Netizen Report: Activist Repression and Electronic Witch Hunts in Bahrain

Protests in Bahrain, 2011. Photo by Bahraini activist via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.)

Protests in Bahrain, 2011. Photo by Bahraini activist via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.)

Daniel Alan Kennedy, Bojan Perkov, Sarah Myers West, and Ellery Roberts Biddle contributed to this report. 

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in Bahrain, where human rights activist Maryam Al Khawaja awaits trial for allegedly attacking a police officer. The 27-year-old co-director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights was arrested at the end of August upon arriving in Bahrain to visit her father, prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi Al Khawaja who has been in prison since 2011. 

Both activists played key roles in organizing mass demonstrations of the February 14 movement that shook the island nation in that same year. As in Tunisia and Egypt, online activists and social media users played a key role in mobilizing protests and were thus a primary target for authorities seeking to quell the unrest. 

Surveillance of online platforms of mobile messaging apps has become a hallmark of the Bahraini government’s repressive measures against pro-democracy activists like the Al Khawajas. Researchers at NGO Bahrain Watch have uncovered the government’s use of malicious spyware to track activists on social media, a practice that has led to numerous arrests over the last two years. Several weeks before Al Khawaja’s detention, prominent Twitter activist @Takrooz was arrested upon arrival in the country and accused of using social media to “incite hatred against the regime.”

Although free from prison, Maryam now awaits trial, expected to begin October 1. In the meantime, the activist, who resides in Denmark, has been banned from travel. 

Free Expression: EU attempts to bust popular “myths” about the Right to be Forgotten

The communications office of the EU Court of Justice released a rambling “myth-busting” document in an attempt to refute criticism from free expression advocates and civil society groups over the controversial “Right to be Forgotten.” Among other things, the communique suggests that the ruling does not “contradict” freedom of expression, an assertion with which many human rights groups plainly disagree.

The ECJ ruling allows individuals to request that search engines remove certain links from results that appear when their names are queried. The ruling places the responsibility for deciding whose content gets removed on companies like Google and Microsoft, rather than with a relevant body within the judiciary. While still imperfect, digital rights groups around the world agree that such decisions are best left to the discretion of a judge, not a corporate platform whose bottom line could be harmed if they should decide the wrong way. Global Voices Advocacy is running a series of posts and commentary on the issue.

Thuggery: Crimean blogger pays hefty price for anti-Russian writings

Russian security forces raided the home of Ukrainian blogger Liza Bogutskaya, a vocal opponent of Russian military actions in Crimea, where she resides. Wearing masks and carrying machine guns, the officers interrogated Bogutskaya and confiscated computers, mobile phones, and USB drives. Bogutskaya believes the search may have been triggered by local elections that took place in Crimea on September 14 and her willingness to write about the plight of Crimean Tatars, whose homes and mosques have undergone raids in recent weeks.

Authorities in Iran arrested 11 individuals for allegedly having sent SMS messages criticizing Islamic republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Shortly after the arrests, Iran’s judiciary issued an order compelling the government to block popular messaging services Viber, WhatsApp, and TangoMe within a month’s time.

Surveillance: Is Singapore FinSpying on citizens?

When Wikileaks released several copies of invoices and support tickets from surveillance software company FinFisher, it revealed that PCS Security, company linked to the Singapore government, was among the firm’s clients. PCS, which was recently awarded a tender for the supply of IT security and audit services for a range of Singapore government ministries and organizations, bought 19 licenses for FinFisher products including FinSpy, a program that allows users to remotely control and access computers.

Internet Governance: Putin dreams of a kill switch

The Russian government announced plans to more strictly control the country’s Internet in an effort to “defend [them]selves from the US and Europe,” according to Dmitry Peskov, a spokes person for Russian President Vladimir Putin. It seems somewhat unclear whether this would entail completely cutting Russia off from the global Internet. Peskov says that is “in no way possible,” but bloggers have argued that it will be a key item on an upcoming Security Council meeting. Regardless, this marks a further escalation of controls over the RuNet in recent years by the government, which recently imposed a series of stringent regulations including an Internet blacklist and requirements for real-name registration by bloggers.  

Netizen Activism: Canada spies, too

Digital rights group is leading a large, nonpartisan, coalition of local organizations calling for effective legal measures to safeguard Canadians from government spying. If you’re curious about the campaign but short on time, watch their snappy video on the issue. 

Global Voices joins prominent journalists like Christiane Amanpour, Arianna Huffington, Xiao Qiang, Ahmed Rashid, and more than 60 media and press freedom organizations (including Slate) to support the Committee to Protect Journalists’ campaign for the Right to Report in the Digital Agealists. The campaign calls on the Obama administration to protect journalists’ rights in light of recent revelations of surveillance, intimidation and exploitation of the press.  

New Research

• “Decoding the Chinese Internet”—China Digital Times


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