Global Digital Download - Middle East & North Africa News
The Global Digital Download is a weekly publication that aggregates resources on Internet freedom, highlighting trends in digital and social media that intersect with freedom of expression, policy, privacy, censorship and new technologies. The GDD includes information about relevant events, news, and research. To find past articles and research, search the archive database.
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Several blogs and twitter feeds of the Financial Times were put in jeopardy by hackers on May 17, Friday. The "Syrian Electronic Army", a group of hackers and avowed supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, already owned up responsibility to the action. This group of online activists is also responsible for the repeated attacks on Western media companies in the past.
Six Twitter users were sentenced to a year in prison each by a Bahrain court on May 15 for allegedly insulting King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on the micro-blogging site. According to the government-run Bahrain News Agency, the “six suspects” were charged in five different cases “related to the misuse of freedom of expression and defaming His Majesty the King on Twitter.” It added that the six were “charged [with] misusing freedoms of expression and opinion publicly and remanded…in custody ahead of their trial.”
The Saudi Interior Ministry said Friday that several government Web sites have come under attack in a campaign hackers are calling #OpSaudi. Hackers who identify with the loose hacking collective Anonymous have aimed at several government Web sites, including the Saudi Ministry of Finance, General Intelligence Presidency, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Directorate General of Passports, as well as sites for several major Saudi provinces, including Makkah and Jeddah.
Iran appears to have quietly launched their “Halal Internet”--a closed-off, heavily censored national Internet free of the corrupting influence of foreign websites. In preparation for the country's national elections on June 14, access speeds for foreign sites have slowed to a crawl. Access speeds for domestic sites, however, remain normal. Although the Halal Internet was originally conceived as a national intranet that would serve as a standalone network similar to old-school, pre-Internet AOL & Compuserve, it appears the finished model is more improvisational. Instead of hermetically sealing off Iran's websites from the outside world, gratuitous packet loss, website blocking, and VPN blocking measures are being used to discourage access to foreign websites.
Lebanese blogger Habib Battah narrates how he was held against his consent, forced to delete photographs of ruins from his phone camera and repeatedly assaulted in this post on the Beirut Report. When he reported the case to his local police station, the officers in charge said it was his word against theirs.
Bahraini blogger Ali Abdulemam surfaced in London, after escaping from Bahrain, where he has been in hiding for two years. In absentia, Abdulemam, 35 years old, was slapped with a 15-year prison sentence for belonging to a terror organisation and for seeking to topple the government.
Reporters Without Borders condemns the reinforcement of Iran's system of Internet filtering and blocking. Use of the leading VPN censorship circumvention tools such as Kerio and OpenVPN has been blocked since 4 May, making it very difficult for Iranians to access an unfiltered Internet. The blocking is being compounded by arrests of netizens such as Ali Ghazali, the editor of the Baztab Emrooz news website, who has been held for the past three days.
On Tuesday at around 2:45 p.m. EST, Web monitors noticed something strange: Internet traffic in and out of Syria had dropped down to zero. It was as if the entire country had simultaneously unplugged its modems and switched off its smart phones, all at the same moment. And it’s still down. How does an entire country go dark? We can’t know what happened for sure, but it’s almost certain that this was not an accident and that the Syrian government pulled the plug.
Syrian Internet and cellphone access resumed Wednesday morning after an Internet failure pulled the company offline Tuesday. The likely culprit, technologists say, was the Syrian government. But the Syrian government said the failure was because of a technical problem. Bakr Bakr, the director general of Syria’s General Establishment for Communications, told the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, or SANA, that the Internet failure was caused by a “malfunction in an optic cable,” but security experts said that such an occurrence would be unlikely.
Internet connections between Syria and the outside world were cut off on Tuesday, according to data from Google Inc and other global Internet companies. Google's Transparency Report pages showed traffic to Google services pages from the country, embroiled in a civil war that has lasted more than two years, suddenly stopping shortly before 3 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT). Google traffic reports continued to show no activity there about four hours after the drop-off. "We've seen this twice before," said Christine Chen, Google's senior manager for free expression. "This happened in Syria last November and in Egypt during the Arab Spring." It is virtually impossible to definitely determine the cause of such disruptions unless a party claims responsibility, experts said. In the past, Syria's government and the rebels fighting to topple it have traded blame.
The editor of an Iranian news website, Ali Ghazali, was arrested on Sunday after carrying a report claiming that a tape recording existed of the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, discussing vote rigging in the disputed 2009 election. Ahmadinejad's office has strongly denied the report that appeared on the Baztab website last month. No tape has since surfaced.
Reporters Without Borders condemns the continuing harassment of news providers and yet another escalation in censorship. With just six weeks to go to a presidential election, the intelligence ministry has been summoning netizens and media editors to give them instructions on what they may and may not cover. At the same time, persecution of contributors to the Sufi website Majzooban Nor is being stepped up.
Just a little more than two years ago, the world witnessed the overthrow of three North African dictators and ensuing protests across much of the Arab world on television and social media, the latter of which was much lauded as a catalyzing tool. But while 2011 was a time of hopefulness and increased openness throughout much of the region, 2012 brought about increased repression, both online and off. From Bahrain, named an “enemy of the Internet” by Reporters Without Borders, to Egypt, the trend is toward censorship, surveillance, and increased regulation.
Eight years ago, when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad first took office, the Iranian government announced plans to develop a national internet network. The project attracted little attention at the time but now, with less than two months to go until the next presidential election, some analysts say it is so well advanced that the authorities could soon be in a position to cut off the entire country from the world wide web.
Syria: Blue Coat Commends The Department Of Commerce’s Bureau Of Industry And Security For Penalizing Third Party Involved In the Illegal Transfer Of Blue Coat Products
Blue Coat Systems, Inc., a market leader in Web security and WAN optimization, today commended U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) for its enforcement action against Computerlinks FZCO in connection with the unlawful diversion of Blue Coat ProxySG appliances to Syria. BIS previously penalized Wassim Jawad and Infotech in 2011 for their involvement in this unlawful transfer.
Since the suicide of an underfoot fruit vendor in Tunisia, the Arab world has generated some of the world's most-followed stories. History will find the news coming out of Arab countries during this time both gripping and plentiful. Less is known, however, of the news and information reaching Arab countries and communities during this period, and at times much has been speculated of, say, Twitter reliance in Tunisia, satellite TV dependence in Egypt, or tablet use in the highly connected Arab Gulf.
An organization affiliated with Iran’s government says 60 percent of Iranians are connected to the internet, 40 percent of them are young people in their 20s. Iran’s “Center For Managing National Development Of Internet”, MATMA, says more than 45 millions are connected to the internet,almost 2.5 millions of them through their mobile devices.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) holds the Omani government accountable for endangering the lives of human rights defender Saleh Al-Azri and blogger Noah El-Saadi, both of whom had disappeared a few days ago. Al-Azri, who is quite active on social media networks, is known for his continued demands to reform the health care system in Oman and for his solidarity with those who were accused of insulting the Sultan, for peacefully assembling and for violating the Information Technology Act.
Not more than two years ago, the concept of reform in Saudi Arabia would have been as much an oxymoron as business ethics or airline cuisine. In recent months, however, the Arab Spring’s uncertain winds of change have finally begun to sweep into the world’s last forbidden kingdom. Finding themselves alone in a crowd (of revolution) in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia’s monarchs are quickly realizing that their secret police and petrodollars may be no match for their citizens’ technology-driven empowerment.
Reporters Without Borders condemns the 10-month jail sentence that an Abu Dhabi court passed yesterday on the netizen Abdullah Al-Hadidi for tweeting details of the trial of 94 alleged government opponents from the courtoom “in bad faith.” Observers and foreign media are not being all owed to attend the trial of the 94 alleged dissidents, who are charged endangering the country’s security. Hadidi, who was able to attend the fourth hearing on 19 March as the son of one of the defendants, was arrested on 22 March and has been held ever since.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) condemn the decision to arrest Ahmed Anwar, a video blogger, who is to be tried in front of the Tanta district court on 4 May 2013. Anwar was accused by the prosecution of insulting the minister of interior and deliberately harassing others using communication devices.
350 Iranian bloggers, political and civil society activists co-signed a letter last week warning that the life of publisher, physicist and blogger, Mehdi Khazali is in grave danger after he has been on hunger strike for more than 90 days. But while some bloggers warn that Mehdi Khazali’s life is danger, there are also those who question whether he is really on hunger strike.
Alaa Abd El Fattah is under threat again. The Egyptian blogger, who spent more than a month in prison in 2011, missing the birth of his first child, has found himself the target of a new case. Last week, Abd El Fattah went voluntarily to the office of the prosecutor after hearing from the media that there was a warrant for his arrest for inciting “aggression” against members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) is deeply concerned about the Bahraini prosecution's appeal of the decision to acquit rights defender Said Yousif Al-Muhafdah of charges laid against him for publishing "false news" on Twitter. Al-Muhafdah, Vice-President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, received on 2 April 2013 a notification to appear before the Supreme Criminal Court 1 July 2013 to review his case.
The leak of an “urgent” memo detailing a Saudi government plan to impose surveillance measures on encrypted online communications, such as Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber has triggered sharp criticism from Saudi Internet users. The news was confirmed on March 31, 2013 by a statement from the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC). The statement justified the measure as a means of, "Preserving values and principles, protecting the rights of everyone and protecting society from any negative aspects that could undermine the public well-being."
Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah surrendered himself to the public prosecution today (March 26) after an arrest warrant was issued for him last night. The investigation, tweets Abd El Fattah, revolved around his relationship with Princess Joumana and her mention of him on Twitter. In other words, an arrest warrant was issued for Abd El Fattah, for a mention on Twitter. Arrest warrants were also issued for political activists Ahmed Douma, Karim Al Shaer, Hazem Abdel Azeem and Ahmed Al Sahafi.
Reporters Without Borders is relieved to learn that Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al-Said yesterday pardoned all the activists, netizens and human rights defenders who have been convicted on charges of defamation, cyber-crime or illegal assembly in recent months. Reporters Without Borders has repeatedly criticized the unprecedented waves of arrests and convictions of these dissidents. Omani courts sentenced more than 50 of them to long jail terms and fines.
The Jordan Open Source Association (JOSA) has formally requested that the Jordanian government remove articles in its draft Telecommunications Law that would allow the government to impose censorship, and otherwise control access to the Internet. The request came in a list of suggestions that were presented to the Ministry of ICT in regards to the new draft law. The suggestions also included introducing more open Web and net neutrality principles into the law.
Saudi Arabia's Information and Culture Minister Abdelaziz Khoja allegedly threatened to sue a Twitter user – for insulting him on the microblogging platform.
Tunisian blogger Olfa Riahi has been charged with criminal defamation for posting an item in which the country's former foreign minister was alleged to have misused public funds. The minister, Rafik Abdessalem, stepped down soon afterwards. The charge against Riahi came two weeks after university professor Raja Ben Slama was summoned to appear before an investigative judge to face the charge of defaming a public official. If convicted, Riahi and Ben Slama could face prison sentences.
In March of 2012, Palestinian-Syrian software developer and open source advocate Bassel (Safadi) Khartabil went silent. When we had not heard from him online for a few weeks, his friends—myself included—began to worry. It was unlike Bassel, an active member of the Creative Commons community, to vanish from online discussions. There were rumours that he may have been detained. His last Facebook post, marked “friends only,” is dated March 14, 2012.
Journalists and other professional nerds are angry that Google is snuffing out its moribund RSS software, Reader. But as Quartz’s Zach Seward points out, plain old normal folks in Iran used Reader quite a bit to get around internet censorship. And those users won’t be helped by the Reader clones popping up in its wake, because Google Reader’s unintended power as an anti-censorship interface flows from its “Google” pedigree, not its “Reader” functionality.
Iran’s powerful Ministry of Information and Communications Technology has blocked the most popular software used by millions of Iranians to bypass an elaborate official Internet filtering system, stepping up a campaign to gain more control over the way Iranians use the Internet. As of Thursday, a collection of illegal virtual private networks, or VPNs, was successfully closed off by the ministry, making visits to Web sites deemed immoral or politically dangerous — like Facebook and Whitehouse.gov — nearly impossible. Popular mobile applications like Viber, for free phone calls, and WhatsApp, for free text messaging service, have also been experiencing problems.
The narrowing space for dissent and free exchange of ideas in the Iranian public sphere and in public space has been one of the driving forces behind Iranians’ use of cyberspace as a mechanism for expression. The Internet is one of the few remaining platforms where Iranians can practice some level of open debate, less susceptible to social and political limitations. Research on Internet use in Iran sheds light on a large online community engaged in a diversity of activities and expanding at a significant pace. This study seeks to complement standard online research techniques by providing a richer picture of Iranian Internet users.
Reporters Without Borders condemns last week’s supreme court ruling upholding one-year jail terms and 200-rial fines (400 euros) for five netizens who were convicted of cyber-crime and insulting the sultan. The five are Ali Bin Hilal Al-Muqabali, Mohamed Bin Zayed Al-Habsi, Abdullah Bin Salem Al-Siyabi, Hilal Bin Salim Al-Busaidi and Abdullah Al-Abdali. As Abdali is a medical student, the court released him so that he can finish this year’s course, but told him he will have to begin serving his jail sentence as soon as it is over.
Iran's judiciary should conclude a speedy, independent, and transparent criminal investigation followed by prosecution of those believed responsible for the death of the blogger Sattar Beheshti, Human Rights Watch said today. Beheshti died in the custody of Tehran's cyber police in November 2012. Iranian officials should stop harassing his family and hampering their efforts to seek justice and ensure that those responsible for the blogger's death are held to account.
News accounts reported that Jalal Mohamed al-Jamal, manager of the local news website Al-Awamia, was freed from prison on March 5, 2013. It was unclear why the journalist, who was jailed without charge for more than a year, had been released. Al-Jamal was arrested on February 25, 2012, in the city of Al-Qatif, news reports said. He had played an instrumental role in covering anti-government protests in the Eastern Province and had often criticized the Saudi government. Al-Awamia was temporarily shut down after his arrest, the reports said.
Egyptian authorities must do their utmost to determine the whereabouts and ensure the safety of Mohamed el-Sawi, an online journalist who was reported missing on February 21, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. CPJ also calls on Egypt to stop using the law to intimidate journalists and prevent them from reporting critically. "We are alarmed by the disappearance of Mohamed el-Sawi and fear for his safety. Egyptian authorities must work swiftly to determine his whereabouts and ensure his safe return," said Sherif Mansour, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa coordinator. "This disappearance comes against the backdrop of a serious deterioration in Egypt's press freedom environment after eight months of Mohamed Morsi's presidency."
In the aftermath of the Innocence of Muslims debacle, several countries were pressured — by public outrage, pressure from Muslim clerics and institutions, or Islamists in government — to do something to make sure that the blasphemous film never saw the light of day again. In Egypt, courts ruled that all sites hosting content from the film or linking to content from the film should be blocked. This proved difficult, so the courts explicitly demanded a 30-day ban on YouTube (the site that hosted the offending clips that fueled the turmoil). More on that from EFF and EIPR and the Guardian.
Releasing vast amounts of data in the name of national security is a violation of the Constitution and the spirit of Law 140, which was adopted in 1999 and governs security and law enforcement access to telecoms data, analysts said this week. The most recent chapter in the recurring controversy over the telecoms data effectively came to a close Wednesday, with the Cabinet backing the prime minister’s demand that he be allowed to approve or reject requests for data by the Internal Security Forces on a case by case basis, and urging the cooperation of the telecommunications minister.
A video blogger known for documenting violence against stateless protesters in Kuwait has quit, writing on Twitter that authorities beat and coerced him to do so. Under the nickname “حمقان البدون” meaning the “Angry Bedoon“, (Arabic for stateless), the blogger made a name for himself in his community for using footage of violence by riot police against stateless protesters to make videos on YouTube subtitled in English. Many of his videos were used by TV channels, being the only footage available documenting violence against stateless protesters.
As the Arab uprisings continue, war and state repression aren't the only threats to free expression. Egypt in the last week saw two other factors impinging on the independent media: bad finances and malignant bureaucracy. They pose a potent threat that could drastically worsen the dimming prospects for a transition away from authoritarianism. The traditional print media's business model has suffered all over the world, and Arab countries undergoing political transitions are not immune. Throw into the mix the fact that bloated state agencies control many of the major publishing conglomerates and television networks, and you have a gargantuan set of problems above and beyond efforts by the government to punish dissent and restrict speech.
This report, titled “After the Green Movement: Internet Controls in Iran, 2009-2012“, details Iran’s increasing Internet controls since 2009, when protests against the victory of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad rocked the country. The election protest campaign–dubbed the “Green Movement”–was marked for the high use of social media and other information and communication technologies (ICT) to organize protests and disseminate information. Since the protests, however, the regime has tightened its controls on the use of ICTs while also seeking to use that technology to promote its own national narrative in cyberspace.
All major Georgian telecommunication companies are owned by structures of shell entitites, which makes it often difficult or impossible to identify beneficiary owners. A new report by Transparency International Georgia entitled The State of the Internet – Who controls Georgia’s Telecommunication Sector? finds strong indications that 50% of Caucasus Online and 49% of Beeline, the country’s third largest mobile phone operator, are controlled by the same opaque individual(s), hiding behind entities in the British Virgin Islands. These opaque owners have appointed Levan Karamanishvili as their representative, who is also a shareholder of Rustavi 2 and Mze and is linked with the GMC restaurant group and several other businesses.
Bader Thawab is a Saudi Twitter user who was arrested back in September 2012 after writing tweets calling for the fall of the monarchistic Saudi regime. He was also one of those who live-tweeted from the first few hearing sessions of Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) trial. Journalist Iman al-Qahtani managed to get a leaked copy of the list of charges that he faces.
The acquittal of five Kuwaiti online activists charged with “offending the emir” could help ensure that Kuwaitis can freely express critical political opinions, Human Rights Watch said. Muhammad al-Ajmi, Faris al-Balhan, Abdul-Aziz al-Mutairi, Fahd al-Jufaira and Rashid Al-Enzi were acquitted by the criminal court on February 13, 2013.
Over the weekend, an Egyptian court approved a month-long ban on YouTube, for refusal to remove controversial anti-Islam film the Innocence of Muslims. In addition to a ban on YouTube, the same court ordered a ban on any other website hosting the film. It's unclear when the ban is meant to go into effect — and a Google (the owner of YouTube) spokesperson on Saturday said that they have not “received nothing from the judge or government related to this matter.”
On January 22nd 2013, the long-running campaign against the draft Iraqi Cyber Crimes law finally bore fruit: the Iraqi Speaker of the House approved a request to the Parliamentary Committee for Media and Culture to permanently revoke the proposed legislation. The decision is a victory for Iraqi civil society activists following months of public protests and intense negotiations with policymakers.
Last year, in remarks commemorating Nowruz, the Persian New Year, President Barack Obama referred to Iran’s strict control over what citizens can say and see online as an “electronic curtain” and announced new guidelines to help “American businesses provide software and services into Iran that will make it easier for Iranians to use the internet.” This announcement occurred just days after Iran’s March 2012 parliamentary elections, when authorities demonstrated their new ability to filter certain internet traffic while allowing approved activity to continue uninterrupted. At the first whiff of pre-election disruptions, authorities blocked all encrypted international traffic, such as Gmail, without the need to shut down encrypted domestic traffic, such as banking, or the entire network.
A British technology firm faces questions about how its specialist surveillance software allowing users to spy on people's emails ended up in Bahrain. Campaigners fear that it was used to help the country's security services crack down on protesters during the Arab spring. The allegations raise concerns about the export of British technology to oppressive regimes. Tomorrow the campaigners Privacy International will join forces with human rights groups, including the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and Bahrain Watch, to file a complaint with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development alleging that Gamma International UK is in breach of OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises. A separate complaint is being filed against a German company.
An article in this week’s Economist describes a scenario in which—following the destruction of a mall’s kiddie dinosaur display by the country’s morality police—Saudi Arabia’s Twitter users quick make a hashtag go viral, building off one another’s jokes and mocking some of the country’s most archaic laws. As the article notes, many of the jokes mocked the morality police themselves, such as one in which a Twitter user quipped: “They worried that people would find the dinosaurs more highly evolved than themselves.” This is Saudi Arabia in the age of new media. With so many Twitter users (according to the Dubai School of Government’s Arab Social Media Report, Saudi Arabia comes in second in the region to Turkey at nearly 350k users), Saudis wishing to mock their government officials on the site benefit from strength in numbers. Not so in neighboring Oman, for example, which has an estimated 6,500 users, or Bahrain, where Twitter users number around 58,000.
Yesterday marked the two-year anniversary of the internet and mobile network blackout designed to undermine the anti-government protests in Egypt. This event catapulted the issue of telecoms and human rights onto the international stage. To mark this anniversary, Access has sent a letter to the telecommunication sector’s Industry Dialogue on Freedom of Expression and Privacy, an industry working group that arose in the aftermath of the incident. The letter addresses the failure of the major telecoms involved to provide principled guidance to the industry and issues a statement of expectations to governments that would request restrictions on user rights.
Two years ago today, protesters responded to a call for a “Day of Rage” by pouring into Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. Thus began the first of the “Eighteen Days” of struggle to end then-president Hosni Mubarak’s nearly 30 years in power. Less than 48 hours after the protests began, Egyptian telecoms and ISPs complied with a order by the Mubarak regime to shut down their networks, ultimately removing Egypt from the global internet. This effort to prevent protesters from organizing and keep images and news of a government crackdown from spreading had an inverse effect, driving people to the streets and drawing the world’s attention to Tahrir Square.
The Omani blogger and human rights campaigner Saeed Jaddad, arrested on 14 January, was released three days ago on the orders of Sultan Qaboos after posting bail. According to the Gulf Center for Human Rights, Jaddad was questioned in the absence of his lawyer on 22 January as he was completing the formalities for his release in the public prosecutor's office.
Iran has been conducting a smear campaign designed to intimidate Iranian journalists living in exile, including apparent death threats. Cyber-activists linked to the Islamic republic have fabricated news, duplicated Facebook accounts and spread false allegations of sexual misconduct by exiled journalists, while harassment of family members back in Iran has been stepped up by security officials.
A court in Saudi Arabia has found that a liberal blogger accused of apostasy has no case to answer. The court had the power to sentence Raif Badawi to death had it found him guilty. But it refused to charge him, referring his case back to a lower court. Mr Badawi, the young co-founder of a website called the Liberal Saudi Network, was arrested last year and accused of insulting Islam and showing disobedience.
Reporters Without Borders is closely following an investigation by the public prosecutor's office into blogger Olfa Riahi's claims that foreign minister Rafik Abdessalem misused public funds by staying at the Tunis Sheraton Hotel. The allegations caused a big stir when Riahi posted them on her blog last month and have been dubbed the “Sheratongate” by the Tunisian press. Two days after prosecutors opened the investigation on 31 December, the foreign minister's lawyers gave them a complaint accusing Riahi of violating article 86 of the telecommunications code, articles 89 and 90 of Law 63-2004 on the protection of privacy, articles 126, 148 and 253 of the criminal code, and finally article 54 of Decree Law 115-2011 (the new press law).
In the last two days, Kuwaiti courts have issued back-to-back 2-year jail sentences to Twitter users for allegedly insulting Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al Sabah. The first verdict was issued on Sunday against 26-year old Rashid Saleh al-Anzi over a Tweet he made to his 5,700 followers in October, that the court said, “stabbed the rights and powers” of the Emir. Al-Anzi has been sentenced to two years in prison and is expected to appeal.
A Kuwaiti court sentenced a man to two years in prison for insulting the country's ruler on Twitter, a lawyer following the case said, as the Gulf Arab state cracks down on criticism of the authorities on social media. According to the verdict on Sunday, published by online newspaper Alaan, a tweet written by Rashid Saleh al-Anzi in October "stabbed the rights and powers of the Emir" Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah. Anzi, who has 5,700 Twitter followers, was expected to appeal, the lawyer, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.
As part of our collaboration with Syria Deeply we are cross-posting a series of articles that capture civilian voices caught in the crossfire, along with perspectives on the conflict from writers around the world. Patrick Hilsman has a light on in Syria’s internet blackout, which cut off the country from the rest of the world on November 29, 2012. The 29-year-old New York native landed in Aleppo to report on the conflict from the rebel-held section of the city, one of the city’s hardest hit neighborhoods. He hopped online and did a Google Hangout with Syria Deeply, describing his journey.
As usual, Iranian netizens have faced many challenges in 2012. They have seen online repression grow and become more institutionalized with the launch of an official cyber police force. In turn, they have defied the Islamic regime in various ways throughout the year, such as by filming streets protests, reporting on the failures of government-run institutions, and campaigning for political prisoners and environmental issues.
Prominent Saudi novelist and political analyst Turki al-Hamad was reportedly arrested by the Saudi authorities for a series of controversial tweets. The news broke on Twitter on Monday morning when journalist Khaled al Matrafi @Almatrafi announced, " Important: According to my sources, Saudi Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef has issued an arrest warrant for writer Turki al-Hamad and have just arrested him."
A tough new law that could place severe restrictions on internet use in Iraq has been put on the back burner, as opponents warn that it could be used to silence legitimate criticism of the government. In its present form, the “cybercrimes bill” has been criticised for setting out severe punishments for a range of vaguely-defined offences. Media and NGOs in Iraq and international organisations have urged parliament not to pass it.
Reporters Without Borders condemns the appeal court rulings issued during the past two weeks that uphold the prison sentences passed on a total of 28 netizens last summer. “These arbitrary decisions represent a new stage in the sultanate’s determination to gag netizens whose only crime was to exercise their right to express opinions and provide information about the policies of the sultan and his government,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We call for their immediate release.”
Bahrain jailed a leading rights activist for posts on Twitter documenting a protest on Monday in the capital, Manama, the kingdom’s official news agency reported. The activist, Said Yousif al-Muhafda, was being held for “disseminating false information regarding the clashes between the security forces and protestors in the Manama souq last Monday, December 17th, on his Twitter account,” The Bahrain News Agency said.
A court in Egypt has sentenced a blogger to three years in prison for blasphemy and contempt of religion. Alber Saber was arrested in September after neighbours accused him of posting links to a film mocking Islam that led to protests across the Muslim world. Mr Saber, an atheist from a Coptic Christian family, can appeal against the ruling if he pays $167 (£100) bail. The case raises concerns over freedom of expression just as Egyptians are set to vote on a draft constitution.
Calling for public support online is more often done by civil society activists than by government officials. On Monday December 3rd, 2012, it was Lebanese Minister of Telecommunications Nicolas Sehnaoui who called for help, asking people to mobilize in the name of Internet privacy.
It’s not unusual for law enforcement agencies to monitor social network activity to gather intelligence and monitor threats. In Lebanon, however, authorities are reportedly trying to take things to a whole new level: by demanding access to all Lebanese citizens’ passwords for email and social media sites. In October, Lebanon’s intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan died in what appears to be an assassination. The Information Branch of the country’s Internal Security Forces has been aggressively hunting those responsible—a pursuit that included, it has emerged, making a sweeping surveillance request that the country’s judicial authority rejected.
The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center and other human rights groups say they have documented a number of cases in which the Iranian regime has used the country's communications networks to crack down on dissidents by monitoring their telephone calls or internet activities. Now a Reuters investigation has uncovered new evidence of how willing some foreign companies were to assist Iran's state security network, and the regime's keenness to access as much information as possible.
When it comes to YouTube, the government of Afghanistan intends to keep its hand on the switch for now. More than two months after the Afghan government banned YouTube to prevent the spread of an anti-Islamic video, it has yet to restore access to the popular video Web site. While officials say they hope to lift the block “as soon as possible,” they have offered only a vague sense of what must happen before that can be done.
Some time ago, the Information Branch of the Internal Security Forces requested access to the phone information data of all Lebanese citizens; the government obliged. Now, they are demanding the content of all SMS, as well as usernames and passwords for services like BlackBerry Messenger and Facebook. The Information Branch of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces (ISF) has requested that the country’s Ministry of Telecommunications provide them with all SMS, or text messages, exchanged on Lebanese soil for the two months preceding the assassination of intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan.
Despite claims to the contrary, the Syrian government is almost certainly responsible for a blackout Thursday that shut down virtually all Internet service in the country, according to a leading Web security firm. "The Syrian Minister of Information is being reported as saying that the government did not disable the Internet, but instead the outage was caused by a cable being cut," writes Matthew Prince, CEO of CloudFlare. "From our investigation, that appears unlikely to be the case."
Last week, when the Assad regime shut down the Internet across the country for three days, one of the few IP addresses to stay online was the address implicated in the ongoing campaign of surveillance malware targeting Syrian dissidents since November 2011, including a fake anti-hacking tool, a fake Skype encryption tool, and fake documents allegedly pertaining to the formation of the leadership council of the Syrian revolution. Now EFF has detected two new campaigns of surveillance malware associated with the same IP address--the first we have detected since this summer.
As CDT has said before: whether in Egypt or Libya, San Francisco or Syria, network shutdowns are never the right choice. We strongly condemn the recent Internet blackout in Syria as an indefensible violation of human rights, and agree with international authorities on free expression and human rights who stated last year in their "Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and the Internet": "Cutting off access to the Internet, or parts of the Internet, for whole populations or segments of the public (shutting down the Internet) can never be justified, including on public order or national security grounds."
Twitter, perhaps more than any other social media outlet, has become one of the most powerful tools to promote democracy in the Middle East. The service, which helped Arab Spring protesters in their drive for a new order in the region, is now under attack over aiding and abetting terrorist organizations.
Information coming out of Syria has slowed to a trickle in the wake of Thursday’s country-wide communications shutdown, which included nearly all Internet traffic and intermittent cellular network and landline outages. Earlier today, Renesys reported that the last five networks that had survived the initial outage were off the air. In the meantime, experts have cast a skeptical eye on the Syrian Ministry of Information’s claims that the outage is the result of sabotage by “terrorists,” a term that the Assad regime has frequently used to describe the opposition.
A new federal decree on cybercrimes in the United Arab Emirates effectively closes off the country's only remaining forum for free speech, Human Rights Watch said today. The decree poses a serious threat to the liberty of peaceful activists and ordinary citizens alike. The UAE president, Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, issued Federal Legal Decree No. 5/ 2012 on combating cybercrimes on 12 November 2012.
On 22 November, the Tehran prosecutor’s office published a statement on “progress in the investigation and identification of those responsible for the death of Sattar Beheshti, and its responsibility regarding citizens’ rights”. It described the sequence of events, from the day of his arrest to the discovery of his body in his cell at the headquarters of the FTA, Iran’s cyber police.
A one day conference, The Rise of the Arab Information Society, is being organized by the Internet Society and ISOC Qatar, in partnership with ictQATAR and Carnegie Mellon Qatar. The Internet Society holds multiple INETs every year, each with a unique regional focus and a selection of topics most relevant to the communities involved. This is the first INET conference held in the Gulf region, following recent events such as INET Madrid, INET Tallinn, and INET Bangalore.
Recent revisions to the United Arab Emirates’ cybercrime law will not only restrict internet freedom but are in violation of citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and should be immediately repealed. These revisions come amidst a broader crackdown on human rights defenders both online and offline in the UAE. Freedom House renews its calls for authorities to cease efforts to silence opposition through extralegal harassment and intimidation.
Days ago the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) launched Operation Pillar of Defense, its latest military operation against Hamas in Gaza, firing over one hundred rockets into the Gaza Strip in response to rockets targeting Israel. The attacks prompted two retaliatory rockets launched from Gaza, targeting Tel Aviv and its suburbs. While the rockets fly and casualties pile up, a parallel conflict is taking place on the Internet and social media.
Taymour Karim didn’t crack under interrogation. His Syrian captors beat him with their fists, with their boots, with sticks, with chains, with the butts of their Kalashnikovs. They hit him so hard they broke two of his teeth and three of his ribs. They threatened to keep torturing him until he died. “I believed I would never see the sun again,” he recalls. But Karim, a 31-year-old doctor who had spent the previous months protesting against the government in Damascus, refused to give up the names of his friends. It didn’t matter. His computer had already told all.
At the height of the furor over a crudely produced U.S. movie that insulted Islam’s prophet, Google and YouTube went dark in Afghanistan amid concerns Afghans viewing the video would turn to violent demonstrations, as they did in the wake of a Quran-burning scandal. Google and Gmail came back quickly, but YouTube, the popular video website, is still blocked, annoying many Afghans and raising questions about the government’s commitment to free speech. Few in the government want to discuss the reason for the continued blockage or when the website might come back.
The United Arab Emirates set stricter Internet monitoring and enforcement codes Tuesday that include giving authorities wider leeway to crack down on Web activists for offenses such as mocking the country's rulers or calling for demonstrations. The measures are another sign of tougher cyber-policing efforts by Western-backed leaders across the Gulf amid growing concerns over perceived political or security threats since the Arab Spring uprisings.
The U.S. Department of State has placed sanctions on four Iranian individuals and five Iranian entities for the country's harsh treatment of bloggers, journalists and online activists. The department announced the sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities -- otherwise known as governmental bodies or private companies -- for "having engaged in censorship or other activities that prohibit, limit, or penalize freedom of expression or assembly by citizens of Iran, or that limit access to print or broadcast media, including by jamming international satellite broadcasts into Iran, and related activities."
Access has repeatedly seen governments crack down on dissent by using telecoms to surveil users and filter content. Iran epitomizes this trend, as its connected, tech-savvy population runs up against a government that relies on advanced surveillance and censorship methods to stifle free expression. One foreign telecom operating there, MTN, has faced international criticism and investigations over reports of its role in the harassment of government critics and participation in corrupt business practices.
Censorship circumvention software is about to become very popular in Egypt. On Wednesday, the country’s Prosecutor General, Abdel Maguid Mahmoud, ordered government ministries to enforce a ban on pornographic websites, based on a three-year old ruling by Egypt’s administrative court, which declared that “freedom of expression and public rights should be restricted by maintaining the fundamentals of religion, morality and patriotism” and denounced pornographic content as “venomous and vile.”
Reporters Without Borders is very worried about the state of health of eight women prisoners of conscience who began a hunger strike five days ago in protest against inhuman and degrading jail conditions. They include three journalists and netizens – Mahssa Amrabadi, Jila Bani Yaghoob and Shiva Nazar Ahari.
After nearly two years of non-stop social unrest and protests against the ruling monarchy, things have taken a precipitous turn for the worse for civil liberties in Bahrain this week. Martial law rules have been in effect in the tiny Gulf nation since late last year, but on Tuesday, the government took the remarkable step of declaring a ban on all public rallies and demonstrations--a move government spokesman, Fahad al-Binali claims is “temporary” and intended to “calm things down” after the recent deaths of protesters and police officers.
There is a proxy war going on in Syria, one measured in megabytes rather than in arms. On one side, Iran is providing Bashar al-Assad's regime with the tools of digital dictatorship to locate and bait the Syrian opposition. On the other side, the United States is trying to help the opposition protect itself from such attacks and set up alternate channels of communication. The outcome of this proxy war will affect the lives of many Syrians and the credibility of the State Department's efforts to promote digital freedom internationally.
The Saudi authorities should immediately charge or release Mohammed Salama, a dual US and Saudi citizen detained without charge since April 2012. Intelligence forces arrested Salama at his home on April 30 after he posted several tweets criticizing interpretations of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, also known as the hadith, on his personal twitter account. Judiciary officials have neither publicly announced any charges against Salama nor suggested that he may be guilty of any commonly recognizable criminal offense. According to Salama’s family, there is no record of his detention or of any charges being brought against him.
A U.S. company that makes Internet-blocking gear acknowledges that Syria has been using at least 13 of its devices to censor Web activity there—an admission that comes as the Syrian government cracks down on its citizens and silences their online activities. Blue Coat Systems Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., says it shipped the Internet "filtering" devices to Dubai late last year, believing they were destined for a department of the Iraqi government. However, the devices—which can block websites or record when people visit them—made their way to Syria, a country subject to strict U.S. trade embargoes.
While hailing last week’s announcement by the government that it finally intends to implement two decree-laws regulating the activities of journalists and the media, Reporters Without Borders calls on the government to clarify its intentions. The announcement was issued on the evening of 17 October, at the end of a one-day strike by almost all of the Tunisian state and privately-owned media, including print, broadcast and online media.
Mother Jones reported that the autocratic Syrian regime was using internet filtering technology produced by a California company, Blue Coat Systems, to aid its crackdown on dissidents. On Saturday, after 10 days of heightened media scrutiny and the launch of a State Department inquiry, the company finally admitted what publicly available electronic records made obvious, telling the Wall Street Journal that Syria did in fact use its products.
According to the Ministry of Interior of Bahrain, “four arrested for misuse of social media.” However, the charges mentioned in the report seem to be very vague – “defaming public figures on social media.” The arrested tweeps, Ali Al-Haiki, Abdullah Al-Hashimi, Ali Mohamed and Salman Abdullah will be held in custody for seven days under investigation.
When it comes to online freedoms around the world, no region has been the subject of more recent scrutiny than has the Middle East. As the Internet connects more people to one another, religious tensions have become more sensitive than ever before. In some Muslim-majority countries, conservative governments have seized on online censorship as a way to restrict citizens’ access to global ideas and materials.
Late last month in Aleppo, Syria, civilians who have cell phone subscriptions received a foreboding text message in Arabic: "Game over." Those on prepaid phones -- including many opposition fighters and activists, who tend to throw their devices away after several uses to avoid detection -- did not receive the text, or subsequent messages, signed by the Syrian Arab Army, telling them to surrender their weapons. "The government was sending a message to the rebels through people who subscribe," says Taufiq Rahim, a Dubai-based Arab affairs analyst -- an act of psychological warfare carried out by cell phone.
On a Monday in July, Ahmed Mansoor sat in his study in Dubai and made the mistake of clicking on a Microsoft Word attachment that arrived in an e-mail, labeled “very important” in Arabic, from a sender he thought he recognized. With that click, the pro-democracy activist unwittingly downloaded spyware that seized on a flaw in the Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) program to take over his computer and record every keystroke. The hackers infiltrated his digital life so deeply they still accessed his personal e-mail even after he changed his password.
Katherine Maher of online internet rights site Access discusses the rise of censorship in the Arab World and how citizens can learn more about internet governance and online human rights. "Governments have become increasingly become aware of the way that the internet is a very powerful tool for dissent, in terms of political organization and individual freedom," says Maher. "Creating legislation also creates a chilling effect and deters people from wanting to express themselves freely online in the first place."
Iran is providing crucial equipment and technical help to Syria in its effort to track opposition forces through the Internet and other forms of electronic surveillance, according to U.S. officials. The aid is the latest example of how Iran is helping Syria in its battle against rebel forces threatening the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The technical assistance is coming mainly through Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the officials said.
In 2006 Egyptian human rights activist Wael Abbas posted a video online of police sodomizing a bus driver with a stick, leading to the rare prosecution of two officers. Later, Abbas's YouTube account was suddenly suspended because he had violated YouTube's guidelines banning "graphic or gratuitous violence." YouTube restored the account after human rights groups informed its parent company Google that Abbas's posts were a virtual archive of Egyptian police brutality and an essential tool for reform. After the Abbas case, Google concluded that some graphic content is too valuable to be suppressed, even where it is most likely to offend.
For months, against the backdrop of the media focus on Iran's nuclear ambitions and the potential Western response, another story about the Islamic Republic's ambitions has been gaining ground: that story is about the Iranian government's attempt to create its own "halal" internet, cut off from the outside world. Iran's intent, it would seem, is to create an internet where Iranians are "safe" from the pornography, hate speech and cultural influence that the World Wide Web provides, whilst still allowing for intra-national communications, shopping and business to prevail.
Jordan occupies an interesting role in the Middle East Internet world. For years it was one of the few countries in the region known for relatively free Internet access. Surrounded by states ruled by despots, the small kingdom's reform-minded, western-oriented king and queen presided over a comparatively liberal country. Jordan also became known as a regional hub of Internet innovation, driven by a highly educated, English-speaking professional class.
After seriously flipping out, cutting of Iranian access to Google and basically herding all its citizens into a tiny little government-approved intra-net pen, the Iranian government has softened its Internet ban just a little bit and restored access to Gmail. Though the outcry against censoring the Internet at large was loud, the backlash against cutting users off from Google services such as Gmail was particularly strong. Many Iranians (reportedly around half) resorted to using VPNs to get outside of the the intra-net bubble, creating millions of dollars in profit for local VPN firms. Even government officials railed against the lack of Gmail, and complained that local clients just weren't up to snuff.
Shielding official and sensitive information from foreign attack, or the precursor to an unparalleled internet shut-down? The debate about Iran's soon-to-launch closed national computer network continues to polarise opinion. Last month, Iran's government unveiled a plan to take government agencies, banks, universities, businesses and military departments offline. Its stated intention was to disconnect them from the global internet and build in its place a closed national computer network. One report suggests at least 10,000 computers are already connected.
Iranian bloggers are facing a new wave of repression as more of them are being jailed, and in one case a blogger's wife was beaten by security forces. It seems the regime is raising its own standards for brutality. Several news sites reported [fa] that jailed blogger, Hossein Ronaghi Maleki's life is in danger. His health condition has deteriorated, and he has been moved to an isolation cell. His kidney is hemorrhaging and security forces have prevented appropriate medical care for him.
A citizen journalist who used the nom de plume Abu Hassan to report from the Syrian city of Hama was burned to death after regime forces targeted his home. According to a fellow media activist, Syrian army soldiers set Hassan's house alight after an assault on the area that left 16 people dead.
The University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Global Communications Studies will release a report this week showing that Iran is at the implementation stage of a decade-long plan to launch an internal internet for the country that would be wholly detached from the global internet that we all know, allowing significantly tighter government control over the flow of information into and within Iran. The Washington Post reports that the Iranian government has laid significant technical foundations, and that a number of government and academic sites are already up and running, with email providers in place and more than ten thousand devices connected.
Prominent UAE blogger Ahmed Mansoor says that he was beaten by an unidentified man on 17 September. Mansoor was attacked as he was approaching his car at Ajman University of Science and Technology, where he studies law. The attacker knocked Mansoor to the ground and began punching him, but ran away once people entered the parking lot. Once Mansoor was free, he tried to follow him, but was quickly blocked by another unidentified man, who drove off with the attacker. Mansoor says this is the second time that he has been beaten.
The Saudi official news agency, SPA, reported earlier today that the Communications and Information Technology Commission reacted to the trailer of the movie “Innocence of Muslims” by threatening to block YouTube, which has blocked at least one clip since the statement was published.
Jordan’s king has endorsed a controversial new media law that critics say could severely stifle online expression. The law requires 400 news websites operated by Jordanians to register with the government and obtain licenses. It also gives authorities the power to block and censor the sites, and holds publishers and editors liable for posted comments. The official Petra news agency says the law was endorsed late Monday by royal decree.
Google lists eight reasons on its “YouTube Community Guidelines” page for why it might take down a video. Inciting riots is not among them. But after the White House warned Tuesday that a crude anti-Muslim movie trailer had sparked lethal violence in the Middle East, Google acted. Days later, controversy over the 14-minute clip from “The Innocence of Muslims” was still roiling the Islamic world, with access blocked in Egypt, Libya, India, Indonesia and Afghanistan — keeping it from easy viewing in countries where more than a quarter of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims live.
The Lower House on Tuesday passed the controversial amendments to the 2012 press and publications draft law after adding minor changes to the National Guidance Committee’s recommendations. While lawmakers were discussing the law, dozens of journalists gathered near Parliament, calling on the deputies to reject the bill. They later described the endorsement of the amendments as a return to the “martial law” era. The lawmakers supported a proposal by Deputy Mahmoud Kharabsheh (Balqa, 1st District), under which he said the bill must deal with licensed news websites as newspapers.
An Omani court sentenced six people to jail terms ranging from a year to 18 months for slander over internet posts against the government that it called "abusive and provocative", an opposition activist present at the hearing said on Monday. The verdict, issued on Sunday, was a further move by Oman to deter unrest inspired by Arab Spring revolts last year. Protests this year in Oman, which fronts the Gulf sea lane through which much of the world's oil trade is shipped, have highlighted difficulties in implementing a strategy of defusing discontent by creating tens of thousands of public sector jobs.
A proposed law requiring electronic publications to obtain a license and granting executive authorities the power to close down unlicensed sites threatens freedom of expression online. The government on August 22, 2012, sent the draft amendments to the Press and Publications law to parliament for approval. “The government has long imposed restrictions on how Jordanians may express their thoughts and opinions,” said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Now it is trying to extend those restrictions to online expression.”
Bahraini authorities should toss out the unjust conviction and life sentence handed to an online journalist who was imprisoned for exercising his right to free expression during the country's 2011 popular uprising, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The High Court of Appeal on Tuesday upheld a life sentence given to Abduljalil Alsingace, a prominent independent blogger and human rights defender, on charges related to "plotting to topple" the regime, according to news reports. Alsingace had been convicted and sentenced by a military court in June 2011, the reports said.
The internet censorship, more known under the name of "Ammar 404" is henceforth no longer set in Tunisia, asserted Information and Communication Minister Mongi Marzoug denying the social network information on the return of the internet censorship. In his meeting with the media, the Minister said that the Revolution allowed to put an end to censorship in Tunisia underlining the interim government's commitment to facilitate access to information and promote freedom of expression.
Many Gazans have long lamented that there’s not much to do in the Gaza Strip. There are no movie theaters, pool halls or bowling alleys -- all of which are seen as “un-Islamic.” And it’s not getting any better. In fact, now, curbs are being extended further – to the Internet. The Islamist Hamas movement that rules Gaza issued a new law this week that forces Gaza’s ten main internet providers to block all access to any websites with pornographic content.
Jordanian websites have gone offline today [August 29, 2012] in protest against proposed government censorship plans and new restrictions on the Internet. Hundreds of websites have gone black, in order to draw attention to the new legislation and its dangers.
Jordan is slipping into a black hole, with new restrictions on Internet freedom being approved by the government today [August 22, 2012]. First, the government gave the go ahead to block websites. Now, a new Publications Law, which allows for more control and censorship over the Internet, has also been approved as a draft.
Censorship and government monitoring aren’t the only problems facing Syrian Internet users. There have been frequent, recent shutdowns of all Internet traffic crossing the Syrian border over the last few months, accompanying dramatic changes in how the country connects to the rest of the world.
For a long time, the only people interested in Yemen were Joseph Kessel and Al-Qaida. After the revolution that brought down 32 years of dictatorship, the interest of the West quickly waned, abandoning the country to its difficult political transition. It is an exhausted country, without a vision nor a hope of something better and crippled by depressing figures: there is a 23 percent inflation rate, 35 percent of people are homeless, 40 percent live under the poverty line, 60 percent are illiterate, the majority of whom are women and therefore reduced to mere objects.
Every day, Syrians are risking their lives to broadcast pictures and videos of the uprising -- but because of U.S. sanctions on Syria, they don't have access to essential technologies that would protect them from being spied on and tracked down by the Syrian government - often with the use of computer viruses. By easing current sanctions, the U.S. can help Syrian activists share information more safely.
An email claiming to reveal a political scandal will grab the attention of almost any journalist. But what if the email was just a ruse to make you download government-grade spyware designed to take total control of your computer? It could happen—as a team of award-winning Moroccan reporters recently found out.
South Africa-based telecom MTN shows little respect for the human rights of its users. Operating in Iran and Syria, they have been implicated in monitoring and tracking of activists. The company lacks a coherent human rights policy and has taken no steps toward a transparent, multi-stakeholder dialogue. MTN had the audacity to hire a PR team and ask us about their company's public perception. We told them it doesn't matter what they appear to be doing -- it matters what they actually do.
A prominent Bahraini human rights activist has been sentenced to three years in prison for attending an "illegal demonstration". Nabeel Rajab, who is already serving a three-month sentence for posting anti-government comments on Twitter, is the head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and one of the most outspoken critics of the island state's government.
As Ramadan comes to an end, controversy is building in Jordan over potential internet censorship. After Jordan's Ministry of Information and Communication Technology called upon the country's internet service providers (ISPs) to block pornographic sites, activists and leaders have continued to speak out against the move. After prominent blogger Roba Assi initially called the censorship initiative a "war" on "technologists", Jillian York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation illustrated why legislation could be "easily misused and abused," and, early this morning, ex-ICT Minister Marwan Juma weighed in with a diatribe calling it a "a black eye for Jordan."
As the violence escalates across Syria, so do the campaigns of targeted malware attacks against Syrian activists, journalists, and members of the opposition, which covertly install surveillance software on their computers. Syrians are growing more aware of the danger these campaigns pose to their security and the security of their friends and loved ones. On Facebook, the Union of Free Students in Syria group has started an album of students holding up signs warning against phishing attacks and malware, with messages that such as, "Assad supporters are sending dangerous files with hacked accounts. Check with your friends before opening an attachment."
While new figures show a slight decrease in the number of attacks against journalists and media organizations in the year to-date, the status of media freedoms in the occupied Palestinian territories remains under serious threat, the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) said today.
The international community has been urged to act quickly to curb cyber espionage after security researchers discovered the latest state-sponsored attack targeting financial systems in Lebanon. Thousands of people in the Middle East were targeted by the latest cyber snooping assault, named Gauss, according to the security experts Kaspersky Lab.
Communications Minister Moshe Cachlon (Likud) placed his signature Wednesday on a new law obligating internet and cellphone service providers to provide their clients with free and efficient tools for filtering obscene and otherwise harmful sites and content. The law was proposed by MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beitenu).
As the situation on the ground becomes ever more bloody, both sides in Syria are also waging what seems to be an intensifying conflict in cyberspace, often attempting to use misinformation and rumor to tilt the war in reality. On Friday, Reuters was forced to temporarily shut down its system for posting blogs on www.Reuters.com after the appearance of a series of unauthorized, and inaccurate, reports citing opposition military reverses in Syria.
Another Egyptian has been arrested for anti-Islam activity on Facebook. Authorities held Bishoy Kamel, 32, for four days for managing a Facebook page where people shared cartoons thought to defame the Prophet Muhammed and the religion of Islam.
Before disagreements and tensions increased between conservatives and fundamentalists, reformists and their websites, newspapers, and magazines were the main target of censorship and filtering. However, since the final year of Ahmadinejad’s first term of presidency (2008-2009), media censorship has also been imposed on conservatives and fundamentalists.
Saudi Arabian authorities released a prominant blogger Saturday after spending more than a year in jail without charges. 35 year-old Nazir al-Majid was arrested last March joining anti-government protests in the mostly Shiite eastern province of Qatif. Rights activists last year launched an online campaign for al-Majid’s release after he went on a hunger strike to protest being kept in a solitary confinement.
This briefing provides an overview of privacy and surveillance laws, policies and practices in Bahrain. The regulations that permit access to personal data, the communications interception regime and relevant consitutional safeguards are highlighted and examined. This is not intended to be a full analysis, but rather contains all the necessary information to facilitate a basic understanding of surveillance practices inside Bahrain, especially with regards to to foreign companies supplying surveillance and monitoring technologies.
The report builds on a previous report, published in 2010 by USIP Press, titled Blogs and Bullets: New Media in Contentious Politics, and applies its five-level framework for studying and understanding the role of new media in political movements. The authors utilize a unique dataset from bit.ly, the URL shortener commonly associated with Twitter and used by other digital media such as Facebook. With these data, the authors are able to test empirically the claims of “cyberoptimists” and “cyberskeptics” about the role of new media in bringing down autocratic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya and in spurring protests in other parts of the Arab World, such as Bahrain.
On Thursday, Syria shut down all access to the Internet for forty minutes. While it is unclear whether the Syrian government is planning a complete Internet outage, many believe this to be the regime exhibiting its potential censorship capabilities. Up until now, Internet usage has been considered very stable in Syria.
For about 40 minutes on July 19, all networks routed through the Syrian incumbent, Syrian Telecommunications Establishment (AS29256 and AS29386), were withdrawn from the global routing table, effectively cutting off most of Syria from the Internet.
Saudi authorities should drop charges and release the editor of the Free Saudi Liberals website for violating his right to freedom of expression on matters of religion and religious figures, Human Rights Watch said today. Prosecutors have charged Ra'if Badawi under the 2007 Anti-Cybercrime law, alleging that his website “infringes on religious values” by providing a platform for open debate of views on religion and religious figures.
Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was found guilty and sentenced to three months in jail on Monday on charges linked to anti-government comments he made on social media. He has already been arrested and released twice since early May.
A total of 33 professional and citizen journalists have been killed since the start of the uprising in Syria in March 2001, Reporters Without Borders said today. The past few weeks have been particularly deadly, with around 10 citizen journalists killed since late May. Reporters Without Borders is also very disturbed to learn that freelance journalist Mohamed Sami Al-Kayyal was arrested in the coastal city of Tartus on 27 June.
Facebook has apologized after it mistakenly deleted a free speech group's post on human rights abuses in Syria. The social network on Friday removed a status update by Article 19, which campaigns for freedom of speech, that linked to a Human Rights Watch report detailing alleged torture in the Arab country.
Western technology has played a key role in providing the Syrian regime with tools to track and repress citizens for years. The latest Wikileaks files on Syria, which include more than two million emails from political figures and companies, reveal that the involvement of Western companies in the crackdown against Syrian citizens has continued despite sanctions and international pressure.
The commission charged with writing Tunisia’s new media laws quit Wednesday, citing the lack of government will to create the institutions for a free press and thereby threatening the freedom of expression in the country. The National Authority to Reform Information and Communication was tasked with writing new laws to regulate print and broadcast media in March 2011, replacing those of the deposed dictatorship.
The Afghan government should withdraw a draft media law that would expand government control over the media and chill free speech, Human Rights Watch said today. The draft law raises serious questions about President Hamid Karzai's commitment to freedom of expression.
Libya's caretaker government has quietly reactivated some of the interception equipment that fallen dictator Moammar Gadhafi once used to spy on his opponents. The surveillance equipment has been used in recent months to track the phone calls and online communications of Gadhafi loyalists, according to two government officials and a security official. Two officials say they have seen dozens of phone or Internet-chat transcripts detailing conversations between Gadhafi supporters.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, in coalition with 12 other rights organizations and policy organizations, is calling on leading tech companies including, Apple, Google, Yahoo, Oracle and Go Daddy to stop blocking internet technology to citizens living in repressive countries like Iran. The Campaign and its collaborators pointed out that these industry leaders are denying citizens of Iran, Syria, Sudan and Cuba internet communication services that help promote fee expression. The denial continues despite the fact that the US government created an exception to its sanctions.
A roundup of cyber news from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. This week’s post covers media crackdowns in Sudan, cyber defense preparation in Iran, the release of a human rights activist in Bahrain, news from Syria and post-election Egypt, as well as updates on social media policing in the region.
Some Egyptian online activists have created an initiative to track whether the new President-elect, Mohammed Mursi, fulfils his election promises. Straight after Mursi's victory was announced on 24 June a website called "Mursi Meter" was launched by activists who said that they were not affiliated to any political trend. The activists wrote on the website that their initiative was "an attempt to document and monitor" Mursi's first 100 days in office. They wanted to check on the implementation of the Muslim Brotherhood's so-called "Renaissance Project", a package of reforms that Mr Mursi promised during the election campaign.
The Iran Media Program published its groundbreaking 2011-2012 report on media consumption in Iran: Finding a Way - How Iranians reach for news and information. The report was authored by Magdalena Wojcieszak, Briar Smith and Mahmood Enayat and encompasses the results of two surveys conducted over the past year: the first is a field-based, systematically recruited sample of Iranians in several major metropolitan areas which mirrored the demographics of the country. The second study is an online questionnaire among young, metropolitan, educated and technologically savvy Iranians, and was aimed at illustrating the extent to which these youth employ new media for political purposes over a year after the contested Iranian elections and during the Tunisia, Egypt and Libya uprisings. The report combines the two studies for a comprehensive look at media consumption in Iran.
The minister in charge of implementing media reforms in Bahrain made waves earlier this month when she promised that the country would soon introduce laws to regulate the misuse of social media in the country. Samira Rajab, the Minister of State for Information Affairs, said that new laws should take aim at false information spread by social networks such as Twitter. “The unrest in Bahrain last year was fuelled by the irresponsible use of such media and everything was blown out of proportion to suit some people’s agenda,” she told Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News. Her statement comes amid reports of arrests and state-security questioning in Bahrain over comments made on Twitter.
U.S. technologies that may include a mobile phone "panic button" and an "internet suitcase" are being used by activists in Syria and other authoritarian countries to override government communications controls, a U.S. official said on Thursday. Alec Ross, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's senior adviser for innovation, said the United States was working on between 10 and 20 classified technologies that could be used by protesters and others facing communications curbs.
Spyware has been embedded into what looks like just one of many .pif video files being circulated by Syrian activists on Skype to help document attacks and human rights abuses by Syrian government and pro-government forces, according to a report posted yesterday by the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab. North American-based forensic experts dissected the Trojan spyware embedded in the video file circulating on Skype, which ends with the extension "new_new.pif." The digital workings of the latest Skype Trojan are similar to those of a prior YouTube video Trojan that also targeted Syrian activists, according to a report yesterday by the San Francisco-based nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation. The EFF report includes screen shots to help Syrian activists and other users identify the specific harmful files.
The government of Israel, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza are all unduly limiting free speech through restrictive laws, intimidation and censorship, a U.N. human rights expert said Tuesday. The global body’s independent investigator on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, said the measures have had a chilling effect on the work of journalists and peaceful activists, and urged Israel and the Palestinians to uphold international standards on free speech.
The use of remote surveillance software against activists has been a feature of the ongoing conflict in Syria. In February 2012, CNN reported that “Computer spyware is the newest weapon in the Syrian conflict”. Since then numerous electronic campaigns targeting Syrian activists have been observed. These have included: a phishing campaign involving the compromise of a high profile Syrian opposition figure; malware targeting activists by claiming to be documents regarding the foundation of a Syrian revolution leadership council; and, malware purporting to be a plan to assist the city of Aleppo.
Social media and user-generated content played an important role in coverage of the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya; however, content from the public was supplementary to traditional newsgathering in media coverage. By contrast, in Syria, with the tight control and exclusion of foreign media, news organizations had to rely almost exclusively on user-generated content, particularly in the early months of the uprising. Much of the user-generated content used by news outlets came via Syrian activists inside Syria and in exile.
Five citizen journalists were killed in two days in Syria last month, cementing the country's position as the world's worst for journalists in 2012, say the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Press Institute (IPI) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). "This is another tragic reminder of the role that citizen journalists have played covering the conflict in Syria, including the documentation of horrific violence perpetrated against civilians," said CPJ.
Reporters Without Borders has condemned the wave of arrests aimed at Omani bloggers since the end of May. “We are concerned about the crackdown on Oman’s bloggers aimed at silencing the protest movement that has resurfaced in the sultanate, as well as its websites,” the press freedom organization said. “We deplore the illegal and random nature of these arrests. We ask the authorities to release the bloggers immediately and unconditionally and to call a halt to arbitrary arrests.”
Iran's cyber police force is poised to launch a new crackdown on software that lets many Iranians circumvent the regime's Internet censorship. In Iran, 20-30% of internet users get around state censorship through the use of either VPNs or IP proxy software, but they are being increasingly hemmed in by more sophisticated measures being deployed by officials.
While web surveillance is far from a new issue in Syria, it appears that under the current state of insecurity the Assad government is raising surveillance to the next level, militarizing the web and using the internet as a tool to target and punish opponents of the government.
Since the Arab Spring first sparked, Kuwaiti authorities have been following internet users closely and summoning them to interrogation and then sending them to courts for prosecution over different cases that are mostly sectarian or political.
Social media has been often touted for the role it played in the popular uprisings that have spread across the Arab world since December 2010. Despite the buzz, you may be surprised that only 0.26% of the Egyptian population, 0.1% of the Tunisian population and 0.04% of the Syrian population are active on Twitter. Of all the countries in North Africa and the Middle East, Twitter is most popular in Kuwait, where 8.6% of the population is active users, defined as those who tweet at least once per month. Facebook’s more popular throughout the region. In its most popular country, the U.A.E., some 36.18% of the population is on Facebook.
A Yemeni court on Monday sentenced journalist Majed Karoot to one year in prison and fined him YR 200,000 for criticising local government officials on the popular social networking site Facebook. The director of corporate communications for the Al-Baida governorate, Mohammed Al-Karfoshi and his deputy, Kamal Al-Najar filed the complaint against posts made by the journalist on the site last year. The Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate (YJS) called the verdict a “threat to freedom of the press and freedom of expression”.
Reports from Syrian activists suggest that the government is actively using the Internet as a tool of surveillance and punishment against opponents of the government by militarizing the web, according to Voice of America.
Simurgh is an Iranian stand-alone proxy software for Microsoft Windows. It has been used mainly by Iranians to bypass censorship since 2009. It has recently come to our attention that this software is being recommended and circulated among Syrian Internet users for bypassing censorship in their country. This information led to the discovery and analysis of a back-doored version of this software. Since the inital report on the Simurgh backdoor was published, the Simurgh team has taken several important steps to warn their users about this threat and the provider that was hosting the malicious version of Simurgh has removed the malicious package their site.
Saudi Arabia, one of Reporters Without Borders' Internet Enemies, has blocked access to many articles on the free encyclopedia Wikipedia. The Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission has censored over 130 articles in Arabic and English, including articles relating to sex and sexuality, the human body, and the theory of evolution. You can find the full list of censored articles here.
A Small Media report revealing how Iran's LGBT communities use global communications technology in their everyday lives. LGBT Republic of Iran: Is the Internet a safe haven or a honeytrap for LGBT Iranians? The repressive Iranian regimes is spilling over into the virtual realm.
Facebook is not letting a slumping stock get in the way of its global growth ambitions. The social networking company on Wednesday invited journalists to an event next week to launch its first office in the Middle East business hub of Dubai.
A Kuwaiti man has pleaded not guilty to charges that he insulted the Prophet Muhammad and the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in messages on Twitter. Hamad al-Naqi, a Shia Muslim, said his Twitter account had been hacked and that he had not written the messages. The judge denied Mr Naqi's request for bail after two months in detention and adjourned his trial until next week.
A citizen journalist has been sentenced to death in Syria, after giving a series of interviews to Al-Jazeera TV station. Mohammed Abdelmawla al-Hariri has been charged with “high treason and contacts with foreign parties” after giving the broadcaster an interview on the situation in his home town of Deraa. Hariri, who was arrested on 16 April shortly after giving an interview, has reportedly been subject to horrific torture after his arrest, resulting in partial paralysis. The Syrian government has accused the station of being part of a global plot to cause chaos in the country.
According to pro-government daily Al-Ayam, Bahrain has now announced plans to prosecute citizens who post video footage from protests, or offer a “distorted” picture of Bahrain’s “renaissance”. Well-known human rights defender and Index award winner Nabeel Rajab was recently arrested based on his tweets. His detention was extended by a week this Saturday, and is also being charged based on protesting as well as his activity on social networking sites.
Iran's telecommunications ministry has barred local banks, insurance firms and telephone operators from using foreign-sourced emails to communicate with clients, a specialist weekly said on Saturday. The weekly said that individuals seeking to communicate with such firms must now use email addresses ending with iran.ir, post.ir or chmail.ir. Entities linked to the Iranian government must use addresses ending in gov.ir or .ir, while universities should use emails ending in ac.ir or .ir, the report added.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s own words have now become a victim of Iran’s massive online censorship infrastructure. According to Radio Free Europe (RFE), last week Khamenei issued a “fatwa,” or religious edict, confirming that anti-filtering tools and software are illegal in Iran. The decree came in response to a question by Mehr News (Google Translate), a semi-official news agency, which had asked for clarification on the ruling due to the fact that, as journalists, employees sometimes need to access blocked websites and other non-authorized information.
Reporters Without Borders is horrified to have learned of the death three days ago of the Syrian citizen journalist Abdul Ghani Kaakeh who was deliberately targeted during a demonstration in the Salah Al-Din district of the northwestern city of Aleppo. “We strongly condemn this murder, which illustrates the extent to which the government of Bashar al-Assad is ignoring the provisions of the ceasefire plan of the former UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan,” the press freedom organization said.
The campaign of attacks targeting Syrian opposition activists on the Internet has taken a new turn. Since the beginning of the year, Syrian opposition activists have been targeted using several Trojans, which covertly install spying software onto the infected computer, as well as a multitude of phishing attacks which steal YouTube and Facebook login credentials. Last week, TrendMicro's Malware Blog described a website which purportedly offered Skype encryption software, but was actually a Trojan.
Kuwait’s Information Minister, Minister Sheikh Mohammad al-Mubarak Al-Sabah, announced last week that Kuwait plans to pass new laws regulating the use of social networking sites such as Twitter in order to “safeguard the cohesiveness of the population and society.” The Information Minister’s announcement reflects growing panic over comments in social media deemed to incite the mounting sectarian tension between Sunnis and Shi’ites throughout the region.
The communications minister of the Palestinian Authority has resigned, claiming it was trying to silence its critics and curb freedom of expression. Mashour Abu Daqa said senior officials had ordered several opposition websites to be blocked over the past six months. Security forces have also recently arrested four journalists and an activist who had criticised President Mahmoud Abbas and other officials.
Just ten years ago Afghanistan had a barely functional post-war infrastructure, with no independent media and literally no telecom services. Afghans had to travel to the neighboring countries to make a phone call. Today the story is very different, as outlined in a new independent study conducted by Javid Hamdard, of Internews, under the USAID-funded Afghanistan Media Development & Empowerment Project (AMDEP).
The Palestinian Authority has blocked up to eight critical news websites in the West Bank since February, according to a report released by an independent news agency on Monday.
Iran’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology is apparently seeking domestic partners to help with its Internet-filtering efforts. According to a Request For Information (RFI), the ministry-affiliated Research Institute for Information and Communication Technology has called on Iranian companies to offer ideas and pilot projects for “purifying” the Internet.
All content presented in the Global Digital Digest is aggregated from public news sources. This information does not reflect the opinions of Internews, and is not produced or verified by Internews.