Digital Citizen is a biweekly review of news, policy, and research on human rights and technology in the Arab World.
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Bahraini authorities arrested nine individuals for ‘misusing social media’, the interior ministry announced on 27 January. The individuals risk up to two years in prison under an article in the country’s Penal Code which makes it a crime to ‘offend in public a foreign country or an international organisation based in Bahrain’. Activists believe the youths aged between 19 and 29 were arrested for criticizing the late Saudi king.
On 23 February, prominent Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah was sentenced to five years in jail and ordered to pay a fine of 100,000 EGP (USD 13,000) due to his participation in a demonstration against military trials of civilians in 2013. He was convicted of violating a draconian 2013 law that bans unauthorized demonstrations. Last June, he was sentenced to 15 years in jail in the same case. After appealing the verdict, a retrial was ordered.
The detention of freelance photojournalist Abou Zeid—known professionally as Shawkan—was extended indefinitely. The 28-year old photographer was arrested while covering the Rabaa clashes in 2013 and has been held in pre-trial detention for more than 500 days. Just one week before, the Committee to Protect Journalists had received assurances from the Minister of Transitional Justice, the Interior Ministry, the Prosecutor General and the head of the Human Rights Council that they would look into the case.
Kareem Zakaria, a member of the April 6 movement was sentenced on 8 February to three months in prison and a fine of 20,000 EGP for launching Facebook pages that were used to ‘incite against state institutions’ and ‘call for protests to commemorate the January 25 revolution’.
A government committee headed by the minister of justice is set to propose legal amendments that would give courts the authority to order the removal of websites linked to terrorism. A government spokesperson told Ahram Online that the criteria to determine terrorist content have not been established yet.
On 12 February, Egyptian prosecution imposed a media gag order on the case of slain leftist activist Shaimaa El-Sabbagh, suggesting that media reports about the murder may affect the course of investigations. El-Sabbagh died from birdshot wounds after police violently dispersed protesters who were commemorating the January 25 revolution.
Zaki Bani Rushaid, a deputy head for the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for criticizing the United Arab Emirates on Facebook. The country’s state security court found the MB leader guilty of “acts harmful to the country’s relations with a friendly nation.” In a post published on his Facebook page last November, Bani Rushaid said the UAE acts as the “American cop in the region, supports coups and is a cancer in the body of the Arab world.”
Kuwait’s appeal court increased by two years a four-year jail sentence previously handed down against blogger Saleh Al Saeed. In a series of tweets posted last october, Saeed had reportedly accused Saudi Arabia of grabbing land in Kuwait and Bahrain.
The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) registered 19 media freedom violations committed by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities in the West Bank Gaza in January. On 19 January, Israel arrested Mujahed Bani Mufleh, a journalist for the citizen media website Huna Al-Quds, after raiding his house and confiscating his computer. He was set free on 5 February. According to MADA, Palestinian authorities continue to harass and interrogate journalists and students over what they post on Facebook, forcing some of them to reveal their account passwords. In Gaza, Al Monitor correspondent Mohammad Othman was interrogated and threatened by a militant group for publishing a story on the execution of those accused of spying for Israel.
Prince Charles has reportedly raised the case of blogger Raif Badawi with King Salman during a recent visit to Saudi Arabia. Badawi was sentenced last May to ten years in prison and 1000 lashes for establishing the Free Saudi Liberals website, to debate religion and politics in the kingdom. Badawi received 50 lashes on 19 January but the punishment had since been postponed for medical reasons. On 12 February, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on Saudi Arabia to stop any further flogging of Badawi and to release him immediately.
A Saudi court of appeals confirmed on 15 February the 15-year jail term against Badawi’s lawyers and human rights activist Waleed Abu Al-Khair. He was also sentenced to a travel ban of equal duration following imprisonment, and a fine of 200,000 SR (approximately USD 53,300). On 4 February, Al-Khair was transferred from a prison in his home city of Jeddah to another prison in Riyadh without warning.
The US government has eased its sanctions on the exportation and re-exportation to Sudan of ‘certain hardware, software, and services incident to personal communications’. The ruling announced by the Department of Treasury takes effect on 18 February. The partial lifting of sanctions is set to enhance the access of Sudanese citizens to certain ICT tools and services such as web hosting, cloud storage, and mobile app stores.
On social media, Sudanese activists who have been campaigning for the lifting of digital sanctions imposed by the US, welcomed the move, though challenges remain. Global Voices’ Usamah Mohamad wrote:
‘While a welcome step in the right direction, the new amendments are still limited in scope and the massive challenges faced by Sudanese citizens remain warranted. Young Sudanese professionals in particular are feeling increasingly isolated and unable to integrate into the global community to pursuit their innovative and entrepreneurial aspirations.’
A new report by the cyber-security company FireEye revealed that between November 2013 and January 2014, hackers stole hundreds of documents and more than 31,000 conversations that included discussions of plans and logistics of the Syrian opposition’s attacks on Assad’s forces.
The hackers compromised its victims using female avatars to strike up conversations on Skype and connect on Facebook and a fake pro-opposition website seeded with malicious content. Based in Syria and beyond, victims included humanitarian workers, an army defector, a media activist and an opposition leader. FireEye was unable to determine the identity of the hackers but said the group may be located outside of Syria.
Maria Xynou and Hadi Al Khatib from the Tactical Technology Collective co-authored an article about the Syrian regime’s malware attacks against members of the opposition.
The news site Orient Net and Syriahr.com, the website of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, were victims of cyber-attacks that rendered them inaccessible for several hours, according to Reporters Without Borders. Hackers targeted Syriahr.com on 11 February, accusing its staff of being British intelligence agents. Self-identified Islamic State militants targeted Orient Net on 12 February and left a threatening message to its journalists.
Broadcaster Maisa Saleh was fired from her job at Orient TV after liking Facebook posts critical of the channel’s director of Orient TV.
On 10 February, Tunisian police arrested six members of the Islamist hacker group Fallaga for hacking national and foreign websites. Three of the hackers have since been released, while the others remain in detention.
The group recently took part in the ‘Je ne suis pas Charlie’ cyberattack targeting French websites. On New Year’s Eve, they hacked a number of government websites calling for the release of blogger Yassine Ayari imprisoned for criticizing the military on Facebook. They also attacked the website of the country’s independent election body, accusing it of fraud. In a statement, the interior ministry described the group as ‘takfiri’, however Fallaga denies any support for terrorism.
On 3 March, a military court of appeals reduced blogger Yassine Ayari’s sentence from one year to six months in prison for insulting the military on Facebook. Ayari was first sentenced in absentia to three years in prison last November, before his sentence was reduced to one year in a retrial in January.
United Arab Emirates
On 13 February, a group claiming affiliation with ISIS hacked the website of the Abu Dhabi based Al Ittihad newspaper.
Abu Dhabi authorities are educating mothers about legalities and the most common offences youth commit including those under the UAE cybercrime law.
- Netzpolitik.org looks at how a German-Arab company is promoting a new Trojan to law enforcement and intelligence services
- Human Rights Watch released a report documenting attacks against journalists in Libya since the 2011 uprising
In other news
- Hiba Zayadin from IFEX on who is countering the influence of ISIS in the digital sphere
- Countering violent extremism should not compromise press freedom, writes CPJ’s Courtney Radsch
- German prosecutors have launched preliminary investigations into whether the German-made FinFisher is being used by foreign intelligence agencies against activists inside the country
- Freedom House published a timeline of Egypt’s Digital Revolution which, it states, is ‘now being driven toward extinction by new dictatorship’
- Human Rights Watch’s Adam Coogle asks: Will Saudi Arabia keep locking people up for having an opinion?
From our partners
- SMEX asks: Can Twitter’s transparency report help hold Arab governments to account?
- Global Voices’ Rami Alhames reports on how Syrian rebels lost sensitive data because of sexual entrapment
- re:publica will take place in Berlin 5-7 May
- The Global Conference on Cyberspace 2015 takes place 16-17 April
Digital Citizen is brought to you by Advox, Access, EFF, Social Media Exchange, and 7iber.com. This month’s report was researched, edited, and written by Afef Abrougui, Ellery Biddle, Mohamed ElGohary, Dalia Othman, Courtney Radsch, and Jillian C. York and translated into Arabic by Mohamed ElGohary.
Photo by Amnesty Finland, CC BY 2.0.