Digital Citizen is a biweekly review of news, policy, and research on human rights and technology in the Arab World.
On 26 May, a court acquitted cartoonist Tahar Djehiche of insulting the Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika over cartoons he published on Facebook. In the cartoons, Djehiche expressed his opposition to the exploitation of shale gas in In Salah, a town in the center of the country.
On 20 May, an administrative court has once again ordered the Egyptian government to block online porn. The ministry of telecommunication had previously cited “difficulties,” to enforce two previous similar orders issued in 2009 and 2012. Though, the latest decision is immediately enforceable, it is subject to appeal.
Egypt’s draconian cybercrime bill, which was approved by the cabinet in April, is currently awaiting the approval of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The Egyptian government argues that the bill aims at combating the promotion of terrorism and extremism on social networks. Yet, Mada Masr which obtained a copy of the bill, revealed that the new law “could usher in unprecedented punishments for online activity far away from ‘extremist thought’.” The bill prescribes severe prison sentences for blasphemy, hacking activities and the dissemination of rumors.
Prosecutors are investigating blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah for insulting the judiciary. The charges Abdel Fattah face include calling for demonstrations and the toppling of the regime on Twitter, and disturbing others via communication tools. The 33 year-old blogger is already serving a five-year jail term for taking part in an unauthorised protest.
On 19 May, authorities released Ibrahim Aref, editor of the weekly El-Bayan after arresting him a day earlier and accusing him of publishing false news. Aref was arrested over an article posted on the newspaper’s website, alleging that six prosecutors had been killed. El-Bayan has since removed the article and denied the allegations.
The International Press Institute (IPI) has urged Jordan to meet its pledges on ending website licensing, following remarks made by the country’s media commission and members of Parliament that a parliamentary discussion would be held in October to end the practice. Under the 2012 amendments of Jordan’s Press and Publications Law, news websites are required to get licensed by the authorities, and those that fail or refuse are liable to be blocked.
SMEX collaborated with Privacy International and the Association for Progressive Communication (APC) to submit a joint stakeholder report raising shared concerns about the respect, protection and promotion of the right to privacy before the Human Rights Council.
A court of appeal in the capital Rabat confirmed an initial ten-month prison sentence for press freedom advocate Hicham Mansouri, on what his colleagues believe to be trumped-up ‘adultery’ charges. Mansouri, who was arrested in mid-March, was also ordered to pay a $4,057 fine. Prior to his arrest, he was working on a report about alleged Internet surveillance of activists and journalists by the Moroccan authorities.
The Register revealed that the Sultanate of Oman's intelligence services tapped into the internal phone systems of Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), a company owned by the government and various Western energy companies including Shell. The tapping was carried out by the European spying firms Gamma and Trovicor.
UAE authorities transferred Omani blogger Muawiya Al-Rawahi to Al Wathba prison, where he was placed in solitary confinement. Al-Rawahi is known for his political activism and has been critical of the UAE royal family on his Twitter account, @muawiyaalrawahi. He was arrested on 21 February by Emirati security while attempting to cross the border to the UAE.
A court in Tayma sentenced a disabled twitter user to 18 months in jail and 100 lashes over tweets critical of the poor service of the city’s hospital. Dawlan Ben Bekhit criticized the hospital’s administration for failing to provide him with the needed medical treatment after having a traffic accident that caused his disability.
Nawaat.org published an analysis of a draft law regulating the right to access to information. The bill contains commendable improvements over decree 41 of 2011 which regulates access to administrative documents, as it expands the list of organisms required to answer freedom of information requests, and establishes an authority tasked with hearing appeals in FOI requests and imposing sanctions on non-abiding organisms. However, the list of exceptions on the right to access information is broad and protections for whistleblowers remain minimal.
Net freedom advocate Dhouha Ben Youssef slammed the composition of the the Strategic Council for Digital Economy (CSEN), which has as its mission the adoption of a plan to develop the country’s digital economy sector. Ben Youssef described the council’s composition as “restrictive as it does not include representation from civil society and the technical community”.
Tunisia’s ICT minister, Noomane Fehri, reiterated his commitment not to censor the Internet in a meeting with media during the African Internet Summit.
United Arab Emirates
A Qatari national was jailed for 10 years for posting insulting images of the UAE royal family on twitter and instagram. Four other Qataris were sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment in the same case.
In a separate case, an Emirati man identified as Ahmad Abdullah Al Wahdi, was also sentenced to 10 years in jail by the State Security Court, for creating and running a social media account deemed insulting to UAE leaders and institutions.
In addition, in early June the same court is set to issue verdicts in the cases of a Kuwaiti national and an Emirati citizen also facing charges for insulting UAE royals on social media.
A 13 year-old girl has been taken to court for reportedly posting on Facebook a picture of her friend without her permission.
The use of the soon-to-be-released Windows 10 middle-finger emoji could land users in jail in the UAE, if a complaint is filed by the receiver. The act could be punished by up to three years in jail and a fine of up to Dhs 500,000.
As the Saudi-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen continues, Internet users reported on 30 May difficulties accessing Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, raising fears that the sites could have been blocked. However, an official at the Houthi-controlled Telecommunications Authority denied any blocking of social networking sites, blaming instead ‘acts of vandalism’ against fiber optics. As a result of these acts, three quarters of the country’s bandwidth capacity is now out of service. The Houthis have previously blocked a number of local and regional news sites over their coverage of the conflict.
Journalists covering the conflict continue to face life and safety risks. On 21 May, two journalists were killed in the southwestern province of Dhamar after being kidnapped by Houthis and held in a building which was bombed the following day by the Saudi-led coalition's jet fighters. Yemeni Shabab TV correspondent Abdullah Kabil and Shuhail TV correspondent Yousef Alaizry were kidnapped on 20 May after covering a meeting organized by members of tribes opposed to the Houthi rebels in Al Hadi district in Dhamar, a province to the south of the capital, Sanaa. Three other journalists remain under the detention of Houthis. Broadcast journalist Galal al-Sharabi,, photographer Mohammed Aidha and Waheed al-Sofi, the editor-in-chief of the al-Arabiyya news website were arrested early this year and no one knows their whereabouts.
- Digital security and privacy are essential to maintaining freedom of opinion and expression around the world, says a new report from the United Nation's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
In other news
- Gamal Eid, director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), is interviewed by Mada Masr.
- The Huffington Post looks at risks to Saudi Arabian Internet users.
- Global Voices looks at e-diplomacy in Egypt.
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, Mohamed ElGohary, Mohamad Najem, Dalia Othman, Thalia Rahme, and Jillian C. York and translated into Arabic by Mohamed ElGohary and French by Thalia Rahme.