that criticize Qatar or Algeria. The news site had since recovered its Facebook page.
Algerian authorities arrested and sentenced labor rights activist Rachid Aouine to six months in jail over a Facebook post addressed to local police authorities. Intending to be ironic, Aouine wrote: “police officers, why don’t you go out today to protest against the arbitrary decisions against your colleagues…instead of controlling the free activists and the protesters against the shale gas?”. He was arrested on 1 March and accused of “inciting an unarmed gathering.” Aouine was referring to a decision by Algerian authorities to take disciplinary actions against a number of police officers for protesting.
Another Facebook user was sentenced to six months in prison on 11 March. A criminal court in the capital Algiers convicted Abdelghani Aloui, aged 25, of ‘insulting established institutions’ on facebook. Abdelghani’s case dates back to late 2013 when he was arrested for publishing cartoons of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and spent seven months in preventive detention.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s UK National Contact Point (“NCP”) concluded that surveillance company Gamma violated human rights guidelines by selling its Finfisher spyware to the repressive Bahraini regime. The watchdog’s decision followed a complaint brought by a number of human rights groups—including Privacy International and Reporters Without Borders—into Gamma’s business conduct and lack of human rights policies.
A court in Bahrain postponed issuing an appeal verdict in a case brought up against human rights defender Nabeel Rajab to 15 April. In January, Rajab was sentenced to 6 months in jail for “denigrating an official body” in a tweet that described his country’s security institutions as the ‘first ideological incubator’ of those who join ISIS. A travel ban imposed on Rajab remains in place.
On 26 February, Egypt’s prosecutor general imposed a media gag order on the case of lawyer Karim Hamdy, who died after torture in a police station at Cairo’s Matariya Police Station. The Matariya district is a hotspot for Islamist anti-government protests. The head of the forensic authority confirmed to Amnesty International that Hamdy’s body bore marks consistent with torture, including broken ribs. The 28 year-old was arrested on charges of arms possession and protesting without an authorization. Two other detainees held with him died in similar circumstances.
23-year-old Karim al-Banna is in hiding after a court in Egypt confirmed a three year jail term against him for expressing his atheism on facebook. Prior to the release of the verdict, al-Banna said that he was seeking to flee Egypt, where “life is not possible for atheists”. Al-Banna was arrested in November and spent 55 days in detention before he was released on bail. He was convicted of contempt of religion and insulting the divine.
Egypt established the High Council for Cyber Crime in December last year, ostensibly to develop a cyber security strategy. But the council’s mandate and ensuing statements indicates a broader shift towards surveillance of activists and opposition alike, but under the guise of protection against “bad guys” as in the US and UK, rather than outright denial that such surveillance is even taking place.
The independent Jordanian news site 7iber.com, which refused to comply with a 2013 law requiring news websites to register with the government, finally relented after increased pressure on the organization. In an interview to the International Press Institute, 7iber.com editor Lina Ejeilat said that repeated blocking and a court case against the site propelled the publication to apply for a government license, which was granted in late 2014.
On 23 February, satirist Charbel Khalil appeared before a prosecutor, after the country’s top Sunni religious authority filed a complaint against him for allegedly insulting Islam. Khalil was questioned over a photo he shared on Twitter, which depicts a woman wearing a short dress under a black robe, sitting on a black bed cover with the Islamic slogan: “There is no God but God and Muhammad is his Prophet”. It was accompanied by the caption: “sexual jihad under the Prophet’s umbrella??” Though Khalil was not arrested after the questioning, his case was referred to an appeals court and he was banned from traveling pending an investigation.
Free speech advocacy group March launched a legal hotline that Internet users in Lebanon can call should they be summoned by the Cyber Crime and Intellectual Property Rights Bureau for questioning. The bureau, which investigates serious crimes committed on the cyberspace such as cyber-terrorism or fraud, has been involved in questioning a number of individuals for merely expressing themselves on the internet.
A court in Oman sentenced prominent blogger and activist Saeed Jadad to three years in jail over a letter he addressed to US president Barack Obama. In the letter published on the web on 31 May 2013, Jadad criticized US human rights policies in Gulf countries. He was convicted of undermining the country’s position and prestige, calling for gathering, and disruption of public order through his publications on social media.
Omani writer and blogger Muawiya Al Rawahi is reportedly being held incommunicado in the UAE after trying to cross the border into the country from Oman on 23 February. Muawiya is known for his political activism and has been critical of the UAE royal family on his Twitter account, @muawiyaalrawahi.
Saudi Arabia sentenced a man in his twenties to death after expressing anti Islam views online. In a video posted on the social networking site Keek last year, the man reportedly renounced his Muslim faith before ripping a copy of the Qur’an.
Blogger Raif Badawi sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1000 lashes for criticizing Saudi Arabia’s religious police and clerics is once again facing the risk of death penalty. Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haider told The Independent that judges want re-try him for apostasy, a crime punishable by death in the conservative kingdom. In 2013, a judge threw out the charge of apostasy against Badawi.
The blogger received 50 lashes in January, prompting international condemnation of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. The remaining 19 rounds of lashing had since been halted for medical reasons. In a statement, the Saudi foreign ministry expressed “surprise and dismay” at criticism of Badawi’s case, rejecting any interference in its internal affairs.
Anonymous whistleblower @mujtahid is back to Twitter after his account with more than 1.7 million followers was suspended by the social networking site early in March. On Twitter since 2011, @Mujtahid has been publishing leaks about the luxurious lifestyle of and corruption inside the royal family. In January, he reported the death of the late king Abdullah hours before it was officially announced. Speaking to Middle East Eye, Mujtahid accused Twitter of giving in to pressure after suspending his account.
A group of Syrian activists in ISIS-controlled cities of ar-Raqqah and al-Bukamal are using social media to expose crimes committed by extremists and share photos and news from the occupied cities. These activities already landed two of the activists in the custody of the group; they were released a few days later.
On 16 February, 71 human rights groups called on the Syrian government to release Mazen Darwish, Hani Al-Zitani, and Hussein Gharir, from the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) three years after their arrest. The three activists face accusations related to their rights activities including monitoring online news and publishing the names of the dead and disappeared. Darwish’s wife Yara Bader, who is currently serving as the acting director of SCM, was also arrested in 2012 but was soon after released.
The satirical news site tounesnews.com is back online after it was shut down by the web hosting service OVH following a removal request from the Tunisian authorities for spreading false news. The site was reportedly closed over a satirical article on tax evasion by the head of the industry and commerce union.The webhost had refused to hand over data related to the site’s administrators without a court order.
United Arab Emirates
Authorities in Abu Dhabi arrested an American expat upon his return to the UAE, for comments he posted on Facebook while he was in Florida. Ryan Pate slammed his employer, Global Aerospace Logistics, after he was denied a sick leave extension. His employer filed a complaint against him under the country’s 2012 Cyber Crime Law, which make it an offence to use the net to mock or deride organisations and individuals. He risks up to five years in jail.
For months, activist Samia Al-Aghbari has been the target of a campaign of harassment and threats, causing her to temporarily take down her Facebook page and wear a niqab to cover her face. One such threat on her Facebook page said: “I swear to God that slaughtering you would be a promenade, don’t get your ugly face out.”
Al-Aghbari is one of a number of female journalists and activists who have constantly been accused of blasphemy or being a “non-believer” by religious fundamentalists for simply expressing certain ideas as a result of their political beliefs and activities. “Whoever stands against them, they will accuse him or her of blasphemy and spoil their careers and reputations, in order to make society react negatively to what journalists and activists write or say,” she said. “There is a systematic campaign against every woman who doesn’t wish to idly subject to others’ thoughts.”
- New research by the Brookings Institute presents a demographic snapshot of ISIS supporters on Twitter by analyzing a sample of 20,000 ISIS-supporting Twitter accounts
- The Berkeley Journal for Middle Eastern and Islamic Law published Arab Media Regulations: Identifying Restraints on Freedom of the Press in the Laws of Six Arabian Peninsula Countries
In other news
- Al Monitor published a report on the Islamic State’s social media strategy
From our partners
- SMEX interviews Eva Galperin from EFF on the subject of harassment on the internet
- SMEX’s Mohamed Najem and EFF’s Jillian York both commented on Facebook’s new Community Standards for Al Jazeera
- Global Conference on Cyberspace (The Hague), April 16-17
- The International Journalism Festival (Perugia, Italy), April 15-19
- re:publica (Berlin, Germany), May 5-7
Volume 2.5 03/12/15
Bahraini authorities arrested nine individuals for ‘misusing social media’, the interior ministry announced on 27 January. The individuals risk up to two years in prison under an article in the country’s Penal Code which makes it a crime to ‘offend in public a foreign country or an international organisation based in Bahrain’. Activists believe the youths aged between 19 and 29 were arrested for criticizing the late Saudi king.
On 23 February, prominent Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah was sentenced to five years in jail and ordered to pay a fine of 100,000 EGP (USD 13,000) due to his participation in a demonstration against military trials of civilians in 2013. He was convicted of violating a draconian 2013 law that bans unauthorized demonstrations. Last June, he was sentenced to 15 years in jail in the same case. After appealing the verdict, a retrial was ordered.
The detention of freelance photojournalist Abou Zeid—known professionally as Shawkan—was extended indefinitely. The 28-year old photographer was arrested while covering the Rabaa clashes in 2013 and has been held in pre-trial detention for more than 500 days. Just one week before, the Committee to Protect Journalists had received assurances from the Minister of Transitional Justice, the Interior Ministry, the Prosecutor General and the head of the Human Rights Council that they would look into the case.
Kareem Zakaria, a member of the April 6 movement was sentenced on 8 February to three months in prison and a fine of 20,000 EGP for launching Facebook pages that were used to ‘incite against state institutions’ and ‘call for protests to commemorate the January 25 revolution’.
A government committee headed by the minister of justice is set to propose legal amendments that would give courts the authority to order the removal of websites linked to terrorism. A government spokesperson told Ahram Online that the criteria to determine terrorist content have not been established yet.
On 12 February, Egyptian prosecution imposed a media gag order on the case of slain leftist activist Shaimaa El-Sabbagh, suggesting that media reports about the murder may affect the course of investigations. El-Sabbagh died from birdshot wounds after police violently dispersed protesters who were commemorating the January 25 revolution.
Zaki Bani Rushaid, a deputy head for the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for criticizing the United Arab Emirates on Facebook. The country’s state security court found the MB leader guilty of “acts harmful to the country’s relations with a friendly nation.” In a post published on his Facebook page last November, Bani Rushaid said the UAE acts as the “American cop in the region, supports coups and is a cancer in the body of the Arab world.”
Kuwait’s appeal court increased by two years a four-year jail sentence previously handed down against blogger Saleh Al Saeed. In a series of tweets posted last october, Saeed had reportedly accused Saudi Arabia of grabbing land in Kuwait and Bahrain.
The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) registered 19 media freedom violations committed by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities in the West Bank Gaza in January. On 19 January, Israel arrested Mujahed Bani Mufleh, a journalist for the citizen media website Huna Al-Quds, after raiding his house and confiscating his computer. He was set free on 5 February. According to MADA, Palestinian authorities continue to harass and interrogate journalists and students over what they post on Facebook, forcing some of them to reveal their account passwords. In Gaza, Al Monitor correspondent Mohammad Othman was interrogated and threatened by a militant group for publishing a story on the execution of those accused of spying for Israel.
Prince Charles has reportedly raised the case of blogger Raif Badawi with King Salman during a recent visit to Saudi Arabia. Badawi was sentenced last May to ten years in prison and 1000 lashes for establishing the Free Saudi Liberals website, to debate religion and politics in the kingdom. Badawi received 50 lashes on 19 January but the punishment had since been postponed for medical reasons. On 12 February, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on Saudi Arabia to stop any further flogging of Badawi and to release him immediately.
A Saudi court of appeals confirmed on 15 February the 15-year jail term against Badawi’s lawyers and human rights activist Waleed Abu Al-Khair. He was also sentenced to a travel ban of equal duration following imprisonment, and a fine of 200,000 SR (approximately USD 53,300). On 4 February, Al-Khair was transferred from a prison in his home city of Jeddah to another prison in Riyadh without warning.
The US government has eased its sanctions on the exportation and re-exportation to Sudan of ‘certain hardware, software, and services incident to personal communications’. The ruling announced by the Department of Treasury takes effect on 18 February. The partial lifting of sanctions is set to enhance the access of Sudanese citizens to certain ICT tools and services such as web hosting, cloud storage, and mobile app stores.
On social media, Sudanese activists who have been campaigning for the lifting of digital sanctions imposed by the US, welcomed the move, though challenges remain. Global Voices’ Usamah Mohamad wrote:
‘While a welcome step in the right direction, the new amendments are still limited in scope and the massive challenges faced by Sudanese citizens remain warranted. Young Sudanese professionals in particular are feeling increasingly isolated and unable to integrate into the global community to pursuit their innovative and entrepreneurial aspirations.’
A new report by the cyber-security company FireEye revealed that between November 2013 and January 2014, hackers stole hundreds of documents and more than 31,000 conversations that included discussions of plans and logistics of the Syrian opposition’s attacks on Assad’s forces.
The hackers compromised its victims using female avatars to strike up conversations on Skype and connect on Facebook and a fake pro-opposition website seeded with malicious content. Based in Syria and beyond, victims included humanitarian workers, an army defector, a media activist and an opposition leader. FireEye was unable to determine the identity of the hackers but said the group may be located outside of Syria.
Maria Xynou and Hadi Al Khatib from the Tactical Technology Collective co-authored an article about the Syrian regime’s malware attacks against members of the opposition.
The news site Orient Net and Syriahr.com, the website of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, were victims of cyber-attacks that rendered them inaccessible for several hours, according to Reporters Without Borders. Hackers targeted Syriahr.com on 11 February, accusing its staff of being British intelligence agents. Self-identified Islamic State militants targeted Orient Net on 12 February and left a threatening message to its journalists.
Broadcaster Maisa Saleh was fired from her job at Orient TV after liking Facebook posts critical of the channel’s director of Orient TV.
On 10 February, Tunisian police arrested six members of the Islamist hacker group Fallaga for hacking national and foreign websites. Three of the hackers have since been released, while the others remain in detention.
The group recently took part in the ‘Je ne suis pas Charlie’ cyberattack targeting French websites. On New Year’s Eve, they hacked a number of government websites calling for the release of blogger Yassine Ayari imprisoned for criticizing the military on Facebook. They also attacked the website of the country’s independent election body, accusing it of fraud. In a statement, the interior ministry described the group as ‘takfiri’, however Fallaga denies any support for terrorism.
On 3 March, a military court of appeals reduced blogger Yassine Ayari’s sentence from one year to six months in prison for insulting the military on Facebook. Ayari was first sentenced in absentia to three years in prison last November, before his sentence was reduced to one year in a retrial in January.
United Arab Emirates
On 13 February, a group claiming affiliation with ISIS hacked the website of the Abu Dhabi based Al Ittihad newspaper.
Abu Dhabi authorities are educating mothers about legalities and the most common offences youth commit including those under the UAE cybercrime law.
- Millions of Facebook users have no idea they’re using the internet
- Netzpolitik.org looks at how a German-Arab company is promoting a new Trojan to law enforcement and intelligence services
- Human Rights Watch released a report documenting attacks against journalists in Libya since the 2011 uprising
In other news
- Hiba Zayadin from IFEX on who is countering the influence of ISIS in the digital sphere
- Countering violent extremism should not compromise press freedom, writes CPJ’s Courtney Radsch
- German prosecutors have launched preliminary investigations into whether the German-made FinFisher is being used by foreign intelligence agencies against activists inside the country
- Freedom House published a timeline of Egypt’s Digital Revolution which, it states, is ‘now being driven toward extinction by new dictatorship’
- Human Rights Watch’s Adam Coogle asks: Will Saudi Arabia keep locking people up for having an opinion?
From our partners
- SMEX asks: Can Twitter’s transparency report help hold Arab governments to account?
- Global Voices’ Rami Alhames reports on how Syrian rebels lost sensitive data because of sexual entrapment
- re:publica will take place in Berlin 5-7 May
- The Global Conference on Cyberspace 2015 takes place 16-17 April
Volume 2.4 02/27/15
Last month, a horrific attack on the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo sparked new conversations about free expression among media and online activists around the world. In this edition, we look at the impact of those conversations.
Last month, a horrific attack on the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo sparked new conversations about free expression among media and online activists around the world. The reactions from writers across the Middle East and North Africa varied widely, from full solidarity with the Je suis Charlie campaign to skepticism of European attitudes toward free speech.
Sudanese writer Khalid Albaih penned a piece for Al Jazeera English in which he stated: “I believe that the assailants’ religion or ideology is irrelevant; I believe they were simply looking to wage an attack; they would have attacked something else if they didn’t attack Charlie Hebdo.”
Lebanese blogger Karl Sharro, writing for the Atlantic, said: “[R]estricting free speech further, even in the case of so-called hate speech, would be precisely the wrong response to the carnage in Paris. Instead, we should reassert the rights of satirical magazines and radical preachers alike to express their views, and the freedom of anyone and everyone to challenge them.”
Across the region, there has been emphasis on the importance of satire, as well. Fundacion Al Fanar published a series of cartoons from around the region showing a diversity of views. And in the Globe and Mail, Nahrain Al-Mousawi reminded readers that satire is a key feature of the Middle East, noting that “The use of mockery and caricature as a way of mocking Islamic extremism is, in fact, in some ways far more pronounced in the Middle Eastern media than it is in Europe.”
On 11 January 2015, a court renewed detention of satire blogger Hussain Mahdi, known online as @Takrooz, who has been detained without trial since 15 June 2014. His lawyer claims that Mahdi has been tortured and forced to sign confessions on charges of insulting the Bahraini king, defaming several figures over Twitter and incitement against a group of citizens.
Former opposition MP Sayed Jameel Kadhem was released from prison on 1 February after paying a fine. A court sentenced Kadhem on charges of ‘disturbing the elections’, in reference to a tweet he posted on 9 October 2014 stating that “the offers of political money reached up to 100 thousand BHD” for those who agreed to take part in the country’s previous election held in November 2014.
On 20 January, prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment and a fine of USD 530 on charges of insulting security institutions on Twitter. Rajab has been bailed and he is appealing the verdict.
Activist Nader Abdulemam was released after spending nearly 6 months in prison for “publicly insulting a religious figure of worship” in relation to comments he had posted on Twitter. The tweets were deemed derogatory towards Khalid bin al-Waleed, a companion of the prophet Muhammad and a renowned Islamic commander. A court of appeal reduced Abdulemam’s initial jail sentence from 6 to 4 months and he was set free on 15 January.
A website for the Bahraini Interior Ministry announced on 27 January the arrest of 9 individuals ‘for misusing social media’, a charge punishable by a up to two years in prison, under the kingdom’s penal code.
Journalists, opposition members, and human rights defenders are among 72 individuals who have recently been stripped of their citizenship by the government. The Ministry of Interior said that these persons have been responsible for a number of ‘illegal acts’ including spying, smuggling weapons, defaming the regime, spreading false news and defaming brotherly countries. UK based blogger Ali Abdulemam, founder of the online forum Bahrain Online, was among those stripped of their nationality. Charged with spreading false information, he was imprisoned between late 2010 and early 2011. Three weeks after his release he went into hiding and he was sentenced to 15 years in absentia for plotting to overthrow the regime. Writing for Index on Censorship about losing his citizenship, Abdulemam said:
‘It is not for the government to give it [citizenship] or take it away, it is not for them to take me from my roots, I will not accept to be unrecognised by the world. I will keep telling myself, my kids, and my friends that I am from the country that created the “Lulu” revolution [in reference to the 14 February 2011 Bahraini uprising]”.
On 4 January, the Egyptian interior ministry arrested two Facebook users for ‘inciting violence’ against the police and claiming responsibility for a number of ‘rioting acts’. The ministry also arrested a woman administering twenty-six Facebook pages and groups in support of Islamist ideologies and groups including the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS.
A student identified as Karim al-Banna was sentenced to three years in jail for announcing his atheism and insulting Islam on Facebook. Banna has been in jail since last November. According to his lawyer, the prison sentence could be suspended, if a bail of 1,000 Egyptian pounds (USD 140) is paid, until the court of appeals issues a new verdict in the case.
In a resolution adopted on ‘the situation in Egypt’, the EU Parliament called on 15 January for an EU-wide ban on the export of surveillance technologies to the country. The resolution could prevent EU companies such as the UK based Gamma which had previously offered its Finfisher program to the Mubarak regime, from selling and exporting surveillance technologies to Egypt.
Judge Abdel Satar Bayrakdar announced in a press release last week that Facebook will heretofore be considered a media platform, in which insult and libel will be punished by the law.
Kuwaiti authorities jailed ex-minister Saad al-Ajmi over an online article alleging government corruption, published two years ago by the opposition Al-Aan electronic media. Al-Ajmi and the co-owner of the newsletter Zayed al-Zaid were both sentenced in absentia on 8 January to a week in prison.
On 13 January, the Kuwaiti parliament voted in favour of stripping MP Abdul Hamid Dashti of his immunity for posting ‘offensive’ tweets against Bahrain.
In late January, several online activists have been detained for “offending” the late Saudi King Abdullah. Activist Mohammed al-Ajmi was detained on 28 January for questioning over comments related to Saudi Arabia posted to Twitter, while at least four other activists have been arrested by state security over tweets deemed offensive to King Abdullah.
Hisham Zayat, a Lebanese political activist and journalist for Yasour in the south of Lebanon was detained for a few hours and questioned on 8 February in the police station for expressing his thoughts on Facebook about the passing King of Saudi Arabia. Zayat was released immediately after questioning.
Government critics in Oman routinely face harassment and detention, Human Rights Watch said on 19 December. According to the NGO, the authorities rely on a judicial arsenal that criminalize “illegal gatherings” and insulting the country’s ruler, Sultan Qabus bin Said Al Said, to crackdown on peaceful activists.
The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) approved nationals to register Omani domain names without owning a business. Omanis previously could not register a .om personal domain name, as the domain was restricted to businesses.
The Palestinian Authority arrested and interrogated student Baraa Al Qadi for ‘lampooning’ top sports officials on Facebook. According to a report from the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), this is not the first time Al Qadi has been detained and interrogated. His most recent arrest occurred on September 14th, during which he was detained for over two weeks.
It is worth noting that MADA has reported an escalation in violations of freedom of expression in December. The organization has recorded an increase of violations committed by the PA against journalists and activists who voice their opposition to the government over social media.
After condemning the attack against the French publication Charlie Hebdo, Saudi Arabia began lashings for blogger Raif Badawi for allegedly ‘insulting Islam’. Last May, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for criticizing his country’s powerful clerics and religious authorities on the Liberal Saudi Network, a blog he founded. Badawi is scheduled to receive 50 lashes each Friday over a period of 20 weeks.
On 16 January, Badawi’s lashing was postponed on medical grounds. According to Amnesty, a doctor concluded that the wounds from the first round of lashings had not yet healed properly and that Badawi would not be able to withstand another round. On 29 January, Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haider said that his “health condition is bad and it’s getting worse and worse.”
The kingdom’s Supreme Court is set to review the flogging punishment against the blogger.
On 12 January, a criminal court in the capital Riyadh sentenced Badawi’s lawyer Waleed Abu Al-Khair to 15 years in prison. Al-Khair had previously been sentenced to serve 10 years in prison, and to an additional 5 year suspended jail term. Founder of the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, Al-Khair faced what the Gulf Center for Human Rights has called ‘multiple trumped up charges’ including ‘antagonizing international organisations against the kingdom’, ‘incitement of public opinion against authorities’ and ‘setting up and supervising an unlicensed association’.
Women’s rights activist Souad al-Shammari—who co-founded with Badawi the Saudi Liberal Network—was released on 29 January after spending three months in jail. Shammari had been detained without charge since 28 October 2014 over tweets mocking religious figures.
Twitter users in Saudi Arabia will now have to be careful what they retweet. According to one legal consultant, retweeting abusive or offensive tweets is subject to the same punishment as the original posters under the country’s anti-cybercrime law.
Saudi media reported that a man who filmed and published on the web a video showing the gruesome beheading of a woman convicted of murder had been arrested and would be prosecuted under the country’s anti-cybercrime laws.
Sudan has adopted an access to information law, but local journalists are concerned that the law may be used against them in a country that has a long history with press freedom violations .
“Theoretically, the draft law is a good step,” blogger Usamah Mohamed told SMEX. “At the practical level, it is not going to lead to any progress with the current strict restrictions on freedom of expression and the press,” he added.
On 20 January a military court sentenced blogger Yassine Ayari to one year in jail on charges of ‘defaming the military’ through a series of Facebook posts in which he criticized the Minister of Defense Ghazi Jeribi and the counter-terrorism failures of the military institution. Living between Tunisia and France, Ayari had initially been sentenced in absentia to three years in jail. He was arrested on 24 December upon his arrival at Carthage International Airport in Tunis.
United Arab Emirates
The UAE has blocked the website of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), a non-government group working to support human rights defenders in the Gulf region.
Mass surveillance is a fundamental threat to human rights, says a report by the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe
Human Rights Watch released its 2014 World Report summarizing key human rights issues in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide
The Berkman Center for Internet & Society has published a report entitled “Arab Religious Skeptics Online: Anonymity, Autonomy, and Discourse in a Hostile Environment”
In other news
The Guardian published a selection of writings by Saudi blogger Raif Badawi
Egyptian women resort to social networking sites to expose harassers.
Collective Tunisian blog Nawaat interviews ‘Fallaga,’ a group of Islamist hackers.
From our partners
EFF condemns Raif Badawi’s flogging’s punishment and imprisonment
Global Voices’ Afef Abrougui explains how governments in the Arab Region make use of apostasy and blasphemy accusations to crackdown on political dissent.
SMEX asks: Is Iraq restricting speech on Facebook?
Check out reflections from the Global Voices Summit in Cebu, 24-25 March.
Twitter transparency report: Can it hold Arab government to account?
OpenITP: Open Circumvention Tech Festival 1-6 March.
The Vox-Pol network is hosting a workshop on the role of internet companies in responding to violent online extremism at the Central European University on 5-6 March.
The International Journalism Festival will take place in Perugia, Italy, from 15-19 April.
Volume 2.3 02/09/15
This volume takes a look at harsh penalties for critical speech on social media in Mauritania, Tunisia and Bahrain, as well as new research on surveillance from Al Akhbar English and PEN America.
Digital Citizen is a biweekly review of news, policy, and research on human rights and technology in the Arab World. This volume takes a look at harsh penalties for critical speech on social media in Mauritania, Tunisia and Bahrain, as well as new research on surveillance from Al Akhbar English and PEN America.
Women’s rights activist and blogger Ghada Jamsheer was released from prison on Dec. 15, after spending three months in prison for posting “insulting” and “defamatory” tweets. Jamsheer is now under house arrest awaiting trial.
The Prime Minister announced the impending launch of a council for cybersecurity that will be tasked with developing and implementing an anti-cybercrime strategy.
Police detained Activist Karam Zakariya, charged him with posting “instigative” comments on Facebook and seized his laptop. According to his supporters, he merely “liked” the Facebook page in question. Zakariya is a member of the April 6 movement, which opposed both Hosni Mubarak and Mohamad Morsi.
A student unionist is facing investigation by the administration of his university for writing Facebook posts that depicted the anger of his fellow students and the problems they are facing.
Egypt’s Court of Cassation ordered the retrial of three Al Jazeera journalists jailed for over a year. Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed were denied bail and will remain in prison until their retrial.
On Jan 5, the Kuwaiti Court of Cassation sentenced blogger Saqr Al-Hashash to 20 months in prison for insulting the Emir. Al-Hashash was previously acquitted on the same charge by the criminal court.
A day later, former opposition lawmaker Saleh al-Mulla was detained over tweets critical of a recent visit by Egyptian president Sisi to Kuwait. Al-Mulla was accused of threatening Kuwaiti-Egyptian relations and insulting the Emir.
A Mauritanian court sentenced blogger Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed to death for apostasy, over an article he published on the web more than a year ago. In the article, Mohamed criticized his country’s controversial caste system. In a recent editorial, Global Voices’ Afef Abrougui argues that politics, not religion, is the chief driver of cases like this one. She writes:
How does a regime get rid of political opponents and critics in countries where religion plays an important role in the lives of the majority? One way is to throw them in jail and say they insulted Islam and its Prophet. That way (almost) no one will come to their rescue.
Blogger Mohammed Al-Fazari, who published articles exposing government corruption, was arrested on 22 Dec. after authorities at Muscat International Airport informed him of a travel ban imposed on him. He was released in the evening of the same day.
Writer Ali Al-Rawahi was released after spending four days in detention for posting two tweets in which he discussed corruption and urged people to demand the protection of their fundamental rights.
Israeli authorities arrested eight Palestinians in mid-December on charges of “inciting hatred, violence and terrorism” on Facebook. One of the men had posted a photograph of himself holding an M16 assault rifle. A spokesman for the Israeli military said that the operation was one of their “biggest, aimed at repressing this kind of incitement to violence on social networks and the Internet.” In late December, an Israeli court extended the detention of five of the individuals.
According to a recent report, Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Haia) has disabled 9,000 Twitter accounts that were allegedly used to distribute pornography, which is banned in the kingdom. They also stated that “ethical hackers” have allowed police to “access personal details of those who operated accounts, leading to their arrest.”
The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab discovered a malware attack targeting Syrian critics of the violent extremist group known as ISIS (Da’esh). The targeted group, Raqqah is Being Slaughtered Silently (RSS), focuses its advocacy on documenting human rights abuses by ISIS occupiers of Raqqah.
A year after the disappearance of four Syrian activists in Douma, supporters launched a campaignFree #Douma4 to re-energize the search for the abducted activists and call for their release. The Douma Four were members of the Violations Documentation Center and prominent leaders of the non-violent opposition movement.
Tunisian blogger Yassine Ayari was arrested in late December upon returning to Tunis from a trip abroad and taken directly to jail. The military prosecutor said that Ayari had been sentenced in absentia in November to three years imprisonment on charges of defamation against army officers and senior defense ministry officials. Supporters are calling for Ayari’s freedom on Facebook.
From our partners
Volume 2.2 01/07/15
Prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab wrote about his recent arrest for the Huffington Post. Charged with insulting the Ministries of Defence and Interior on Twitter, Rajab could face up to six years in prison. Rajab believes that the tweet in question was merely a technicality — he suspects the real reason for his arrest was a European tour he conducted last summer to talk about human rights violations in Bahrain.
Sayed Jameel Kadhim, a member of the now-banned opposition group Al Wefaq Society, is facing investigation over a tweet referencing the role of “political money” in Bahrain’s legislative elections on Nov 22. In the tweet posted on Oct. 9, Kadhim alleged that those who run for the legislative elections are paid as much as 100k Bahraini dinars (roughly USD $265,000).
After spending two and a half months in jail on charges of defamation via twitter, women’s rights activist Ghada Jamsheer was released on Nov. 27, only to be arrested again for “assaulting a police officer.”
Maryam’s sister Zainab was on the other hand sentenced to three years in jail for tearing up a photo of King Hamad on Dec. 4. The activist was sentenced to additional 16 months in jail on Dec. 9 for “insulting a government employee” and “damaging public property” in two cases that date back to 2012.
Egypt’s Ministry of Defence is set to obtain a majority share in a new company to be established by the end of the 2014. The company will develop and manage the country’s telecommunications infrastructure. The step is part of a plan to issue a unified landline and mobile telecommunications license.
More than 500 journalists expressed their objection to a statement published by 17 editors of state and privately-owned media in which they committed not to criticize the anti-terrorism policies of state institutions.
The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) published a report covering violations committed against foreign reporters in Egypt, from the onset of the 2011 uprising throughout October 2014.
Trade unionist Mahmoud Rehan is facing prosecution for criticizing Egyptian authorities on Facebook. Rehan was arrested on Nov. 10 at Cairo airport, where he works. He was charged with “insulting the President” and “joining a terrorist organization,” in reference to the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt’s defence ministry will soon obtain a ruling share of the country’s communications infrastructure. Primary stakeholders will include the army and other security departments, as well as mobile carriers and other ministries in what will amount to greater military control over Egypt’s communications networks.
The violent extremist group that now refers to itself as the Islamic State cut off all phone lines in the Iraqi city of Mosul, the group announced on Nov. 26, in an attempt to stop the circulation of information about their positions.
Reporters Without Borders published a timeline of violations against freedom of information committed in Iraq and Syria.
Jordanian media are now required to obtain prior authorisation from the authorities before publishing news related to “internal security affairs,” a decision taken by the country’s Media Commission.
The website of media platform and Internet research group 7iber was unblocked in Jordan, after obtaining a license from the country’s media commission. 7iber was blocked in Jordan in June 2013 along with more than 200 other websites after refusing to apply for a license under an amended version of the Press and Publication Law. In a statement published on Dec. 14, 7iber explained that they had “no option but to apply for a license” in the absence of “any collective mobilization” that could change the law.
On Nov. 17, Kuwait’s Public Prosecutor ordered the jailing of activist Hamed Buyabes for 10 days pending investigation on charges of insulting Saudi Arabia on twitter.
Karim Hawa was detained in mid-November by the Lebanese Cybercrime Unit for sharing a Facebook a post alleging that the company contracted by the Lebanese interior ministry for the production of biometric passports has “links with Israel”. After spending few days in detention, a judge ordered the release of the 21-year-old on Nov. 17. A few weeks after, Karim got his computer and his phone back.
Nicolas Fattouch, a deputy and a lawyer in Lebanon had punched a woman (a public employee on duty). Unfortunately Manal Daou (the public employee) lost her chance in suing him following the law that provides immunity to deputies after 24h from the incident, unless a case was filed before, which isn’t the case.
Mosleh Sarie Dine, an online activist who called for a protest against Fattouch and his actions was sued for threatening Fattouch in a video he shared on his Facebook and spent 2 days in detention for interrogation in the cybercrime unit.
Teenage rapper Othman Atiq, known publicly as Mr. Crazy, was released on Nov. 12, after spending three months in prison for his rap songs. In his music videos published on the web, Atiq depicts the lives of Casablanca’s unemployed youth and criticizes police.
Twitter user @chris_coleman24 has been leaking classified Moroccan diplomatic documents, in what some have referred to as “a Moroccan version of Wikileaks”. Still, some have their doubts about the authenticity of the documents, including French journalist Jean-Marc Manach, who wrote that the whistleblower “skillfully blends authentic and manipulated documents.”
The International Center for Journalists published a feature article on the group of journalists in Oman who launched the first online news media outlet in the country.
Palestinians living in Israel have started placing “Second Class Citizen” stamps on their Facebook profile pictures to protest a new Israeli government anti-terror plan that would give the government cause to revoke Israeli citizenship from Palestinian nationals living in their country. The plan also includes a ban on the use of the Palestinian flag and on the use of social media to express support for terror attacks.
Women’s rights activist Souad Al-Shammari remains in detention for tweets she posted over a year ago, in which she criticized the kingdom’s “guardianship system” whereby a woman must have the permission of a male guardian to engage in various aspects of her life such as travelling, work, and marriage.
Saudi Arabia blocked the website of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), a non-governmental organization that documents rights violations and supports human rights defender in the Gulf region.
Security company Symantec discovered a “powerful new cyber espionage program” mainly targeting people and organizations in Saudi Arabia and Russia. According to the company, a ‘Western intelligence agency” is probably behind the program.
Saudi Arabia’s religious police, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, reported “shutting down” more 10,000 Twitter accounts this year over “religious and ethical violations.” A spokesman for the commission also reported that owners of many of these accounts were arrested.
Amnesty International lists seven tactics deployed by Saudi Arabia to silence people online.
On Nov. 26, the pro-transparency NGO Albawsala filed a lawsuit against four municipalities over the right to access information. The municipalities had previously denied the group access to administrative documents, a right guaranteed by Decree 41 of May 26, 2011. Albawsala collects these documents for its ‘marsad baladia’ project which monitors the activities of Tunisian municipalities.
Amidst Tunisia’s competitive presidential race, Facebook has been accused of launching a crackdown on pseudonyms. As Raed Chammam explains in a blog post, more than one hundred Tunisian users of the site were reported for using a “fake name,” resulting in some switching to use of their real names, while others were banned from the site. Chammem writes that the accounts were reported as part of a targeted campaign against supporters of the political opposition.
United Arab Emirates
Human rights activist Obaid Yousif Al-Zaabi remains in detention despite his acquittal on June 24, of charges filed against him over tweets he posted more than a year ago. In those tweets, Al-Zaabi criticized the “UAE 94” trial in which 94 Emirati reform activists were convicted of plotting to overthrow the government.
On Nov. 25, a court in Abu Dhabi sentenced activist Osama Al-Najjar to three years in prison and a $136k USD fine after a hearing that only lasted ten minutes. Al-Najjar was arrested on March 17 for tweeting about the torture of his father, a reform activist among the UAE 94 group.
- Egyptian lawyer Ahmed Ezzat looks into the history and law of surveillance in Egypt
- A study by Article 19 looks at the restrictions and pressures placed on news websites in Egypt
- Amnesty published a report that sheds light on the repressive tactics widely used by the UAE to crackdown on dissent
- Freedom House released its 2014 Freedom of the Net report entitled Tightening the Net: Governments Expand Online Controls
- Citizen Lab launched Communities @ Risk, a report that sheds light on Targeted Digital Threats Against Civil Society
- The Gulf Center for Human Rights reports on how anti-terror laws threaten human rights defenders in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE
In other news:
- Jon Stewart speaks Arabic, talks about the NSA and press freedom.
- R-Shief launches new research tools allowing full and free public access to its social media archive and analytics available in more than 70 languages.
- In an open letter, seven human rights groups call on signatories of a global export agreement not to send surveillance technology to known rights abusers including Egypt.
From our partners:
- A number of civil society groups issued a statement at the Arab Internet Governance Forum (also available in Arabic).
Volume 2.1 01/07/15
Digital Citizen is a biweekly review of news, policy, and research on human rights and technology in the Arab World. This edition looks at governments seeking to crack down on binaural beats, declining freedoms in Bahrain, Tunisia, and Egypt, and the ongoing battle between governments and social media companies.
Two years after its launch in 2012, the Virtual Museum of Censorship continues to document violations of the right of free expression committed in Lebanon. Global Voices’ Thalia Rahme interviewed the museum about the work they are doing to support censored artists and advocate for legal reforms that support free expression.
Lebanon’s Minister of Justice called for legal measures against “digital drugs”, a brand of digital audio track (better known as binaural beats) that claims to have a drug-like effect on the listener.
Jailed for offending state institutions on Twitter, prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was freed on bail on Nov. 2, and his trial was adjourned until Jan. 20. Rajab was arrested for tweeting about reports that members of the Bahraini Interior Ministry had joined the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
Another prominent human rights activist, Zainab al-Khawaja, was arrested on Oct. 14 for ripping up a photo of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in court. Charged with insulting the king, al-Khawaja risks seven years in prison.
On Oct. 13, Privacy International filed a criminal complaint on behalf of three Bahraini activists living in the UK, targeted by the spyware FinFisher supplied by British company Gamma.
Bahraini activist Ali Abdulemam penned a piece on “speaking out about democracy in the golden age of surveillance” for the Irish Times.
On Oct. 14, a student was arrested and investigated on suspicions that he “belonged to a terrorist group,” “[was] managing Facebook pages inciting against the military and police,” and “misusing the Internet and [his] computer.” According to state news agency MENA, a woman was arrested on October 22 for managing a Facebook page that “incites violence against the police and army.” The woman allegedly confessed to being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Cairo Administrative Court will soon hear a lawsuit filed by a lawyer to ban Facebook and Twitter until they acquire legal permission to operate in Egypt, on Nov. 18. Citing security concerns, the lawyer filed the suit in late August.
The Ministry of Interior stopped its Internet surveillance program in response to a lawsuit filed by a number of human rights groups. According to a security official, the ministry has “frozen” the surveillance program until the court issues a decision.
Editors of major Egyptian newspapers announced their support, as well as a unified media strategy, for the state and its war on terror.
In September, police detained Briton Ray Cole and Moroccan Jamal Wald Nass for “homosexual acts”. Moroccan police used photos found on Cole’s mobile phone to convict and jail the two men.
Omani writer and activist Saed al-Darodi is believed to be held incommunicado after being summoned to appear before a local police division in Dhofar, a governorate in southern Oman. According to the Gulf Center for Human Rights, al-Darodi is held in connection to a Facebook post he published on Oct. 7 and entitled “I’m not Oman….I’m Dhofari”.
On Oct. 27 a court in Riyadh sentenced three lawyers to prison sentences ranging from five to eight years for criticizing the Ministry of Justice on Twitter. The Saudi lawyers were also barred from travel and from appearing in the media or using social networking sites.
A day later, women’s rights activist Souad Al-Shammari was arrested while she was being interrogated over comments she posted on Twitter. She faces charges of “calling upon society to disobey by describing society as masculine” and “using sarcasm while mentioning religious texts and religious scholars.”
On Nov. 3, human rights defender and blogger Mikhlif Al-Shammari was sentenced to two years in prison and 200 lashes.
Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti called Twitter “the source of all evil and devastation,” describing the microblogging site as being used to “promote lies, backbite and gossip and to slander Islam.”
Jailed blogger Raif Badawi received PEN Canada’s One Humanity Award. Badawi is serving a ten-year prison sentence for founding the Liberal Saudi Network website.
As in Lebanon, Saudi authorities are exploring measures to prevent the arrival of “digital drugs” or binaural beats to the Kingdom.
Jabeur Mejri, who was previously jailed for posting prophet Muhammad cartoons on Facebook, was set free on Oct. 15, after serving sevent months of an eight-month prison sentence for “insulting” a court employee.
United Arab Emirates
The trial of activist Osama al-Najjar continued with two hearing in mid and late October. Al-Najjar is being prosecuted for tweeting about torture in the UAE. The court is due to issue a verdict on Nov. 25.
Speaking at the Oslo Freedom Forum, Palestinian blogger and activist Iyad el-Baghdadi revealed that he was deported from the UAE last May, where he had resided throughout his life. An active Twitter user, el-Baghdadi went silent on April 30. On that same day, he was summoned by the UAE authorities and was given two options: Detention in the UAE or deportation to Malaysia. El-Baghdadi chose Malaysia and arrived in Norway, where he is seeking political asylum, in late October.
Houthi rebels in Yemen continue attacking news providers. On Oct. 17, five gunmen claiming be members of the group attacked Aleshteraki, a online newspaper affiliated with the Socialist Party, and kidnapped its editor for several hours before releasing him.
In other news
In September, despite a wide range of objections from more than two dozen civil society organizations, the council of ministers of the Arab League approved a statute establishing an Arab Court of Human Rights. If instituted according to the approved statute, Arab citizens will not be able to bring cases to the court without the support of their governments. The International Commission of Jurists called this “a gross departure from the human rights courts established in other regions of the world.”
The World Economic Forum blog has published a piece enumerating “10 facts on Internet use in the Middle East.”
From our partners
SMEX launched a research series mapping the emerging legal framework for free expression online that will run through the end of the year. They are actively seeking feedback on ideas in the piece, especially as they relate to the potential for legal reform on digital rights in the region.
The MENA ICT Forum will take place Nov. 12-13 in Amman, Jordan.