Digital Citizen is a monthly review of news, policy, and research on human rights and technology in the Arab World.
Bahraini blogger Mohammed Hassan (also known as Safy in the blogosphere and social media) was arrested at his home on July 31 and has been held in detention ever since. Security officers, who did not present a warrant for the blogger’s arrest, seized Hassan’s computer and other electronic gear. On August 7, Hassan was charged with “promoting and inciting hatred against the system, incitement to disobey the law and calling for illegal rallies and gatherings.” His lawyer, AbdulAziz Mousa, tweeted that Hassan had visible marks on his arms, and told a judge that Mohammed had been beaten on his lower back and abdomen. Some 14 hours after sending the tweets, Mousa was arrested and his home raided. Hassan remains in detention, his lawyer is still under arrest.
51 bloggers from around the world issued a statement in solidarity with Hassan, who is also a Global Voices author. The statement read, “Without our fellow blogger Mohammed Hassan and those arbitrarily jailed, our blogging community cannot rest until he is back to his family and friends.” The statement called on the international community and all and bodies dedicated to defending freedoms to “pressure the Bahraini regime and demand the release of Mohammed Hassan.”
Photographer Hussain Hubail, a close friend of Hassan’s, was also arrested by police at Bahrain’s main airport as he was attempting to board a flight to Dubai. Photographer Qassim Zainaldeen from the village of Diraz in the north was arrested on August 2. Police confiscated all of his electronic equipment.
Erin Kilbride, an American teaching in Bahrain, was deported for posting “radical” statements on Twitter and other online platforms. Her posts reportedly “incited hatred against the government and members of the royal family,” according to Bahrain’s Ministry of State for Communications. The Ministry also said an investigation found that Kilbride worked “illegally as an unaccredited journalist,” a violation of her visa. Erin Kilbride is editor for Muftah, a MENA region think tank and policy blog.
On July 31, Bahrain Watch released a 93-page report “The IP Spy Files: How Bahrain’s Government Silences Anonymous Online Dissent” documenting the government’s attempt to track down and prosecute anonymous Twitter accounts by using IP spy links — links that can be used to identify the IP address of a user who clicks on the link. The report said that since October 2012, authorities have jailed eleven people for allegedly posting tweets that were deemed insulting to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
In an effort to silence anti-government protests, the Bahraini government targeted citizen journalists ahead of promised demonstrations on August 14.
Tunisian interim president Moncef Marzouki pardoned 343 prisoners and issued a special pardon to 20 other prisoners on the occasion of Eid.
Although his defense lawyers filed for a presidential pardon, Tunisian netizen Jabeur Mejri was not included in this group. Mejri was found guilty on charges of “publishing material liable to cause harm to public order or good morals”, “insulting others through public communication networks” and “assaulting public morals” for posting Prophet Muhammad cartoons on Facebook. He is serving a seven-and-a-half-year sentence. His friend Ghazi Beji was also convicted of the same charges for publishing a satirical book, The Illusion of Islam, on the document-sharing website Scribd. He has since fled the country to avoid prosecution, and has been granted asylum in France.
Five publications whose websites were recently blocked by the Jordanian government—AmmanNet, JO24, Ain News, Khabar Jo, and All of Jo—have filed a lawsuit against the government challenging the legality of the procedure by which the ban was imposed and the constitutionality of the nation’s amended press law.
The Internet has often been referred to by the media as Syria’s second battleground. Users discussing Syria on social media have begun to attract trolls, while the Syrian Electronic Army has engaged in a wide range of attacks, from hacking major websites to going after VoIP apps Viber and Tango. In a new twist, Jabhat Al Nusra—a rebel group deemed a terrorist organization by both the US and the UN—has reportedly banned its followers from engaging in clashes on social media.
While Jabhat Al Nusra may not wish to engage in online battle, the Syrian Electronic Army continues to up their targets: On August 27, they gained control of the New York Times domain name through the publication’s domain name registrar and defaced the site.
In June it was reported that numerous gambling websites were no longer accessible in Lebanon. Telecommunications Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui sent a tweet explaining that the sites were blocked in accordance with a 1995 law that gives Casino du Liban a monopoly over gambling in the country.
An August report from Al-Monitor says that Hamas monitors Facebook activism and has used its findings to interrogate local activists. In an interview with the news site, a pseudonymous activist from Gaza called Youssef stated that authorities had asked him for his Facebook, Twitter, and email passwords during an interrogation regarding his participation in a youth political movement.
Egypt’s Administrative Court has ruled against banning pornography sites in the country. The issue dates back to 2009, when the Supreme Administrative Court declared a ban on pornographic websites. The ban was never implemented, prompting former President Mohamed Morsi to reissue his call for the ban. Lawyer Ibrahim El-Salamony responded to his call by challenging the ban in court, reportedly arguing that marriage burdens and high unemployment had led many young men to use the sites. A lawyer for the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression stated that implementing a ban would be “a waste of public money.”
In early August, before Eid celebrations marking the end of Ramadan, Amir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah pardoned a number of activists convicted of “insulting” him on Twitter. According to news reports, authorities released ten individuals. Since June 2012, authorities have prosecuted many online activists and opposition politicians for “insulting the Amir” in speeches and on Twitter. The Amir pardoned only people whose cases had been reviewed by the court of appeal and the court of cassation.
Saudi activist Iman Al-Qahtani, who has come under fire for live-tweeting court proceedings, was denied the right to travel outside of Saudi Arabia in mid-July. The BBC reports that barring individuals from foreign travel is a common punishment for those believed to be stirring political unrest.
Activist Raif Badawi was charged with violating Saudi Arabia’s cybercrime law and sentenced in July to 600 lashes and seven years in prison. Badawi, the founder of the Free Saudi Liberals website, was found guilty of insulting Islam on his website and in comments made on television. The court added three months to his term for “parental disobedience.”
Seven Facebook users were jailed in late June for posting information about protests on Facebook and sentenced to between five and ten years in prison. The harshest sentence was imposed on Abd al-Hamid al-Amer, who was accused of founding two Facebook groups through which he allegedly “conscripted others to join the movements.”
The UAE’s Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRA) sent a letter to German hosting provider Hetzner Online AG demanding that the website of newspaper Al Watan be shut down based on claims that watan.com is registered to the ‘Global Muslim Brotherhood Union.’ Al Watan—a news organization based in the United States—reports candidly and often critically on domestic Emirati affairs, presenting a sharp contrast to local media. This effort by the TRA to regulate content outside its borders comes after a 2012 ‘Cybercrime Decree’ that outlawed the use of technology to criticize the government and has since effectively silenced local critique. Al Watan publisher Nezam Mahdawi criticized the government, saying “if you criticize human rights violations in the UAE, the authorities label you Muslim Brotherhood.” Hetzner Online AG has not yet responded to the TRA’s request.
Social Media Exchange has published a case study (available only in Arabic) on the Iraq Cyber Crime Law, which was revoked earlier this year. The case study is part of SMEX’s “In the Organizers’ Eyes” series and looks at the social movement that has opposed the bill.
Human rights activist Saeed Jaddad is facing charges of “undermining the status and prestige of the state,” allegedly for his calls for political and social reform in the Gulf state. In 2012, the government of Oman convicted and sentenced 35 activists to prison for crimes such as “defaming the Sultan,” “illegal gathering,” and defying the country’s cybercrime law through social media postings.
In a wave of pardons issued on Morocco’s Throne Day, King Mohammed VI pardoned Spanish pedophile Daniel Galvan, who was convicted of raping eleven children in 2011. The pardon sparked an unprecedented online campaign of outrage on Twitter under the hashtag #DanielGate, one of the rare hashtags to originate in Morocco and succeed in trending globally.The online campaign was followed by large, ultimately violent demonstration in Rabat, followed by another in Casablanca. The king rescinded his pardon in response to the protest, and Spanish authorities arrested Galvan, who had fled to Spain upon his release from prison.
- Arabian Business published a report on Internet freedom in the region.
- Numerous groups throughout the region have signed on to a set of principles on the application of human rights to communications surveillance.
- SMEX is mapping laws that affect Internet users in six countries across the Arab world.
- A new book on start-ups in the MENA Region, Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East, was released. An interview with author Christopher M. Schroeder appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books.
This month’s report was researched, edited, and written by Afef Abrougui, Hisham Almiraat, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Amine ElKamel, Mariwan Hama, Wafa Ben Hassine, Katherine Maher, and Jillian C. York.