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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A rights group said an American expatriate who posted a parody video about youth culture in Dubai on YouTube has been imprisoned in the emirate, charged with endangering state security, and repeatedly denied bail. The London-based Emirates Centre for Human Rights said Wednesday that Sri Lankan-born Shezanne Cassim, 29, was arrested in April after posting a video in 2012. Cassim, a 29-year-old from Woodbury, Minn., was the first foreigner arrested under tough new measures governing Internet use in the United Arab Emirates. Until now, the 2012 cybercrimes decree had been used to prosecute Emirati activists who challenge the treatment of political activists in the country. "The video is a mock documentary in which Cassim profiles a fictional 'Satwa Combat School' in which students are taught to throw sandals as weapons and use social media for backup when under attack. The video begins with the caveat 'no offense was intended to the United Arab Emirates,'" the rights group said in a news release.
Tunisian activists fear that mass surveillance and Internet censorship may return to their country following the creation of a new “investigative” telecommunications agency. On November 6, the Tunisian government announced the establishment the Technical Telecommunication Agency (known by its French acronym ATT or A2T) by decree. Article 2 decree n° 2013-4506 summarizes the mandate of the agency.
Iranian officials have promised more Internet freedom since Hassan Rouhani was elected in June. However, many websites and social networks, like Facebook an Twitter, remain blocked. The latest victim of Iran's so-called "Filternet" is Cryptocat, a tool that allows for secure and encrypted chat, and is popular with human rights activists and journalists around the world. This appears to be the first time that Iran blocks a secure chat service like Cryptocat. Cryptocat's website and its server have been inaccessible within Iran since Monday, according to its founder Nadim Kobeissi, independent researchers and the site Blockediniran.com. Kobeissi found out about the block on Monday, when an Iranian user told him Cryptocat had stopped working.
Reporters Without Borders is very disappointed by President Hassan Rouhani's record on freedom of information during his first 100 days in office and again urges him to keep his promises to end abuse of authority, impunity and censorship. A moderate conservative backed by Iran's reformists, Rouhani was declared the first round's outright winner on 15 June and took office on 3 August. Iranians used the election to vote en masse against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's policies, which are blamed for the arbitrary arrest of more than 300 journalists and netizens and their torture by the intelligence services. Rouhani repeatedly said during his campaign that “all the political prisoners should be released.” He also said on several occasions that he wanted a change “in favour of free speech and media freedom.” These promises encouraged progressively-minded Iranians, especially young people and women, to give him their vote and make him the Islamic Republic's seventh president. Nonetheless, despite the release of some prisoners of conscience, Iran continues to be one of the world's biggest prisons for journalists and netizens, with around 50 currently detained.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) denounced the arrest and interrogation of a number of online Palestinian activists by Israeli forces over accusations of inciting citizens to gather at Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. On 6 November, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) launched a widespread campaign against online activists whereby they detained 25 activists, aged 18 to 20, for posting a call on Facebook for people to gather at Al-Aqsa mosque. Activists also posted pictures of Israeli officers on the page. The Israeli forces confiscated their laptops and cell phones as well. Twenty activists have been released on bail of 1000 shekels ($US283) each since. They were made to sign pledges promising they won't publish any calls on Facebook or any other social networking site that could be considered as incitement by the IOF. Five activists are stil detained pending investigations.
Minister of Information and Communications Technology, Mahmoud Vaezi, says that his Ministry proposes that Facebook's filtering model be changed. He proposes content based filtering for internet sites and Facebook because there are “useful pages” in Facebook that Iranians can read.
Using proxy servers in Iran, researchers Collin Anderson and Nima Nazeri scanned 800,000 Persian language Wikipedia articles. Every blocked article was identified and blocked pages were divided into ten categories to determine the type of content to which state censors are most adverse. In total, 963 blocked articles were found, covering a range of socio-political and sexual content including politics, journalism, the arts, religion, sex, sexuality, and human rights. Censors repeatedly targeted Wikipedia pages about government rivals, minority religious beliefs, and criticisms of the state, officials, and the police. Just under half of the blocked Wiki-pages are biographies, including pages about individuals the authorities have allegedly detained or killed. Based on prior research, it is known that Iran’s Internet filtration relies on blacklists of specifically designated URLs and URL keywords. Keyword filtration blindly blocks pages that contain prohibited character patterns in the URL. Sexual content is the main target of keywords, for example most keywords are sexual and/or profane terms. We found dozens of pages that seem to be unintentionally censored by keyword filtering, meaning that they were misidentified as sexual or profane and contained no content likely to offend Iranian authorities. See below for infographic.
Iran's Culture Minister, Ali Jannati, has said that social networks should be made accessible to ordinary Iranians. Mr Jannati was quoted by the Irna state news agency as singling Facebook out for special mention, saying it should be available for everyone. Such sites were blocked in 2009, when millions protested against the result of a disputed presidential election. But senior officials, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, have begun to use them extensively. Ordinary Iranians are forced to use virtual private networks (VPNs) if they want to bypass the restrictions. In September, social networks were unblocked for a day, but officials blamed this on a technical error. The government of President Hassan Rouhani reportedly does not have the sole authority to end the restrictions, which Mr Jannati said were overseen by the "Filtering Committee". "We need to talk to all the people in that committee, because not only Facebook, but also other social networks have to be accessible, and there should be no legal constraints to access them," he was quoted as saying by the Isna news agency. The minister noted that filtering could "not stop people from accessing information", citing the failure of the Iranian authorities' jamming of foreign satellite channels and banning of satellite dishes.
At the recent Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Bali, I met Moez Chakchouk, CEO of Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI), who had a fascinating tale to tell. Pre-revolution, ATI was the agency responsible for all things Internet in Tunisia--the first African country to connect to the Internet. These ranged from dealing with ISPs, running the IXP, domain names, DNS, IP address allocation, as well as censorship and surveillance. One infamous incident the agency faced was when activists started the Ammar404 campaign, referring to the 404 error code for displaying censored pages, in protest against the ATI. Post-revolution, the options for ATI were understandably bleak. ATI could not operate the way it previously did despite years of building up the country's infrastructure and expertise. Stepping into his CEO role, Moez had to chart the new course and led the agency on a path of openness and best practices. This process was greatly aided by the local and international civil society as well as Tunisian netizens.
Freedom House welcomes the release of Saudi writer Hamza Kashgari, who was imprisoned following Tweets he posted in February 2012, recounting an imaginary conversation with the Prophet Mohammed, and viewed as blasphemous by authorities. The fact that Kashgari was imprisoned demonstrates the abusive power of blasphemy laws, and Freedom House remains concerned with the climate for free expression in Saudi Arabia. The same day Kashgari was released, Saudi lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair was sentenced to three months in prison after signing on to a letter calling for reforms in the country. In February 2012, Kashgari was deported from Malaysia back to his home country of Saudi Arabia. Kashgari had left Saudi Arabia to escape death threats he received after his Tweets. Malaysia - like Saudi Arabia - imposes harsh punishments on those who violate blasphemy laws. While Kashgari removed his posts and apologized for any offenses, the Saudi government issued an arrest warrant, and a fatwa was issued calling for his prosecution. He was denied legal counsel and detained on February 9 in Malaysia. Kashgari was taken back to Saudi Arabia, where he was detained for almost two years without a trial.
The UNESCO, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the Internet Society (ISOC) are finalizing a framework to establish an Arabic glossary of Internet governance terms to support engagement in multi-stakeholder Internet governance processes by Arabic-speaking communities. Participation of all stakeholder and geographical communities is essential for a healthy and vibrant Internet ecosystem, according to a statement by the UNESCO. Evidence shows that speakers of languages where Internet terminology does not exist tend to be increasingly disadvantaged in everyday conversation and professional settings, as well as in being able to participate actively in Internet governance processes. Internet governance sees a constant and rapid introduction of new terms and concepts. This new glossary will help ensure that Arabic-speakers have the necessary language tools to fully participate in and contribute to multi-stakeholder policy-making processes on various platforms, including the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) and Internet Governance Forum (IGF).
Saudi Arabia freed a young blogger after 20 months in prison after he enraged religious conservatives with tweets ruminating on the human side of Islam's Prophet Muhammad, a case that showed the determination of Gulf monarchies to contain Arabs' newfound freedom of expression on social media. Shortly after dawn on Tuesday, 24-year-old Hamza Kashgari walked out of a desert prison near Jeddah known for holding religious extremists and political activists. By full light, he had opened a new Twitter account and posted his first tweet: "Mornings of Hope and Undying Spirits. Praise to God whose Grace is Eternal." The message followed a period of confinement without trial during which he had no access to computers, pen or paper. Mr. Kashgari sparked a religious furor and international manhunt in February 2012 with tweets that spoke directly to the prophet, addressing him as a friend and an equal. He said in the tweets that there were aspects of the Prophet Muhammad that he loved, and aspects that he hated.
The Kuwaiti Court of Appeals on October 28, 2013, upheld a 10-year prison sentence for a local blogger's comments on Twitter, Human Rights Watch said today. Hamad al-Naqi was sentenced for insulting the Prophet Mohammed and the kings of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, among other charges. The ruling is another example of a violation of the right to free speech in Kuwait, Human Rights Watch said. Any attempt to criminalize peaceful criticism, or even “insults” to public officials and institutions, violates international standards on freedom of expression. “Ten years in prison for peaceful criticism shows just how little Kuwait respects freedom of expression,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Locking up critics isn't going to make Kuwait's political crisis go away.” Authorities should quash the verdict and release al-Naqi immediately, Human Rights Watch said. Since a political crisis in June 2012, Kuwaiti authorities have attempted to limit freedom of expression, charging dozens of politicians, online activists, and journalists with “offending” the emir, Kuwait's head of state, among other charges. The authorities should drop charges against those accused or convicted of crimes solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression, and it should amend Kuwait's article 15 of the National Security Law and article 111 of the Penal code, Human Rights Watch said.
Reporters Without Borders is relieved by news website editor Ali Anouzla’s provisional release today after more than five weeks in detention and calls for the withdrawal of all the charges against him. Anouzla was freed shortly after midday after the provisional release request filed by his lawyer, Hassan Semlali, on 22 October, was approved by a Rabat investigating judge two days before the deadline for issuing a ruling. Expressing delight at Anouzla’s release, Semlali told Reporters Without Borders: “Ali should not have spent a single minute in prison. He is an independent journalist who fights constantly for human rights.” Anouzla was arrested on 17 September for posting an article that contained a link to a video posted by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
The International Press Institute (IPI) today urged the Jordanian government to release the publisher and chief editor of an Internet news site who were arrested and jailed for linking to an online video of a man identified as a prince frolicking with women. Jafra News publisher Nidhal al-Faraneh and editor Amjad Muala were arrested under state security laws on Sept. 17, accused of harming relations with a foreign country for publishing the link to a YouTube video which showed a man – purportedly a member of the Qatari royal family – lounging, dancing and showering with several women. If convicted by the State Security Court, Al-Faraneh and Muala could each face up to five years in prison. The men are being held pending a court hearing. A banner on the Jafra News site calls for their release.
On the morning of October 19, many Moroccan netizens woke up to the blocking of a large number of websites, among them popular social media platforms Instagram and Pinterest. Noticeably, one of the main independent media outlets in Morocco, Lakome, has been censored. Targeting Lakome is actually the reason behind the wide blocking, operated by Maroc Télécom, the main Moroccan telephone and internet provider, and other, less influential companies. Indeed, Lakome’s editor, Ali Anouzla, has been arrested on September 17 after he published an article containing a link to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) video. More precisely, the article was a report on AQIM's 40-minute propaganda video. The video dubbed Morocco the “kingdom of corruption and despotism,” and called for jihad (holy war) in the country, Anouzla wrote. The link to the video was in fact a link to the blog of a journalist with the Spanish daily El Pais. Anouzla was charged with terrorism on September 25, and has since then been in pre-trial detention. Such an abusive treatment has generated worldwide support, translated through social media campaigns with the hashtag #FreeAnouzla and massive calls to set the journalist free.
A link is just a link...except when it isn’t. In one ongoing case in Morocco, the act of linking to a news article that linked to a YouTube video that was posted by a terrorist group has landed a prominent editor in jail, charged with “material assistance” to a terrorist group, “defending terrorism,” and “inciting the execution of terrorist acts.” If it sounds Kafkaesque, that’s because it is. Arrested on September 17, Ali Anouzla, the Moroccan editor of the online-only publication Lakome, is currently being held in pre-trial detention. “Rarely has a jailed Arab journalist prompted so many calls for his release,” wrote a columnist for Lebanon’s Daily Star. Indeed, Anouzla’s case has prompted widespread consternation even from publications like the Washington Post, where praise for the Moroccan king is common.
Back in 2008, a young Moroccan engineer named Fouad Mourtada became the first person in his country to be arrested for a social networking-related offense. His crime? Something that happens all over the world every day...Mourtada created a Facebook profile representing one of the Moroccan princes. While Mourtada claimed he was merely a fan, he was prosecuted for identity theft and reportedly beaten in custody. After 43 days in jail and a global campaign for his release, he was finally granted a royal pardon. In a case oddly reminiscent of that one, an Iranian man has been arrested for creating Facebook profiles of several cabinet ministers. In recent weeks, reports had emerged that certain Iranian ministers had profiles on the social networking site, but those ministers have denied the reports. Facebook and Twitter have been blocked in Iran for several years, and only high-level government officials—including Foreign Minister Javad Zarif—have official profiles on either site.
In late August, we reported the Internet blackout in war-torn Aleppo, Syria. The outage occurred as Syrian state telecom, STE, lost its connection to Turk Telecom in neighboring Turkey. (It should be noted that STE’s connection to Turk Telekom was restored on 5 September in a greatly reduced fashion and the blackout in Aleppo continued.) Yesterday, we observed a new connection between Syria and Turkey. At 14:45:24 UTC on 8 October, we observed a new relationship in BGP routing coming out of Syria. Turk Telekom gained a new Syrian customer, the Syrian Computer Society (SCS) (AS24814). Autonomous system (AS) number 24814 has not been seen in BGP routing since 29 January 2011.
Saudi Arabia not only prohibits women from driving, it also blocks websites which call for them to drive. On September 21st, Saudi women activists launched the October 26th Campaign website which had a declaration calling for lifting the ban on women driving in the absolute Saudi monarchy. On September 29th, the authorities blocked the website without providing any explanation (they almost never provide any), but the declaration had had over 13,000 signatures before the blockage was imposed:
Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, has reassured Twitter's co-founder, Jack Dorsey, that he will work to make sure Iranians have access to information globally in what appears to be a reference to reducing online censorship. Dorsey started the conversation on Tuesday, asking the internet-savvy leader if people of his country could read tweets posted by their own president, implicitly referring to the filtering of social networking websites in the Islamic republic. Twitter and Facebook are among at least 5 million sites blocked in Iran. "Good evening, President. Are citizens of Iran able to read your tweets?" Dorsey posted on his Twitter account, @jack, which is followed by nearly 2.5 million people.
As Iranian President Hasan Rouhani addressed the United Nations for the first time this week, people all over the world took to the Internet to hear and discuss his message, many for the first time. They saw a statesman exercising what Ayatollah Khamenei has called “heroic flexibility” — the will to consider all possibilities for escaping the sanctions bubble that don’t compromise Iran’s core values. Within Iran, unfortunately, few have the Internet bandwidth to stream President Rouhani’s appearance, or the opportunity to discuss his message on Twitter and Facebook, unless they use illegal proxies to circumvent government-imposed restrictions. Alone among the world’s significant Internet economies, Iran remains committed to a public course that could actually disconnect the country from the Internet altogether as soon as it’s technically feasible. Countries like Egypt and Sudan disconnect the Internet as a last-ditch side effect of the implosion of state power; Iran has worked for three years toward disconnection, framing it as a key element of public policy.
Reporters Without Borders condemns the terrorism charges that were brought yesterday against Ali Anouzla, a news website editor who was arrested in Rabat eight days ago after posting an article containing a link to a video posted by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). “We call for Ali Anouzla’s immediate release and the withdrawal of all the charges,” Reporters Without Borders said. “By placing him in pre-trial detention on these charges, the Moroccan authorities have shown that they are confusing journalism with inciting terrorist acts, that they are ignorant of the essence of journalistic work and despise the crucial importance of independent media in a political system.
Jordanian authorities arrested the publisher and chief editor of the Jafra News website on September 17, 2013, for "disturbing relations with a foreign state." The website had posted a YouTube video allegedly showing a Qatari prince sitting, dancing, and showering with several women. The Jordanian authorities should drop the charge and free the two men - Nidhal al-Fara'neh, the publisher, and Amjad Mu'ala, the chief editor. The law is too broad and vague and represents an impermissible restriction on free expression by criminalizing peaceful criticism of foreign countries and leaders.
Iranian authorities have restored blocks on Facebook and Twitter after a "technical glitch" briefly removed filters from the social networks overnight. The semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Abdolsamad Khoramabadi, from the board overseeing the internet in Iran, as saying the removal of the blocks was a technical failure that was quickly rectified. Iranian followers of the networks were disappointed on Tuesday morning when the sites were no longer available, forcing them again to go through proxy servers for access. The newly elected president, Hasan Rouhani, has pledged more outreach to the west and a new openness in Iran.
Saudi Arabia is monitoring tweets by lawyers – to ensure that they don't break laws. “Offending” lawyers are subjected to punishment according to the severity of their tweets, a Saudi official stated. Speaking to Arabic-daily Al Sharq, Ministry of Justice spokesman Fahad Al Barkan said all lawyers are being monitored for their “behaviour and interests.” He added, “There isn't a special desk charged with monitoring lawyers, but we monitor their tweets and what they discuss related to certain cases when they break the law.”
As tension simmers in the Middle East with the US deciding whether to use military force against Syria, a friendly initiative is starting up in the neighboring country of Iran. Newly elected President Hasan Rouhani is encouraging his government staff and ministers to join Facebook in an endeavor called government-as-Facebook Friends, according to the Associated Press. Since taking office last month, Rouhani has tried to distance himself from his hardline predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Besides having his own Facebook page and urging his staff to follow suit, Rouhani also has been more open about Iran's presence on the Internet. The problem, however, is that Facebook and large swaths of the Internet are banned for most everyone else in Iran.
The internet is a vital platform for Palestinians to express themselves, but web access and targeting of social media users, bloggers and journalists remain big challenges, according to a new report from the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedom (MADA). “The internet and the broad tools of communication made available by the social networks gained great importance specifically in the lives of Palestinians in Gaza, who have been under firm siege by the Israeli occupation forces since 2006, and for the Palestinian people in general due to the dispersion they have experienced since the Nakba of 1984, and now they can communicate with their relatives and friends in the different parts of the world quickly and immediately”, said Mr. Mousa Rimawi, MADA’s general director.
Reporters Without Borders is very worried about the fate of the news providers still being held in the United Arab Emirates. They include the citizen-journalist Waleed Al-Shehhi, who has been detained since May and who is due to go on trial tomorrow. They are the victims of a year-old government crackdown on citizen-journalists and human rights activists who tried to provide information about the trial of 94 pro-reform activists (known as the “UAE 94”), who included many members of Al-Islah (The Reform), a local group with links to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
The Syrian Electronic Army's successful hack of the US Marines recruitment site this week marks the latest in a long line of attacks by this pro-Assad group. We've looked at the victims, the type of attack and their timings to produce this interactive timeline of the SEA's attacks so far. What emerges is a picture of concerted campaign that has gathered pace in 2013 - but also a surprising lack of repeat attacks. That may suggest that their intention is to cause nuisance and remind international groups of their presence - or it may show that organisations have been quick to fortify their online defences.
At first glance, they may seem just like pro-Assad thugs and online vandals, commandeering Web sites in the name of their favorite dictator. But the hacker group known as the Syrian Electronic Army is getting more ambitious and sophisticated, say experts who've looked closely at the tactics underlying their attacks. The hackers may even be receiving outside help from more skilled and dangerous groups - or even from governments.
With the recent high-profile cyber attack against the New York Times , purportedly by the Syrian Electronic Army, and the subsequent hacking of Syrian DNS servers, we have had a number of requests for an update on Syrian Internet connectivity. While there haven’t been any major outages in recent weeks, there have been a couple of developments to Syria’s international connectivity. As tensions rise, it seems probable that the set of international service providers willing to sell Internet transit to the Syrian government will continue to shrink.
On 28 August 2013, Arnold Amber, the president of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, wrote a letter to the Iranian Minister of Justice condemning the recent life sentence handed down to a Canadian permanent resident, Saeed Malekpour, who was arrested and charged with desecrating Islam, after a photo uploading software that he designed was used to produce internet pornography.
Reporters Without Borders condemns the deadly indifference of Iran’s most senior judicial authorities for refusing to release Hossein Ronaghi Malki, a jailed blogger who is gravely ill and who today began his 20th day on hunger strike in protest against his detention and his prison conditions. Malki’s mother, Zolikha Mosavi, has also been on hunger strike for the past eight days to protest against the inhuman way her son is being treated. “This human rights defender has been unjustly detained for the past four years and, in view of his determination to continue the hunger strike, the Iranian authorities must make a humanitarian gesture and release him,” Reporters Without Borders said.
Zoleykha Mousavi is a mother without hope. She's the mother of a jailed Iranian blogger, Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, who has been on hunger strike for about two weeks. Mrs. Mousavi began her own hunger strike on Tuesday, August 20, 2013 to “make her voice heard”. Hossein Ronaghi Malki is serving a 15-year sentence. A Facebook campaign was launched to support him. The first thing we read on the campaign page is: “Hossein's life is in danger, we should support him today and not speak of him as a hero at his funeral.”
Visitors to some articles on The Washington Post’s Web site Thursday morning were being redirected to the site of the Syrian Electronic Army, a hacker collective that supports the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. The Post said on Thursday afternoon the episode was over and under control. “We have taken defensive measures and removed the offending module,” Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, The Post’s managing editor, wrote in an editor’s note on the site. “At this time, we believe there are no other issues affecting the Post site.”
“Tell them about how you're never really a whole person if you remain silent.” – Audre Lorde On 31 July, our friend Mohammed Hassan (also known as Safy in the blogging sphere and social media) was arrested from his parents’ house in the Bahraini town of Sitra without an arrest warrant. According to Amnesty International, the twenty-six-year-old blogger is still at the Criminal Investigation Directorate in al-'Adliya located in the capital city of Manama.
Authorities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are making transnational attempts to shut down a site belonging to the United States’ largest Arab-American newspaper, al-Watan. The UAE’s Telecom Regularity Authority has sent a letter to watan.com’s German hosting company demanding the site be shut down, alleging that it is owned by the ‘Global Muslim Brotherhood Union’. The site’s founder Nezam Mahdawi denies this, claiming that they are being targeted due to reporting of human rights violations in the UAE.
In our previous, election edition of the Iranian Internet Infrastructure and Policy Report, we document the application and relaxation of controls on Internet connectivity and communications timed with the June 14 Presidential polls. Despite the introduction of new mechanisms to block tools used to bypass the filtering mechanism, by July the Internet had returned to its previous state of affairs that existed before February. From technical assessments and the reports of social media users, VPNs and circumvention software appears to operate normally for many, with specific restrictions still placed on the Tor network and unconfirmed reports of difficulties with Google’s Android services and Viber. Conflicting accounts of blocking (and unblocking), most likely reflect the decentralization of some forms of filtering down to the level of ISPs. Whereas Parsonline may feel legally authorized to remove restrictions on VPNs, Shatel and others may not. This theme follows for throttling, out- ages, attacks against users and the sporadic reports of the unfiltering of social networks that have occurred across the month. Consequently, this report focuses on Iran, the politics leading up to the transition of presidencies after the election and the refocusing of the state on non-technical, legal means of policing content.
Tunisian Twitter users expressed their disappointment when they learned that jailed netizen Jabeur Mejri, was not going to benefit from a recent presidential pardon issued on the occasion of Eid. Last year, Mejri was sentenced to seven and half years in prison over the publication of Prophet Muhammad cartoons on Facebook. His friend Ghazi Beji, who published a satirical book called the ‘Illusion of Islam’ on the document-sharing website Scribd also received the same severe sentence in absentia. Beji had fled Tunisia to escape prosecution and obtained political asylum in France. They were found guilty of ‘publishing material liable to cause harm to public order or good morals', ‘insulting others through public communication networks’ and ‘assaulting public morals'.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses grave concern in regards to the reported torture of a blogger who was held incommunicado as well as the arrest of his lawyer for tweeting about it. There has been an escalation in arrests and prosecution of people in Bahrain for their tweets. Blogger Mohamed Hassan (known on Twitter as @Safybh) has reportedly been subjected to torture in detention. His lawyer, AbdulAziz Moosa informed BCHR that he was able to see torture marks on Hassan's arm, and that Mohamed stated that he was beaten at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on his back and lower abdomen.
Reporters Without Borders is relieved to learn that all the activists, netizens and human rights defenders jailed for insulting Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, were freed yesterday under a pardon announced by the emir to mark the end of Ramadan, traditionally associated with mercy gestures. “The emir’s pardon for activists and netizens was a good thing but it depended on his goodwill,” Reporters Without Borders said. “A Kuwaiti citizen can still be sentenced to imprisonment on a charge of insulting the emir. We urge the authorities to amend the law so that Kuwaitis, especially news providers, are not exposed to the possibility of such sentences.”
An Afghan TV reporter for Channel 1 was fired after he "liked" a Facebook post about the channel's management. Rohullah Arman told the Afghanistan Journalists Center that he lost his job after he "liked" a friend's Facebook post regarding the government's decision to include the name of Andi Wilmers into the "No Exit" list. "The managing director Andy Volmerz showed me a post on Facebook and asked me, 'Is it you who liked the post?' I replied yes. Then he angrily said 'you are fired and no longer at your job'," Arman said.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses grave concern in regards to the recent arrest of blogger and media fixer Mohamed Hassan (27) during a dawn raid on his home on 31 July 2013. More than 24 hours after his arrest, there is still no confirmed information on his whereabouts and wellbeing and he is considered to be subject to enforced disappearance. At around 3am on 31 July 2013, masked men in civilian clothes belonging to the Ministry of Interior raided the blogger's house and arrested him after presenting an arrest warrant but without giving any justification for the arrest or information on the charges pressed against him. They also confiscated his electronic devices.
Reporters Without Borders condemns Egyptian journalist Anas Fouda's detention by the authorities in the United Arab Emirates for the past month. Based for many years in the UAE, Fouda has been held incommunicado ever since his arrest on 3 July 2013. Security personnel at Dubai international airport told Fouda on 28 June he was banned from leaving the country. In response to a summons, he reported to the state security department on 3 July accompanied by an Egyptian consular official, who left without him.
A Jeddah court on July 29, 2013, convicted a liberal activist of violating Saudi Arabia's anti-cybercrime law and sentenced him to 600 lashes and seven years in prison. The Criminal Court found Raif Badawi, the founder of the Free Saudi Liberals website, guilty of insulting Islam through his website and in comments he made on television, and added three months to his term for "parental disobedience." The charges against Badawi were based solely on his peaceful exercise of his right to free expression, Human Rights Watch said. Badawi established his online platform in 2008, to encourage debate on religious and political matters in Saudi Arabia. He has been detained in Jeddah's Buraiman prison since his arrest on June 17, 2012. Criminal Court Judge Faris al-Harbi dropped a charge of apostasy, which carries the death penalty, after Badawi assured the court on July 24 that he is a Muslim.
Kuwait's ruler issued a pardon today [July 30] for those who insulted him – many of whom were sentenced for attacking him online. Netizens comment on Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah's gesture. On Twitter, many welcomed the move while others were skeptical and argued those convicted and imprisoned, one up to 11 years, were exercising their freedom of speech. Under Kuwaiti law, lese majeste is prohibited as the Emir's stance “cannot be violated.”
Omani authorities should immediately drop charges against the human rights activist and blogger Saeed Jaddad for "undermining the status and prestige of the state." They should also stop harassing him, which he says has included detention without charge, interrogations, surveillance, and a politically motivated attempt to evict him.
A Kuwaiti appeal court's decision to uphold a 20-month prison sentence on a teacher for political comments she made on Twitter further erodes the right to free speech in Kuwait. On July 17, 2013, the court of appeals confirmed the conviction of Sara al-Drees, 26, on charges of offending Kuwait's emir and misusing her mobile phone when sending tweets that the authorities considered offensive. She is free on bail, awaiting the outcome of a further appeal.
On June 10, a Kuwaiti court sentenced Huda al-Ajmi, a 37-year-old teacher, to 11 years in prison: five years for “offending the emir,” five for “publicly instigating a coup,” and a year for insulting the Shia Muslim faith. The conviction stems from tweets posted by @ajaweed, her Twitter account, though she said she didn't post them. This was only one of at least 35 prosecutions against people, including online activists, for offending the emir since October 2012. This represents a new and worrying trend. Kuwait used to be viewed as the most tolerant of free speech in the region, a standard that is being quickly eroded.
Iranian authorities have sentenced seven members of a religious minority news website to lengthy prison terms, and arrested at least three other journalists in an alarming trend that reflects a renewed crackdown on the local press. "This is a worrisome trend coming so soon after the presidential elections," said Sherif Mansour, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa coordinator. "The Iranian government is squandering an opportunity to open a new chapter that renews the right of free expression."
Morocco's authorities should free a student convicted of offending the dignity of the king, Human Rights Watch said today. Two years after adopting a constitution that enshrines freedom of expression, Morocco should abolish the repressive laws that put him in prison. Abdessamad Haydour, 24, is halfway through a three year sentence for denouncing King Mohammed VI in a video posted on YouTube. He has now served more time behind bars for this offense than any other Moroccan in the last several years, as far as Human Rights Watch has been able to determine.
Iran has launched its own "national email service", requiring all citizens to sign up to it to "safely" communicate with government officials. Prior to use, account holders will have to provide their local post office with their full name, national identification number and postcode.
After eight hellish years for Iran's journalists under outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the election of Hassan Rouhani was welcomed with hope for a better future. As soon as he takes office in August, he should act on his view and take steps to protect journalists in Iran.
Between February 2012 and February 2013, ARTICLE 19 analysed the state of Internet freedom in Tunisia. In particular, we examined the compatibility of the Tunisian legal framework governing the Internet against international and comparative standards for the protection of freedom of expression and the right to privacy.
Last week, Iran’s minister for communications and information technology, Mohammad Hassan Nami,admitted the government purposely slowed Iran’s Internet during the days leading up to their June 2013 election in order to “preserve calm in the country” and to prevent interference from “foreigners trying to disrupt the election process.” During that time, users reported both slower Internet speeds as well as the censorship of popular communications services such as Gmail, Skype, and Viber. As CDT has said many times before, politically motivated “throttling” and full-blown network shutdowns are an unacceptable restraint on the right to free expression.
A seventeen-year-old student has been sentenced to one year in prison for allegedly insulting Bahrain’s king on Twitter. Ali Faisal Alshofa was first arrested in March this year. The teenager has been accused of posting the tweet in question using the @alkawarahnews account, but he has denied any ties to the account.
Newly elected Hassan Rouhani, an opponent of segregation by gender, says Iranians' freedoms and rights have been ignored.
In an unusual move, Iran's minister for communications and information technology, Mohammad Hassan Nami, has acknowledged that the country restricted the speed of the Internet in the days leading up to the June 14 presidential election. "The reduction of the Internet speed, which some called 'disturbances', was the result of security measures taken to preserve calm in the country during the election period," Nami was quoted as saying in a June 25 interview with the Tasnim news agency.
Investor Fares Mabrouk returned to his home country of Tunisia from the U.S. 10 days before the country was rocked by the unrest that led to President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s resignation. The turmoil was the first event in the Arab Spring, and Mabrouk, who’d invited Tunisian bloggers to speak when he was a Yale World Fellow, saw an opportunity to try to consolidate the online community.
“Security considerations” are being cited as reasons behind new regulations which could put an end to the use of popular services such as Skype, WhatsApp, Viber and Tango in Bahrain. Newspapers quoted Minister of State for Communication Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa as saying new regulations were being introduced for Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications, which have become popular across the Gulf region, with millions of users exchanging news, views, photographs, and trivial jokes daily, as well as making free calls and connecting with friends and family.
Mohamed al-Hadi, an antigovernment activist in Syria, had just received a Skype briefing from rebels about the Ming military airport near the northern city of Aleppo, a protracted battleground in the country’s civil war. Then he learned that the United States government had the ability to monitor that call, as well as a broad range of other information transmitted through the Internet. “I’m really shocked,” he said in a Skype conversation. “Eighty percent of our secrets were already known to the Americans. Now, all of our secrets are disclosed.”
In a few weeks, EFF staffers will be attending the third Freedom Online Coalition conference, held this time in Tunis. In 2012, Tunisia joined the coalition of 17 states dedicated to promoting Internet freedom, thus committing itself to online free expression. Tunisia’s commitment to Internet freedom has been impressive. After a court order threatened to re-implement censorship (this time of pornography) in 2011, the Tunisian Internet Agency fought back, taking their case to the country’s highest court. In February 2012, a long-awaited verdict was handed down by the country’s highest court, cancelling an earlier appeals court decision to block pornographic websites.
The Jordanian government began blocking over 200 websites on Sunday for failing to obtain licenses under a strict set of new guidelines, Ruth Michaelson reports. Four amendments to the country’s press and publications law gave the government the power to censor sites that fail to comply, close outlet offices and hold the site owners responsible for posted comments. The changes to the law, which were introduced in 2012, sparked a backlash that saw 1,000 Jordanian sites stage a blackout on 29 Aug 2012. Undeterred, the government implemented the changes.
Qatar is looking to shore up its legislation regarding cybercrime, including punishment for accessing sensitive government data, but a draft law recently approved by the country's cabinet also puts limits on online expression. The state-run Qatar News Agency published a brief about it: “[The cabinet] approved a draft law to enact a law on fighting cyber crimes and to refer it to the Advisory Council. The law punishes anyone who manages, via the internet or any information technology means, without a right, to enter an electronic website and informational system of any of the state's organs, institutions, authorities or otherwise affiliated bodies or companies thereon, and anyone who establishes or runs an electronic site via the internet or any information technology means, or publishes false news with the aim of jeopardizing the state safety, its general order, internal or external security.”
A draft cybercrime law which has been approved by Qatar’s cabinet, primarily aimed at providing protection for the government from cyber theft and hackers, raises questions related to the regulation of internet media, the sharing of information and online freedom of expression. According to reports in the local media, the new law is aimed at punishing anyone who hacks government websites or information systems. However a number of conditions within the law have sparked concerns over its impact on media freedom, as more people turn to websites to consume news.
In Kuwait, dozens imprisoned in an effort to stifle online dissent. In the United Arab Emirates, a sentence of 10 months in prison for describing a court hearing without “honesty and in bad faith.” And in Qatar, a draft cybercrime law that threatens the relative freedom of expression enjoyed by residents. We’ve written before about the online repression in the Gulf Arab states. After a period of relative calm, the issue is once again rearing its ugly head. Despite attempts toward openness and—from Qatar, at least—explicit support for the Arab uprisings, it seems that the largely unelected rulers of these countries can’t help but attempt to silence their citizens on the Net.
The trial of a blogger before a military court in Tunisia after he peacefully expressed his opinion on the internet is worrying evidence of the state of freedom of expression in the country, said Amnesty International. The trial against Hakim Ghanmi begins on 29 May in Sfax Military Court, in south-eastern Tunisia. Amnesty International is calling for charges against him to be dropped as he appears to be prosecuted solely for peacefully expressing his views about the treatment of patients in a military hospital by the hospital director.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) denounces the Moroccan security services' continued detention of blogger and activist Mustafa El-Hesnawi who was first arrested on 16 May 2013 without any mention of the reasons for his arrest. El-Hesnawi is known for defending the rights of detainees from the Islamic movement. He received a warrant from the National Brigade of Judicial Officers on 16 May and was called in for investigation. Soon after he arrived, he was arrested and officials refused to declare the reasons behind the investigation or the nature of the charges pressed against him.
In the past couple of years, there have been striking developments in Internet regulation across the Middle East and North Africa. But while the governments of some countries—such as Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan—have proposed draconian regulation threatening a free and open Internet, civil society across the region is becoming more active than ever in fighting back. EFF has been working with these local groups to find out more about the threats and the opportunities for protecting free speech in fragile or contentious environments.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) denounces the Omani security services' continuous targeting and arrest of activists on social networks websites without charges or judicial orders. The security forces arrested Ziab El-Amri, a blogger and activist, on 20 May 2013 after the Omani special task force unit besieged his house located in Senaw in the Modabi province north of Oman. The officers forcefully arrested him after beating his brother without legal orders to arrest or invade the house. He was then taken to unknown place.
Is Iran going offline ahead of its upcoming election? Iranian web users are reporting slow Internet speeds, difficulties accessing email, and faulty Virtual Private Networks. The government confirmed slow speeds but denied it has to do with the June 14 election. Critics, however, say the Internet crackdown is all about preventing the recurrence of the 2009 protests. So, how will Internet disturbances and social media surveillance impact Iran’s election?
Syria’s Internet network has long been kept under close surveillance. Now it turns out that the surveillance has been stepped up. The Telecomix hactivist group has revealed that 34 Blue Coat servers are operating in Syria (WeFC link). The servers are using DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) technology to analyse and control the activities of Syrian Internet users – censuring websites, intercepting emails, obtaining details of sites visited and so on.
Reporters Without Borders expresses outrage at the Abu Dhabi appeals court confirmation of the 10-month prison sentence of netizen Abdullah Al-Hadidi. The appeals court made its ruling on 22 May. Arrested on 22 March, Al-Hadidi was convicted in a lower court in April of having disseminated information on Twitter “in bad faith.” The information concerned the trial of 94 UAE citizens accused of endangering national security.
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.