This year, we refocused our attention on Offline, our project that seeks to raise awareness of and provide actions readers can take to support imprisoned bloggers, digital activists, and technologists. Originally launched in 2015, Offline currently features six individuals from four countries whose critical voices have been silenced by their governments.
Take Eman Al-Nafjan, the Saudi Arabian blogger and women’s rights activist who has long been critical of her government’s human rights abuses while living in the country. In May, Al-Nafjan was arrested along with several other women while filming a woman driving a car—just one month before the ban on women driving was officially lifted. A report from Human Rights Watch has found that a number of the women imprisoned in the crackdown have faced torture and sexual harassment in prison.
Although Saudi Arabia has always been restrictive of speech, this year has proven truly frightening for human rights defenders. While liberal pundits in the Western media were busy praising Crown Prince Mohammad Al Salman as a reformist, the de facto ruler of the country was busy consolidating power. And now, following reports of torture and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, we are particularly fearful for the fate of Al-Nafjan and her compatriots.
To take action to free Eman Al-Nafjan, click here.
In Egypt, suppression has been the rule for decades but following the 2013 military coup, journalists and human rights defenders are at greater risk than ever before. This year saw dozens of arrests, including that of activist Amal Fathy and journalist Wael Abbas. Although a date has finally been set for Fathy’s appeal and Abbas was granted conditional release, both were held in pre-trial detention for months and still face a long road to freedom.
Prominent activist Alaa Abd El Fattah was sentenced in 2014 to fifteen years in prison, which was reduced to five years following a retrial the next year. Supporters all over the world took action for his release, but to no avail. Still, we’re happy to say that in March 2019, Alaa will finally go home to his family...but only during the day. The conditions of his parole require him to sleep in his local police station for the next five years.
We’re thrilled that Alaa will soon be reunited with his family, and encourage readers to visit 100 Days for Alaa, where they can learn more about his case and read his recent essays on technology and life. And until March, supporters can visit CPJ’s website to send him a postcard.
We turn to Iran, where designer and programmer Saeed Malekpour languishes in Tehran’s infamous Evin prison. Earlier this year, he turned 43, the tenth birthday he’s spent behind bars. In October, he suffered a heart attack and was rushed to hospital, where he was handcuffed to his bed for four days before returning to prison. According to his sister, he has also suffered kidney stones, prostate issues and arthritis.
To find out how you can support Saeed Malekpour, click here.
Not all news is bad news
It wasn’t only bad news in 2018: In February, Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega was freed by the country’s new after serving six years in prison. His journey hasn’t been easy—not long after his release, he was detained wrongfully for twelve days along with several other writers and journalists. We’re keeping a close eye on Ethiopia but are thrilled that Nega and his colleagues finally have their freedom.
Watch EFF’s Rainey Reitman in conversation with Eskinder Nega.
Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour’s story gives us hope: Although the poet, photographer, and activist served three years of house arrest and another 42 days in prison, she hasn’t been defeated. After her release, she bravely came out as a survivor of rape, has given tough interviews on her experience, and most recently, launched an exhibition of her photographs. Tatour still faces challenges: The Israeli government has sought to strip funding from her exhibition and a play written about her plight, which would effectively censor the works. But Dareen has something that can’t be challenged: her freedom.
Finally, we wish to remember Bassel (Safadi) Khartabil, the tireless advocate for open culture who was executed in 2015, a fact that was only revealed last year. Like many of the individuals whose highlight, several of us had personal connections to Bassel, having met him at events around the world or corresponded with him over the years.
He was a friend, a sometime contributor to EFF’s work, and an incredible human being whose life is a great loss not just for his family and friends but for the world. Bassel, you are greatly missed.
To learn more about all of these brave individuals, visit Offline.
This article is part of our Year in Review series. Read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2018.
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