Digital Citizen is a biweekly review of news, policy, and research on human rights in the Arab World.
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The Bahrain Center for Human rights reported that on 9 July 2015, the Bahraini electronic crimes directorate started investigations some Twitter users for alleged insults toward elected members of parliament, and that one user was arrested.
A new draft of the Right to Information law will reportedly criminalize spreading rumors on social media that could potentially harm the state, according to Egypt’s Al-Watan newspaper. The new law will also reportedly define “cybercrime” in greater detail, a definition that will include “disclosing classified national security information” and “spreading harmful rumors.”
Yaqeen News Network (YNN) announced on 20 July the suspension of all of its activities, six days after a police raid against its offices. The network’s director Yahia Khalaf—who was arrested in the raid—remains in detention.
The government has dropped a two-year jail sentence against journalists from a proposed counter-terrorism law. The draft previously prescribed a two-year jail term against journalists if they publish non-government data about terror operations. Journalists still, however, face fines ranging from 200,000 to 500,000 Egyptian pounds.
An Iraqi member of parliament collected 150 signatures from fellow MPs to censor pornographic websites inside the country. On social media, campaigns were launched to support the process, while others protested the move arguing that the parliament should instead focus on more important priorities. The issue was first raised by the highest Shiite authority in the country represented by Ali al-Sistani, who declared that watching pornography is forbidden in Islam.
Jordanian journalist Jihad Muheisen faces charges of undermining the regime and lèse-majesté for comments made on Facebook, the International Press Institute recently reported. Muheisen, who is a columnist with Al Ghad, allegedly criticized Jordan’s democratic process and said he would become a Shiite. The State Security Court detained Muheisen on 12 July, the same day it released Al Rai journalist Ghazi Mrayat. Mrayat spent five days in detention for violating a gag order in relation to a foiled terror plot allegedly backed by Iran.
Human Rights Watch has called Kuwait’s new cybercrime law “a blow to free speech.” The law establishes criminal penalties for various offenses, including hacking electronic systems, fraud, publishing pornography, and engaging in human trafficking via the Internet, but it also broadens the reach of existing restrictions on print publications to cover online content, resulting in expansion of censorship in the country.
Lebanon’s Cybercrime Bureau ordered from the Italian surveillance and security technology firm “HackingTeam” spying software and surveilled the actions of its citizens “by exploiting a security flaw in the mobile phone game application Angry Birds”. According to the advocacy groups Legal Agenda, SMEX, and Maharat, these attempts of the Bureau to implement targeted surveillance are outside the sphere of legality and violates Law 140/1999.
Apple refused to publish a new application for the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas on the Apple Store.. The application is available in the Google Play store.
Israeli blog +972 recently reported on how the government of Israel spies on citizens using social media. According to their report, the IDF contracts Israeli companies to monitor posts on social media, while Army Intelligence filed a request to gather data on citizens of Israel who write about protests, as well as users who write in Arabic and use words like “the Zionist state” and “al-Quds” (“Jerusalem” in Arabic).
Members of the Syrian Centre for Media and Free Expression (SCM), Hussein Ghreir and Hani Al-Zitani were released from prison, while their colleague Mazen Darwish remains in jail. Ghreir, Al-Zitani, and Darwish were arrested in 2012 in relation to their rights-defending activities, including the monitoring of online news and the publication of human rights reports. On 22 July their trial was postponed for the 25th time.
Police arrested a mathematics teacher for alleging on Facebook that the 26 June beach resort attack in Sousse, which left 38 foreign tourists dead, was a conspiracy carried out by security officers. The teacher, identified as Abdelfattah Said, stood before an investigative judge on 27 July. According to Human Rights Watch, he was charged with complicity in terrorism under the 2003 counter-terrorism law. He further stands accused of insulting government figures for sharing and commenting on a photoshopped picture of PM Habib Essid. The picture, which was originally shared by another user, shows Essid holding a shovel. Said posted the photo on 12 July, along with a comment on a decision by the broadcast regulator to close a number of religious radios and TV stations. He said: “as if they [the government] are waiting and thirsty for the Sousse crime to happen, to shut down all sources of moderate Islam. As if it is a gift they got from heaven”.
Following the Sousse attack, the interior ministry launched a crackdown on individuals using social media to “support terrorism”. On 20 July, the ministry announced the arrest of eight individuals for “incitement to terrorism” on social media.
On 25 July, the parliament adopted a new anti-terror law. Human rights groups criticized the law for endangering rights and containing a number of flaws including the granting of security and intelligence services exceptional powers to use “special investigative techniques” including surveillance, interception of communication, recording of phone conversations for a period not exceeding four months after obtaining judicial authorization.
United Arab Emirates
Cyberpoint, a Maryland-based company reported to be a customer of Hacking Team, has been granted a license by the US State Department to provide “cyberdefense” assistance to the UAE. The company claims their work in the country is “defensive” and not “operational.”
The UAE passed an anti-hate speech law which prescribes jail terms to those who violate it, ranging from six months to ten years and fines from 50,000 to million Emirati Dirhams. The law criminalises acts inciting religious hatred and insulting religion through any form of expression, including online media. The law was quickly put to use when a former police chief filed a case against a Saudi writer for “spreading hate” against the UAE on social media using his Twitter account.
On 5 July, Houthi rebels kidnapped rights activist Abd al-Kader al-Guneid from his home in the city of Taizz. On Twitter, al-Guneid has been critical of the Houthis, who took control of much of the country and forced president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to flee the capital Sanaa in February. According to his wife and son, he has been receiving threats on Facebook and over the phone by Houthi supporters.
- In its 2015 law enforcement disclosure report, Vodafone outlines government efforts to censor telecom networks.
- A collection of essays on digital activism in Asia is critical reading for students of the genre.
- “The Digital Freedom Risk: Too Fragile an Acknowledgement” [pdf] has been released in honor of sociologist Ulrich Beck, who passed away in January.
- A new paper, entitled “(Social) Media and Politics and the Arab Spring Moment” [pdf], has been released by Northwestern University, Qatar.
In other news
- For Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan, who spent more than five years in prison before being released last year, “the rich, diverse, free web that [he] loved — and spent years in an Iranian jail for — is dying”.
From our partners
- EFF is seeking volunteer translators to work on technology projects
- “Hacking Team leaks confirm what Arab privacy advocates already knew,” writes EFF’s Jillian York
- Access puts surveillance on the agenda for Human Rights Council elections
- SMEX has published an update to the ongoing story of mobile providers breaching customer rights in Lebanon.
- EFF has submitted comment to the US Commerce Department regarding the implementation of the Wassenaar Arrangement export controls.
- The Stockholm Internet Forum will take place October 21-22 in Sweden. Anyone can recommend participants this year.
Digital Citizen is brought to you by Advox, Access, EFF, Social Media Exchange, and 7iber.com. This month’s report was researched, edited, and written by Afef Abrougui, Michael Fuchs, Mohamed ElGohary, Dalia Othman, Courtney Radsch, Thalia Rahme, and Jillian C. York, and translated into Arabic by Lara AlMalakeh and Mohamed ElGohary and French by Thalia Rahme.
Photo: Labyrinthine circuit board lines by Karl-Ludwig Poggemann on Flickr, used under (CC BY 2.0).