In this month’s volume, we look at new research from Citizen Lab and provide updates on trials in the region.

Access & Interference

  • In mid-May, the Iraqi government once again ordered a complete country-wide shutdown of all Internet services between 5 am and 8 am during high school examinations, ostensibly to prevent cheating.
  • The United Arab Emirates reportedly spent more than half a million dollars in an attempt to install spyware bought from European companies on the computers of 1,100 dissidents and journalists. They are being targeted with custom-made spyware, according to Citizen Lab, which details the tactics being used to ensnare and target journalists and activists.

Free Expression & Censorship

  • On May 30, Lebanese authorities arrested lawyer and human rights activist Nabil El Halabi over Facebook posts in which he accused officials at the ministry of interior of corruption.
  • Sudan’s intelligence agency detained eight civil society activists, all of whom work for the Khartoum-based organization Training and Human Development (TRACKs). The TRACKs office was raided by Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services, which confiscated the passports of staff members.
  • Several human rights organizations called on the UAE to reform its limits on freedom of expression, particularly its anti-terrorism and cybercrime laws.
  • The Bahrain Center for Human Rights has condemned an amendment to the Political Societies Law, which places a ban on participation in political decision-making based on discriminatory religious grounds.
  • The European Commission’s “code of conduct” for online hate speech created in conjunction with several internet companies prompts fears of censorship and concern over the lack of transparency or redress.

Content Takedowns

  • Apple backed down after rejecting a game created by a Palestinian developer for inclusion in its iOS store. The game, Liyla and the Shadows of War, is staged in war-stricken Gaza, and players are required to avoid missiles and bombs to guide a family to safety.

Privacy, Surveillance & Data Protection

  • Authorities at Cairo International Airport banned French journalist Remy Pigaglio from entering the country and detained him for 30 hours. While in detention, they confiscated his phone and examined photos on it.

Cyberwar & State-Sponsored Attacks

  • New evidence suggests Israeli responsibility in cyber-attacks on the BDS campaign’s website.
  • A member of the Syrian Electronic Army — a group of hackers who support the Syrian regime— has been extradited to the U.S. from Germany to face charges for his alleged part in a cyber campaign against the U.S. military and American businesses. He is one of three Syrian nationals charged in March by U.S. federal prosecutors in Virginia with being part of a criminal conspiracy.

Trials, Sentencing, and Judicial Harassment

  • A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced a Saudi man to five years in jail and another five-year travel for ban for tweets deemed defamatory towards the King, the State, its highest religious body, and its judicial and security institutions.
  • Emirati human rights defender Nasser Bin Ghaith, who was held incommunicado since August 2015, is standing trial for his social media posts and online activism.
  • Jailed Omani activist Saeed Jadad has been denied medical treatment. Jadad was charged in 2015 for “use of an information network (Internet) in the dissemination of material that would prejudice public order.”
  • Omani activist and blogger Sulaiman Al-Moamari has been detained in solitary confinement since April 28, with no access to his lawyer or family. It is believed that Al-Moamari was detained in relation to his social media activities.
  • Ali Abdeen, a photographer for the Egyptian news website El-Fagr, was sentenced to two years in jail on May 14 after being convicted of “inciting illegal protests, obstructing traffic, and publishing false news.”
  • Moza ‘Abdouli is due to be sentenced on May 30 by the Federal Supreme Court of the UAE. ‘Abdouli is charged with insulting the country, its leaders, and its institutions.
  • Bahrain’s Court of Appeals has increased the prison sentence of Al-Wefaq’s Sheikh Ali Salman from four to nine years for charges related to exercising his right to free expression. He was arrested after delivering a speech calling for reforms to Bahrain’s political system.
  • Bahraini human rights defenders continue to face harassment. Although activist Zainab al-Khawaja was released from prison, Nabeel Rajab is still under a travel ban.

Advocacy, Policy & Law

  • A controversial cybercrime draft law is expected to be adopted soon in Egypt. The draft prescribes severe punishments including life imprisonment and the death penalty in cases where ISPs do not abide by the law, which requires them to surveil their users and filter content.

Extra-legal Intimidation and Violence

  • Abdallah Azizan a correspondent for the Yemeni news site Ma’reb Press was killed while covering clashes between Houthi rebels and pro-government forces.

Tech-Positive

From Our Partners

  • APC released a paper looking into how civil society groups in the Arab region advocate for internet-related rights. They also published a report on challenges to civil society participation in internet governance in the MENA region.
  • The European Commission’s hate speech agreement with Facebook, Google, Twitter and Microsoft will chill speech, writes Jillian York from EFF, which also announced the launch of Certbot, “a powerful tool to help websites encrypt their traffic.

Digital Citizen is brought to you by Advox, Access, APC, EFF, Social Media Exchange, and 7iber.com. This month’s report was researched, written, edited, and translated by Afef Abrougui, Khadija Ahmed, Yusur Al-Salman, Jessica Dheere, Islam Khoufi, Courtney Radsch, Coraline Rasset, Elsa Saade, Kayssar Yaacoub, and Jillian C. York, and Adam Zibak.

Image credit: Citizen Lab