For an increasing number of Internet users in parts of the Middle East, posting to social media is a liability, a risk not worth taking. Since the 2011 uprisings, the region has seen an increase in laws governing online speech, as well as an increase in arrests related to political speech. 2015 has been a particularly bad year for those wishing to speak freely about their governments.
The past few months have seen an Egyptian pharmacist detained for criticizing a pharmaceutical, a Kuwaiti arrested for tweeting about the country’s rulers, a Jordanian sentenced to two years in jail for criticizing his country’s ties to Israel, a Moroccan news editor arrested for posting about an already-widespread government leak on Facebook, a Palestinian university student kidnapped after criticizing government officials on Facebook, a Lebanese journalist imprisoned for a “libelous” Facebook post, a Bahraini seized for tweeting against sectarianism...and the list goes on.
A recent Pew poll, which included Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine, found that publics around the world showed widespread support for the right to criticize government. A majority in each country—98% of Lebanese, 63% of Jordanians, and 74% of Palestinians offered support for such a right.
Despite such widespread support, political censorship remains high, and outspoken users remain at-risk. Such government restrictions, coupled with the widespread perception of surveillance, most certainly leads to self-censorship.
At a time when Western governments and companies are seeking to take down more content on social media, the risk to outspoken political activists grows. While the West is focused on the removal of speech that supports terrorism, particularly the Islamic State, the methods being undertaken risk the censorship of other content, including speech against IS. And at a time when criticism of Arab governments’ actions in response to both terrorism and the refugee crisis is high, it is imperative that the right to free expression is protected in the region.
To that end, EFF works with groups throughout the region to produce Digital Citizen and advocate on issues of concern. Our Offline project features several cases from the Middle East and North Africa. And we will continue to lend coverage to the free expression and privacy issues that our colleagues in the region face.
This article is part of our Year In Review series; read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2015. Like what you're reading? EFF is a member-supported nonprofit, powered by donations from individuals around the world. Join us today and defend free speech, privacy, and innovation.