Throughout this week's edition we highlight examples of government intervention to limit free speech online, ostensibly “for the greater good”. In Kuwait, a Shi’ite man has been sentenced to prison for ten years for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammad and Sunni Muslims via Twitter. Pleading innocent, Hamad Al-Naqi said the posts were written by someone who had hacked his Twitter account.
Kuwait Human Rights Watch reported that the conviction was based on Article 15 of Kuwait’s National Security Law, which punishes citizens for “intentionally broadcasting news, statements, or false or malicious rumors… that harm the national interests of the state”. The court also found Al-Naqi guilty of violating Article 111 of the Kuwaiti Penal Code, which bans mocking religion.
Human rights and free speech groups believe Al-Naqi’s conviction represents a shift toward a more restricted civil society in Kuwait, highlighting political tensions between the country’s opposition Islamists and moderates. In May nearly all members of Parliament endorsed a bill to issue the death penalty for insulting the Prophet Mohammad for Muslims, with non-Muslims facing a lower ten-year prison sentence. Kuwaiti Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah rejected the bill on June 6, but the veto could be overruled by a two-thirds majority vote by Kuwait’s Parliament and Cabinet Ministers. For more information on the situation in Kuwait and other challenges netizens in the country are facing, read Mona Kareem’s article on Global Voices Advocacy.
In another example of the trend highlighted above, the Malaysian Minister of Information, Communications and Culture Dr. Rais Yatim has declared his support for regulating content online. Rais expressed agreement with former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir, who has called for regulations to block “filth” and punish those who corrupt the minds of others online.
China has proposed changes to expand the scope of Internet law to include forums, blogs, and microblogs. Additionally, Reuters reports that the changes will also require microblog operators to obtain an administrative license to run a service.
According to IT News Africa, South Sudan has been invited to connect to Kenya’s broadband.
Speaking at the Personal Democracy Forum on 11 June, United States (US) Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and House Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) proposed the idea of a Digital Bill of Rights to be enshrined in the US Constitution. A draft version of the bill is available for comment on Rep. Issa’s personal site KeepTheWebOpen.com.
Protests over a South African ‘secrecy bill’ have led the ruling African National Congress to offer amendments to the legislation to include protection for government whistleblowers and journalists if the information uncovers criminal activity. However, the nation’s State Security Agency opposes the amendments to the proposed legislation, which could mandate up to 25 years in prison for those found in the possession of classified government documents, without any defense of acting in the public interest.
The Guardian reported four journalists were killed during the month of May in Pakistan, where reporters lack protection from violence and intimidation by armed groups or government officials. The Balochistan Union of Journalists recently held protests to call on their government to provide protection to media persons and arrest the killers of a local Balochi reporter who was murdered a few days ago.
The Azerbaijani Supreme Court released activist Bakhtiar Hajiyev on parole, who has been imprisoned since March 2011 after his arrest for promoting peaceful demonstrations via social media. The court sentenced Hajiyev in May 2011 for evading required military service and sentenced him to prison for two years.
Reporters Without Borders is condemning a wave of arrests of bloggers in Oman. Al Jazeera has collected more information on the story through the social media curation website, Storify.
In a speech to the International Conference on Cyber Conflict, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves declared that the Internet has forced countries with different political realities into “almost inevitable conflict” and a “cold peace”. At stake, he argued, is the “liberal-democratic model of an open society, and of market economies that are transparent and rule-bound”.
As we reported in last week's edition, a new document leak website, WCIT Leaks, was recently launched to increase transparency in the lead-up to the 12th World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), organized by the International Telecommunications Union. Some of the leaked documents reveal proposals that do not seek to change the role of the multi-stakeholder Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), but which could have a dramatic on other areas of Internet governance including Internet routing. One proposal by European network operators would include a global Internet tax targeting the largest web content providers that could limit their ability to reach users in developing nations.
For more information and analysis see the Center for Democracy and Technology's ITU resource page, the Internet Society's information page and news page, and a three part “Threat Analysis of WCIT” by Milton Mueller at Syracuse University (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).
The African Internet Governance Forum will be held in Cairo in October.
Tunisia signed an agreement with the ITU to launch the Arab region's first open source software support center.
The non-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will announce the applicants of more than 300 new domain names on Wednesday, such as .group and .college, culminating the non-profit’s six year process to create new Internet real estate. An appeals process for companies to control a domain name could follow the announcement.
Tunisian journalist Ramzi Bettibi suspended his hunger strike to promote transparency in the trial of ousted leader Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali after the Constituent Assembly pledged to take up his cause. Bettibi began his strike on May 28, in response to officials confiscating his cameras during filming of Ben-Ali’s trial. An initiative from the Tunisian presidency returned Bettibi’s cameras a few days after he and several other activists began refusing food.
While switching planes in the United States en route to Canada last week, CryptoCat developer Nadim Kobeissi tweeted he was detained by US authorities and questioned about the encryption used in his open source private chat room application.
Members of the hacktivist group Anonymous have targeted Indian web censorship, staging protests in 16 cities around the country. While organizers anticipated more than 2,000 people would participate in a protest in Mumbai against the government’s ban on the websites Vimeo and Pirate Bay, no more than 100 supporters and media showed up. Reasons suggested by Tech2 include protester apathy, lack of leadership and government restriction of the demonstration space. Anonymous also claimed responsibility for taking down the website of an Indian telecom operator as part of its online censorship protest called “Operation India”.
Sovereigns of cyberspace
Facebook has launched an app center for the distribution of third-party applications for the social network. Like the Apple iTunes store, Facebook will take a 30 percent cut of sales. Facebook increased its lead as the world’s most popular social network, recently exceeding Orkut as the most popular social network in Brazil.
Major television networks in the US will apply content maturity ratings systems to full-length shows broadcast online.
Elected officials in Australia are raising concerns over Australia’s participation in negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed free trade agreement between the US and eight other nations which could offer priorities to foreign investors. US Senators have also raised concerns about the relative secrecy of the negotiations around the deal.
The United States Supreme Court will soon examine a case that will determine whether a person can re-sell their mobile device or computer without having to obtain permission from dozens of “copyright holders”.
Poor security for professional social network LinkedIn led to the theft of six million customer passwords by hackers.
The Stuxnet virus and the Flame malware were created by the same developers, announced Russian tech security firm Kapersky Labs on Monday. Unnamed officials from the United States and Israel recently confirmed their nations created the Stuxnet virus to sabotage Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Publications and studies
- Samuel A. Greene, Center for the Study of New Media & Society: Twitter and the Russian Street: Memes, Networks & Mobilization
- Peter Swire, Ohio State University: From Real-Time Intercepts to Stored Records: Why Encryption Drives the Government to Seek Access to the Cloud
- Ann Nelson, Center for International Media Assistance: The Medium Versus the Message: US Government Funding for Media in an Age of Disruption
- Cory Doctorow, Technology Review: “The Curious Case of Internet Privacy”
For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.