In creating the database, this research did most of the labor manually by going through various news sources and press releases from non-governmental organizations. For the purposes of this report, this proved very time-consuming. This process can be streamlined and improved: for example, nonprofits can start logging these instances into a shared database that is open to the public. MENA governments often use the guise of fighting terrorism to control the pace of democratic development. As such, counterterrorism laws frequently fail to address real issues of security and instead regulate speech and curtail fundamental rights such as privacy, assembly, and expression.
Cybercrime laws are used in a similar way. I have identified a cybercrime law as any type of national document with legal force that explicitly purports to combat common digital threats such as fraud, online stalking, money laundering, and harassment. I have identified cyber-activists as individuals a who aim to raise awareness on a particular issue of interest b through the publication of content on the Internet—whether it is music, art, blog posts, or news articles.
For example, on November 8, , Egyptian journalist Hossam Bahgat was detained and interrogated after writing and publishing online a report describing criminal convictions against 26 military officers for plotting a coup. Below are the criteria I used in assessing whether or not to include a country in my research:. Much of this project involved tracking down legislation in its original language Arabic as well as accurately translated versions, if available.
Most countries in the Arab world do not publish legal documents online, making the establishment of appropriate contacts crucial. This is important to keep in mind in following the debate on the balance between maintaining national security and protecting human rights online.
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Note, however, that the countries selected for study have a counterterrorism law in effect already. This last question was an assessment of how often human rights violations in the country featured in the international media. For example, Egypt is much more widely covered than Oman or Algeria. In studying the behavior of law enforcement authorities throughout the MENA region when targeting human rights advocates or political dissidents, a common pattern emerged.
Authorities appeared to use a two-step process to effectively target human rights defenders or political dissidents. These two steps are outlined below. For example, Internet User A might use Facebook to write and publish posts criticizing her government. Her writing and publication could be considered journalism or, alternatively, speech. This initial characterization then leads to the type of law under which a police officer might decide to arrest the individual.
Following the characterization of the activity, a law enforcement officer typically chooses one to two laws under which to arrest the individual. In some cases, a judge may add subsequent charges during the trial.
If considered speech which often has fewer protections than journalism , then it can be tried under another law—including cybercrime and counterterrorism. It can be said, then, that in most cases, there is a rule by law as opposed to a rule of law: the goal is to arrest, try, and punish the individual and the law is merely a tool used to reach an already predetermined conviction. In most countries, the promulgation of counterterrorism laws and regulations is typically executed with the intention of fighting violent, ideologically motivated crime while abiding by international human rights standards.
In the Arab world, one might expect such laws to be specifically tailored for the purpose of countering violent action by the likes of Al-Qaeda or ISIS. Similarly, cybercrime laws are more often drafted to fight technical crimes that usually deal with issues of e-commerce and intellectual property—such as hacking into computers, theft of copyrighted material, and financial fraud.
This is not so in the Arab world. Even if cybercrime laws criminalize such activities, there is little evidence that prosecutors have used them for this purpose. The inefficiencies of counterterrorism laws are well studied in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. In researching the laws of the four countries under study, one trend emerged clearly: whether the country actually uses the cybercrime or counterterrorism law as its primary means of targeting its citizens or not, the laws that do exist are consistently broad and vague.
The law is so incredibly vague that it is difficult to conceive of an action that could not be prosecuted under its mandate. Generally, the more broadly drafted a law is, the more likely law enforcement will use it to target whomever they deem a threat the incumbent government. A country of 83 million people, Egypt is a key center of influence in the Arab world.
Egypt continues to suffer through troubling times following the deposition of dictator Hosni Mubarak. The current political ecosystem in Egypt is fragile, and authorities have taken to using old methods of repression to stop critical speech. Egypt has been under military rule ever since.
The human rights situation generally, and the Internet rights ecosystem specifically, is increasingly under attack. The Egyptian parliament passed a counterterrorism law 11 in August The law is widely publicized and available online. I have accessed the text of the law through the Arab Digital Rights Dataset, which also provides an English translation. Egypt does not currently have a cybercrime law.
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My initial hypothesis about Egypt was that as soon as the parliament passed the counterterrorism law, the government would quickly begin using it as a bogus charge to target and arrest individuals on the basis on expression online. After researching many cases of arrest, I learned that my hypothesis was incorrect. Of the hundreds of Internet-related arrests in Egypt, I was only able to document 28 cases with counterterrorism-related charges since Instead, the government relies primarily on an anti-protest law to stifle online speech.
On November 24, , the government banned unlicensed street demonstrations. This ban is now the most commonly used legal framework to criminalize online speech by activists. For example, until September 30, , at least 62 journalists have been detained or jailed for expressing themselves. Most of these journalists used the Internet to disseminate information and opinions, and most were arrested under precarious penal code charges. Imprisoning individuals on the basis of posts made on the Internet is a relatively new phenomenon in the country.
The best example is the closely followed case of Alaa Abdel Fattah—an internationally renowned software guru, blogger, and peaceful political activist.
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The officers beat him and his wife when asked to see their warrant and took and held him overnight, blindfolded and handcuffed, in an unknown location. They were sentenced to three years of hard labor and high fines. Hossam Bahgat is a leading investigative journalist who mostly writes for the news website Mada Masr. On October 13, , Bahgat wrote a report investigating the criminal convictions of 26 military officers for plotting a coup. Following the publication of his article online, Bahgat was subsequently detained and interrogated on November 7, He was kept in a small, dark cell with nothing but two blankets on the floor.
Bahgat was released three days after his arrest on November Abdel Fattah was initially detained for four months from November 28, until provisional release on March 23, He was then re-arrested on June 11, and only released again on bail on September 16, On October 27, , Abdel Fattah was detained again. On February 23, a re-trial sentenced him to five years of rigorous imprisonment.
Alaa Abdel Fattah has the distinction of having been jailed or charged under every government to take power in Egypt in the last decade.
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In , when he was only 22, he was jailed by the Mubarak regime. He is now imprisoned by SCAF, once again. Authorities rarely use the counterterrorism law—it is newer, and pursuing a case under the law is likely to present some challenging legal complications. One notable exception is the case of Hossam Bahgat, a journalist with Mada Masr. Bahgat wrote a report describing criminal convictions against 26 military officers for plotting a coup.
He was subsequently detained and interrogated on November 8, Though homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt, police have been using social media and smartphone applications such as gay dating application Grindr to hunt down and arrest gays and lesbians. Egyptian LGBTQ rights activists have published numerous messages warning members of the community to refrain from using these applications. Jordan has prominent and well-publicized cybercrime laws that are often cited by national courts. Jordan also has a counterterrorism law that initially passed in but was significantly amended in I have accessed the text of both the cybercrime and counterterrorism laws through the Arab Digital Rights Dataset.
The State Security Court has jurisdiction over these offenses as well, and will still be able to try peaceful protesters and others that are charged with them. In June , Jordan issued amendments to its Anti-Terrorism Law that broaden the definition of terrorism to include provisions that threaten freedom of expression.
The vague nature of the provisions above acts make virtually any Jordanian citizen a suspect, and can easily extend to four million Jordanians currently online.
This action is punishable under the newly broadened anti-terrorism law, which the Jordanian parliament amended to include non-violent actions. Ayoub was released on August 17, — four months after his initial arrest. The cybercrime law contains equally troubling provisions. The law bans abusive and provocative remarks that are made against a religion or promote hatred and threaten coexistence in the kingdom. I found a total of 18 arrests for online activity related to counterterrorism, 8 of which occurred in alone; and a total of 4 cybercrime cases, 2 of which occurred in My hypothesis about Jordan—that it uses counterterror and cybercrime as pretenses to arrest rights defenders—was proven right: authorities have not shied away from using these laws for this purpose.
A month later, on November 3, , authorities arrested journalist Tareq Abu al-Ragheb for posting allegedly insulting comments on Facebook. He was charged with defamation under the cybercrime law and was held in detention for a week. The increase in arrests in is worrisome.
Saudi Arabia represents a very unique case in the Arab world because while there are plenty of cases of arrest reported via social media and some local news outlets, few national and international media platforms take note. The country remains largely understudied in the field of digital rights.
Furthermore, online access to court documentation is extremely limited. While critical voices find may find a home online, they are also heavily repressed. For example, in October , Saudi Arabian women took to the roads to protest the Saudi ban on women driving. Social media was key to spreading awareness, and word spread fast on Facebook and Twitter.
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Many of the women who protested the driving ban were harassed both online and offline. Government trolls took to Twitter and other social media platforms to attack women who had posted videos of themselves driving. Ministry of Interior employees called each woman individually to tell her not to drive. Saudi Arabia has several legal instruments criminalizing behavior that it deems terrorist activity.
Saudi Arabia approved a cybercrime law on March 26, I have accessed both the counterterrorism and cybercrime laws through the Arab Digital Rights Dataset. However, as is the case in most other Arab countries, we can only guess at the exact number of people that are prosecuted under them. As is the case in most other Arab countries, we can only know the tip of the iceberg as to the exact number of people that are prosecuted under counterterrorism and cybercrime laws. He has previously represented Raif Badawi, another prisoner of conscience from Saudi Arabia, and was very active on social media in advocating for human rights reform.
Abu Al-Khair was charged on May 28, under the anti-cybercrime law for allegedly preparing, storing and sending information that prejudices public order. On July 6, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison five years of which were suspended and ordered to pay a , SR fine about 53, USD.