Spotlight on Internet Shutdowns
In early June, Algeria’s Baccalaureate exams were leaked, prompting authorities to temporarily shut down mobile internet access. As a result, the Ministry of Education ordered a retake of some of the exams. During the retake, the Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies blocked social media platforms. Blocking social media sites or shutting down network access to prevent exam cheating is not uncommon in the region; in May, the Iraqi government ordered daily internet shutdowns lasting from 5am to 8am as a measure to stop cheating in high school exams.
For more information on Internet shutdowns and what you can do to fight them, read more about Access Now’s Keep It On project.
Access & Interference
- Following reports that the messaging app Telegram was blocked inside Bahrain, Bahrain Watch confirmed that three out of five ISPs were blocking the app.
- Authorities in the UAE have blocked the Middle East Eye news site, which has extensively reported on the country including its military and political roles across the region, and its rights violations.
Privacy, Surveillance & Data Protection
- Authorities in Qatar are considering the adoption of a new data protection law that would fine organizations who fail to prevent leaks up to QR5 million.
- Bahrain Watch reports that the American company Pelco and Australian company iOmniscient are “likely” supplying the Bahraini ministry of interior with facial recognition software that could be used to identify protesters.
Cyberwar & State-Sponsored Attacks
- Twitter suspended up to 1800 bot accounts using the #Bahrain hashtag to post sectarian tweets.
- Bahrain is accused of launching a “cyberwar” on the village of Diraz, where numerous protests have recently taken place.
Trials, Sentencing, and Judicial Harassment
- On 14 June, Jordan’s state security court ordered the arrest of Islamic preacher Amjad Qawarsha for criticising his country’s participation in the international war against ISIS.
- Bahraini authorities have once again arrested human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, over charges related to his exercise of his right to free speech online. After spending two weeks in solitary confinement, Rajab was transferred to hospital for heart problems.
- An Algerian court sentenced labor rights activist Belkacem Khencha for posting a video on Facebook in which he criticized a prison term against one of his colleagues who was protesting housing policies.
- On 20 June, an Abu Dhabi court adjourned the trial of Emirati human rights activist Nasser Bin Ghaith to 26 September. Bin Ghaith who has been in prison since April 2015 is facing charges over tweets critical of Egyptian authorities, and other tweets deemed “harmful” to the Emirati state and its institutions.
- An appeal court in Oman confirmed a three-year prison term against activist Hassan Al-Basham over Facebook posts deemed “prejudicial to religious values”. His conviction of insulting the Sultan for which he was ordered to pay a fine had been overturned.
Extra-legal Intimidation and Violence
- Founder of the independent Syrian media collective Eye on the Homeland Ahmed Abdel-Qader survived a second assassination attempt on his life, reportedly carried out by ISIS.
- In Kuwait, human rights defender Abdulhakim Al-Fadhli was beaten by police as he was transferred from court to prison. Al-Fadhli is serving a three-month jail term for “misusing” his phone.
Travel Bans & Forced Exile
- Human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja was forced into exile after Bahraini authorities threatened her with indefinite imprisonment if she does not leave the country.
Advocacy, Policy & Law
- Human Rights Watch has called on Egyptian authorities to drop their investigation into a satirical youtube group that posted videos mocking President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and release four of the group’s members detained since May.
- Eleven international non-governmental organizations urge Egyptian authorities to stop attacks on civil society.
Recognition & Solidarity
- On the fourth anniversary of his arrest, supporters from across the world stood in solidarity with imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi.
- The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) won the golden prize in the Middle East Digital Media Awards competition for a digital rights campaign it launched last year.
- MADA published a report on feminist journalism and freedom of expression in Palestine.
- The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on the “the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet”.
From Our Partners
- Digital dystopia: Egypt’s civil society faces an “existential threat” – EFF
- The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has issued a favorable statement in the case of Egyptian Alaa Abd El Fattah, reports the EFF.
- The latest Netizen Report from Advox contains stories from the region.
- “Algeria reconsiders blocking social media to prevent cheating on exams,” reports SMEX.
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, Jessica Dheere, Coraline Rasset, Elsa Saade, Kayssar Yaacoub, and Jillian C. York, and Adam Zibak.
Image of Iraqi students at Basra Medical School, U.S. Army, public domain.