Digital Citizen is a biweekly review of news, policy, and research on human rights and technology in the Arab World.
On 20 April, cartoonist Tahar Djehiche was summoned by police for investigation over cartoons he published on facebook. Djehiche was accused of defaming and insulting Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, over cartoons opposing the exploitation of shale gas in In Salah, a town in the center of the country.
On 26 April, Bahrain once again extended the detention of activist Nabeel Rajab. Rajab, who has been in and out of prison over the past few years, was arrested on April 2 for comments made on Twitter denouncing alleged torture in a prison where Shia activists are held. Rajab is currently awaiting appeal from an earlier case.
A court set 27 May as the trial date of poet and columnist Fatima Naoot, accused of insulting Islam on social media. Naoot is facing trial for publishing on Twitter and Facebook posts critical of the sacrifice of animals during the religious festival of Eid al-Adha.
The Egyptian government has approved a cybercrime bill that many say would undermine freedom of expression. Writing for the Atlantic Council, Ragab Saad claims that the bill is being “publicized as [a tool] in Egypt’s war on terror” and that Egypt is currently collaborating with other Arab states on fighting cybercrime.
A Cairo court acquitted photojournalist at Yaqeen Online News Network Ahmed Gamal Ziyada after he spent more than a year in pre-trial detention. Ziyada was arrested in December 2013 while covering protests by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.
On 23 April, journalist and opinion writer Jamal Ayyoub was arrested by police for publishing on the web an article critical of the Saudi led air-strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Ayyoub will remain in prison for 15 days pending investigation. He is accused of disrupting the kingdom's relationships with foreign states.
Jordan is set to adopt four new laws regulating the telecommunication industry, electronic transactions, cybercrime and personal data.
A court sentenced in absentia activist Sager al-Hashash to ten years in jail for calling for protests and showing how to make a Molotov cocktail is made in a series of tweets posted last July. Hashash who is currently based outside Kuwait was convicted of inciting attacks on policemen, providing training on the manufacture of Molotov cocktails, taking part in an unlicensed protest, and disobeying police orders. In January, Hashash received a twenty month jail sentence for insulting the country’s ruler.
At the request of Saudi authorities, Kuwait is prosecuting twenty-five of its nationals for insulting the kingdom on twitter. The tweets were critical of the late Saudi king Abdullah, the role of the kingdom in the war against Houthi rebels in Yemen, and a decision by Kuwait to deport activist Saad al Ajmi to his native country Saudi Arabia.
March NGO hosted a conference on the illegal practices of the cyber crime unit in Lebanon. The organization posted on YouTube testimonies of Internet users who were questioned by the country’s cybercrime bureau for expressing themselves online.
The director of news site badil.info Hamid Mahdaoui is facing trial over the publication of a breaking news story on the explosion of a car in a neighborhood in Meknes, a city in northern Morocco. He stands accused of publishing false news over and publishing an unlicensed newspaper. His trial is set to take place on 18 May.
On 28 April, an appeal court referred the case of journalist Hicham Mansouri back to the primary court that originally sentenced him to 10 months in jail him over trumped up adultery charges. The appeal court claimed that Mansouri’s case does not fall in its subject matter jurisdiction. A new trial date has not been fixed. Prior to his arrest, Mansouri, who is the project manager of Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism (AMJI), was investigating internet surveillance by his country’s authorities.
A report from Belgian site Mondiaal Nieuws tells the inside story of Mamfakinch, the Moroccan news site that, after being targeted by malware, shut down last year. Another recent report, from Privacy International, delves into the effects of surveillance on four Moroccans.
MADA, the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms, has released an app for reporting and getting information on violations of media freedom in or related to Palestine.
Waleed Abu Khair, the prominent rights attorney who was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment in February, was reportedly beaten in prison. The Gulf Center for Human Rights has called for Abu Khair’s immediate release.
Istanbul-based blogger and Global Voices contributor Assad Hanna was stabbed four times in the stomach at his home on the night of 20 April. Hanna reported receiving threats from different factions in his war-torn country. ‘I don't accuse anyone but I cannot say it was a coincidence as the assailant knocked on the door, attacked me and did not steal anything from the house’, he said following the attack.
United Arab Emirates
UAE’s telecom operators have blocked Whatsapp’s new VoIP-based free voice calling feature, in compliance with local telecommunication regulations that allow VoIP services to be provided in the country only by licensed operators.
US citizen Shezanne Cassim is seeking a pardon over his role in a parody video of a Dubai martial art school posted on YouTube in late 2012. Cassim was arrested in 2013 and sentenced to one year in jail, a fine and deportation for taking part in the video. UAE later freed him.
As the Saudi led airstrikes against Houthi rebels continue, Yemen is facing internet shutdowns due to fuel shortages and electricity blackouts. On 27 April, the country’s Houthi-controlled telecommunications authority warned from a total disruption in local and overseas calls and internet services, as its fuel supplies are dwindling.
Two major disruptions were already noted in the southern seaport city of Aden in early April as fighting intensified there. Aden has a submarine cable that connects Yemen to Djibouti, one of only two cables that connect the country to the global Internet.
On Global Voices, Fahmi Albaheth warned that these disruptions will only ‘isolate Yemen from the world’, since ‘social networking sites are an important source for foreign media outlets’ that rely on content posted by local activists in their coverage of the war.
In addition to disruption, internet users in Yemen face the challenge of filtering by Houthi rebels who are controlling government offices including the ministry of communications and information and the National Security Bureau. On 14 April, the bureau ordered telecom operators to suspend SMS news services of a number of local and international media outlets including those of Aljazeera, CNN and Mareb Press.
- Cory Doctorow writes that Internet.org—a Facebook initiative that has provided zero-rated (free) data in certain countries, including Tunisia—is providing “poor Internet to poor people.”
- Digital Citizen contributor Dalia Othman presented research on the Arab networked public sphere at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, where she is a fellow.
- Freedom House has released its 2015 Freedom in the World report.
- Freedom of the Internet in 11 Arab countries, a new report for the Arab Network for Human Rights Information.
In other news
- New research indicates that hackers have penetrated Israeli military networks. The hackers are thought to be Arabic-speaking.
- The Committee to Protect Journalists’ Tom Lowenthal writes that “surveillance forces journalists to think and act like spies.
- An Israeli company has been contracted to install a civil surveillance system in Abu Dhabi, reports MEE
From our partners
- Global Voices has published an excellent guide to understanding copyright in the Arab world.
- AJ+ has released a series of videos, based on the EFF’s Surveillance Self-Defense, demonstrating how to be safer online.
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, Fahmi Albaheth, Jessica Dheere, Abir Ghattas, Mohamed ElGohary, Wafa Ben Hassine, Amira Al Hussaini, Dalia Othman, Thalia Rahme, and Jillian C. York, and translated into Arabic by Mohamed ElGohary.