This Week in Internet Censorship: Netizens Sentenced in Oman, Malaysia, and Bahrain; Maldivian Blogger Attacked; New Human Rights Watch Report on Iraqi Cybercrime Bill
Bloggers Under Fire in the Gulf
In Bahrain and Oman, netizens are coming under fire once again. In Bahrain--where opposition activists have frequently been detained and maligned on social networks--Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, a fellow member of IFEX, wassentenced on July 10 to three months in prison for a tweet. Rajab was arrested in May and charged with inciting protest on social networks. After being released on bail, he was then arrested again on June 6 on charges of "insulting in public" after tweeting for Bahrain's rulers to step down. Rajab has been persecuted by the Bahraini government for more than a year for his activism as part of their broader crackdown on opposition. EFF once again calls on the international community to condemn the persecution of bloggers and citizen journalists at the hands of Bahrain's regime.
In neighboring Oman, where a spate of netizen arrests have occurred in the past year, four young men have received similarly harsh sentences for content posted to social networks. Hamoud Al Rashidi was sentenced to six months in prison and a fine of 200 rials, while Hamad Al Kharousi, Mahmoud Al-Rawahi, and Ali Al-Mikbali were all sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of 200 rials, all for "defaming" ruler Sultan Qaboos on social networks. Al Rashidi was convicted under Article 126 of Oman's Criminal Law, which criminalizes defamation of "His Majesty the Sultan or his authority publicly." The other three men were convicted under Article 126 and Articles 16 and 19 of Oman's Cybercrime Law. EFF condemns the sentencing of these four men and calls on the Omani authorities to immediately overturn the convictions.
Maldivian Blogger Attacked; Government Denies Political Motivation
Long before Egypt's infamous blackout, the Maldives was the first country to cut off Internet access to its citizens. In 2004, then-President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom cut off access in the wake of protests against his ruling regime. Although press freedom improved in the country following the end of Gayoom's 30-year rule in 2008, attacks on journalists have increased since demonstrations in January that resulted in the ousting of President Mohamed Nasheed.
Most recently, the country's best known blogger, Ismail Rasheed (more commonly known as "Hilath"), was stabbed in the throat and forced to flee the country. Though Rasheed, who has received death threats in the past has blamed the attack on Islamists, a Maldivian government spokesperson told the AFP that the attack had "nothing to do with religious extremism or his work as a journalist" and was the work of a rival gang. Another official condemned the stabbing but implied that Rasheed should have known he was a target, stating: "We are not a secular country. When you talk about religion there will always be a few people who do not agree."
Malaysian Blogger Detained; Government Invokes State Secrets Act
In Malaysia, where the Internet is uncensored but still far from free, blogger Syed Abdullah sits in jail awaiting charges following a complaint filed by thirty people claiming 64 of the blogger's articles were a "provocation, incitement, and insult" to the Sultan of the state of Johor. The blogger was arrested at a toll booth on July 4 and has remained in police custody since. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, officials are currently investigating the complaint and could charge Abdullah under the Official Secrets Act, which provides for harsh sentences for the dissemination of information classified as a state secret. If charged and found guilty, the blogger could face up to seven years in prison.
Human Rights Watch Releases New Study of Iraq's Proposed Cybercrimes Law
EFF has written before about Iraq's harsh proposed informatics crime law, which includes mandatory life sentences for vague "crimes" such as "compromosing the unity of the state" online. Now, a new 16-page report from Human Rights Watch provides detailed legal analysis of the bill and finds that the draft law is part of "a broad effort by Iraqi authorities to suppress peaceful dissent by criminalizing legitimate information sharing and networking activities." A second reading of the law by Iraq's Council of Representatives is expected this month. EFF will continue to monitor this egregious bill closely.