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16 October, 2017

The battle is not over.. Internet and the Arab governments

Introduction

You may not read this report on the website of The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), as it is blocked in Egypt. Being not the only blocked website, there are hundreds of websites that have been blocked with neither reasons announced, prior notice, judicial ruling, nor a response from any official to the dozens of journalists, or  human rights and press institutions that demanded to be informed with the reasons behind blocking these websites.

Nevertheless, you are reading this report now, because ideas have wings; the word and opinion can go far to an extent beyond the imagination of those who block or confiscate.

The number of Facebook users in the Arab world had reached about 12 million in 2009, while the number in February 2017 amounted to 130 million, it increased 10 times in less than 10 years.

The Arab revolutions’ youth deserve gratitude from Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook administration, because these Arab revolutions achieved tremendous growth in the number of Internet users in general, and Facebook users in particular, around the world.

Some citizens in Egypt and Iraq are interested in using Facebook, but not interested in using the Internet! They have no idea about the link between both of them.

The Internet deserves to be thanked by the Arab youth and users. After the fierce attack on the Arab revolutions, the Internet embraced their struggle for democracy once again.

The battle is not over, the Arab youth, as well as the Internet, adhere to democracy on one hand, in the face of the Arab governments and traditional media, or “its majority”, that adhere to tyranny on the other hand.

Most of opinion cases and prosecution of critics in the Arab world became due to publishing a blog on the Internet, posting on Facebook, or tweeting on Twitter. We cannot overlook the retaliatory side of those prosecutions and cases; as the Internet is completely different from traditional press and media, because censorship and prosecution come after publishing so as to deter and intimidate others, in the future!

Unlike traditional media that can be confiscated before or during publishing.

In this 6th report by ANHRI about the Internet in the Arab world, which we titled “The Battle is not Over.. The Internet & Arab Governments”, we present statistics on the number of Internet users, and we document the Internet and e-publishing legislation, and some examples of persecution and violations.

How was this report done?

Methodology

We conducted some interviews, referred to official websites and our previous 5 reports. Also, we monitored and documented the cases of prosecution, violations, blocking, and confiscation. We read the reports released by the specialized technical and media institutions. We had accurate calculations depending on the statistics. We checked the UN reports and websites.

This report took 25 months, covering the January 2015-February 2017 period.

Results:

  • The most fierce attack in the Arab world is on freedom of expression. Yet, the resistance and determination to practice the right to expression are the strongest.
  • The Battle is not over, e-commerce in the Arab world is weak and marginal.
  • The Internet in the Arab world is a means to express opinion, politics, criticism, and to socially reach out with others. This is the conviction of the wider public of Internet users.
  • A huge setback to freedom of the Internet in Egypt, supported by large numbers of opinion cases, prosecutions, and the phenomenon of blocking websites.
  • A less severe setback, but one that represents a relapse in freedom of expression in Tunisia.
  • Saudi Arabia comes first among the countries that oppose freedom of Internet.
  • The Internet moved to Morocco to help the countryside activists, and to highlight their social circumstances and the repression they experience from the country. It became the most important and longest mobilization on the Arab level for a long time.
  • Gruelling Qatar is confronting the attack and siege of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE and Bahrain, a battle takes place on the Internet. Seemingly, it has no imminent end.
  • The most important conflict on the Internet is not between governments, it is rather between the governments and the citizens, between the one who controls and owns and the ones who have the right, who have nothing to lose.. except their shackles perhaps.

Internet Freedom Index in the Arab World

Score out of 100

 

Rank Country Score
1 Tunisia 70
2 Palestine 70
3 Iraq 65
4 Morocco 65
5 Libya 60
6 Emirates 55
7 Oman 55
8 Mauritania 55
9 Jordan 55
10 Kuwait 55
11 Lebanon 55
12 Qatar 55
13 Egypt 50
14 Algeria 50
15 Yemen 40
16 Bahrain 35
17 Somalia 30
18 Saudi Arabia 25
19 Sudan 25

 

Criteria for Internet freedom evaluation:

  1. Price of the service
  2. ICT infrastructure
  3. The laws are in accordance with the fundamental standards of freedom of expression
  4. Respecting freedom of expression and the right to exchange
    information
  5. Blocking websites
  6. Arrests and persecution of opinion makers
  7. The type of trials in Internet cases
  8. Privacy & security
  9. Encouraging and supporting Arabic content
  10. Positive commitment to facilitate full Internet access

 

Jordan

Overview

Jordan is one of the fastest Arab countries in the field of internet development and e-journalism which is growing significantly in the Hashimi Kingdom. Moreover, it is one of the first Arab countries to set legislations to regulate information exchange. However, these legislations are severely restrictive. Bloggers and internet activists in Jordan were able to have their voice heard throughout the Arab world. The Jordanian authorities met such activities with suppression, harassment, security and judicial prosecutions against activists and internet users, using legislations contrary to the Jordanian constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression.

Although the number of Jordanian citizens does not exceed 6.9 million, the number of non- Jordanian residents exceeds 9 million, due to the large number of refugees, especially from Syria and Iraq, which in turn contributed to an expansion in the number of Internet users, and also in their persecution.

The Jordanian government did not stop at blocking websites throughout previous years, but it also expanded enormously in its security and judiciary prosecution of internet users. A post on Facebook or twitter or an article on an electronic journal could lead its writer, not only to stand trial before a civilian judge, but it could lead to facing trial before the Military State Security Court, like the cases of Alaa Malkawi, Bassem al Rawabda or Tarek Khori. The writer might face a verdict of a year and a half in prison, like Zaki ben Arshid who was convicted of criticizing UAE. The charges are ready: Using obscene words, undermining the regime, threatening ties with sister nations”, or even all these accusations combined with other charges from the kingdom’s laws.

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Sector

There are three telecommunications and Internet service providers in Jordan, namely Zain, Orange and Umniah, along with Friendi, the first mobile MVNO operator operating since 2014 in Jordan.

The share of the ICT sector in Jordan lies between 12-14% of the GDP. The Jordanian market has about 540 companies offering ICT services. Jordan’s mobile users account for about 160% of the population in 2016, as the number of mobile phone users in Jordan reached 14 million, distributed among the three companies Zain, Umniah, Orange and the new Friendi Company.

While the use of landlines in Jordan remained unchanged, with the number of commercial and domestic users around 370 thousand users.

The number of Internet subscribers jumped significantly from 2015 until the end of 2016, reaching 7.5 million users, from 5.7 at the beginning of 2015, an increase of about 40% in two years.

Blocking VoIP (Voice over IP) services

Telecommunications companies in Jordan have always complained about the use of technologies that provide over-the-top services (OTTs), which are applications that provide text messaging services or telephone calls using the Internet. Companies see that such apps have a huge impact on their profits, as users rely on them instead of making regular phone calls through their networks, regardless of the huge profits they made from the use of Internet services through their 3G and 4G networks.

Telecommunications companies tried to impose additional charges on the use of these applications, but the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority intervened and prevented them.

To counter this, companies have violated the rights of their users by blocking calls through some applications that offer over-the-top services, most notably WhatsApp.

Legal environment regulating the ICT sector

The legal environment in Jordan witnessed little change in the period covered by this report. Telecommunications in the Kingdom are governed by the laws of “telecommunications”, “postal services”, “electronic transactions”, “competition” and the law of the use of IT resources in government institutions.  As well as the Information Systems Crimes Act, which is largely restrictive to the free use of the Internet, because it contains ambiguous articles that facilitate the criminal prosecution of users.

Internet users in Jordan suffer from Jordanian authorities’ use of the Terrorism and Penal Code, as well as the Press and Publications Act to restrict freedom of expression on the Internet.

The Penal Code and Terrorism Act have contributed significantly to the trial of several Internet activists before Military Sate Security Courts on charges such as offensive speech, undermining the regime, or disrupting relations with sister nations.

Spying on Internet users

Reports and investigations by citizen lab revealed that Jordan is one of the Arab countries that purchases spy softwares to track political activists, and deals with spy companies such as “BlueCoat, FinFisher, HackingTeam.” Jordan is one of the countries in the Arab region which owns servers that enable it to spy on its citizens, according to Citizen lab maps, which show that Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain, along with Jordan, are the top Arab countries that buy spyware to spy on their citizens.

Social Media:

The restrictions on traditional media, the security grip imposed by the Jordanian authorities on it and the monitoring of electronic journals on a regular basis, pushed Internet users in the Kingdom towards social media networks as alternative media platforms. Jordan is one of the most expanding countries in the use of social networks with about 5.6 million users. Facebook is at the forefront of social networks in Jordan with about 5.2 million users, while the number of Twitter users is estimated at 400,000 at the end of 2016, up to 70% increase from the beginning of 2015.

Blocking websites:

The Jordanian government has used the blocking of websites systematically to block the freedom of Internet. Under the Press and Publications Law, and after the 2012 amendments, the website blocking authority is no longer limited to the Public Prosecutor, but it has also been granted to the head of the Media Commission.

In addition to that, the governor of Oman uses some loose articles in the law to issue decisions to block websites, for example a list of blocking was issued by the governor of Oman in 2016 against companies providing access to judicial and financial databases, such as the companies “Creef, al Mofts, Serr, Qstas and Adalah”, subsequently the block was lifted, after a statement was issued by the Ministry of Communications saying that the lifting of the blocking came after it was found out that these sites operate legally. On August 9, 2016, the Jordanian Media Commission blocked the Ammannet.net website, claiming that it was not wholly owned by a Jordanian owner, then removed the block on August 18, nine days after it was blocked.

Security and judicial persecutions

In 2015 and 2016 about 30 journalists, citizens and activists of the Internet users in Jordan were prosecuted for their posts on social networks. One of the most prominent examples of the prosecution of Internet users in Jordan was:

Alaa Malkawi:

“The citizen is struggling for earning a living soaked in humiliation, and that is why free citizens decided on Thursday to demonstrate in the streets” This is what activist Alaa Malkawi wrote on his Facebook page, which prompted the security bodies to arrest him on July 31 before he was released on bail after being detained for about 15 days. He was then re-arrested once in October and interrogated for hours because of what he wrote on Facebook, then he was referred to the Attorney General.

Bassem Rawabda:

In May, 2015, the State Security Court issued a 5 months lenient sentence against activist Bassem Rawabda, after amending the charges from “inciting against the regime” to “offensive speech”, against the background of a post he wrote saying: “Jordonian people disrupted the personal relationship between the King and al Sisi #say_hi”.

 

United Arab Emirates

Overview

The UAE seeks to become a unique model in the Middle East. It is trying to become the Switzerland of the Middle East, to take a prominent economic position in global investment, and to become a safer place because of the presence of multiple international interests within its borders, trying to be a major player in the region. As a result, UAE stood perplexed between Western efficiency that it must abide by and the terms of freedom and democracy that have to go hand in hand with this efficiency.

The UAE has made a decision, and it seems that the whole world are helping it to fulfill it; it has decided to combine Western efficiency with Arab dictatorship.

As the UAE is the most efficient among all Arab countries in the provision of Internet service, as is the case with all other services provided by the state to its citizens, and the highest in terms of Internet usage in the Arab world. It provides the best service among Arab countries and occupies a high position in global ratings. However, it also tops the global lists in high positions in terms of human rights violations, arbitrary detention, and trials on the grounds of expressing opinion, whether by publishing articles or by posts on social media websites.

There are several reports of human rights violations inside the UAE, but there are no consequences for these reports, in terms of taking a concrete stance or strong condemnation either by the so-called developed countries or the Arab countries. The intertwined interests between the UAE and the investments and economic interests of most of the world are making talking about, let alone the condemnation of, the phenomenon of opinion or conscience prisoners quite difficult.

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Sector

The population of the United Arab Emirates has surpassed 9.2 millions residents, out of which there are about 8.5 million Internet users, including about 7 million Facebook users and about 2.5 million Twitter users.

With more than 206 nationalities living in the UAE of foreign workers, who wish to communicate with their families abroad, thus, social networks and websites are full of different advice to UAE residents on how to open banned websites in the UAE, such as, Skype, Viber, Tango and other similar applications. .

The law in the UAE also gives the police the right to prosecute anyone who uses VPN services, which are blocked in the UAE.

Surveillance and violations of privacy

Since the UAE puts restrictions on voice call services such as Skype, Viber, Whatsapp and other applications, it grants the right to provide these services only to the two licensed companies, which are: Emirates Telecommunications Corporation (Etisalat) and Emirates Integrated Services (du). A privilege that raised doubts about the role of these two companies in spying on users.

It appears that the UAE is so indifferent, that it did not deny accusations of spying on its citizens and users. Some officials have justified this as a measure to protect national security, but it is striking that a British report states that the UAE is using an Israeli team to establish a wide surveillance network over all residents of the United Arab Emirates, Which was neither denied nor confirmed by the UAE government, as usual.

Social Media:

As noted above, about 83 percent of UAE residents are active on the social networking website Facebook, forums in the UAE are active too, as in most Gulf countries, although to a lesser extent than it is in Oman. Several activists have been arrested through monitoring them on forums.

Legal environment regulating the ICT sector

In January 2016, the Legislative and Legal Affairs Committee of The Federal National Council (FNC) approved legal amendments to Federal Law No. 5 of 2012 on Cybercrime, whereby the penalty of the perpetrators of such crimes was aggravated to become a felony rather than a misdemeanor. This lead to a change in the sentence to temporary jail instead of imprisonment. The fine was doubled to between 500,000 and two million UAE Dirhams. The law provides for the prosecution of anyone who publishes false information or data intended to harm public security or the image of the UAE,both inside or abroad.

Without providing a concrete definition of public security or the way of harming the image of the state!

The law provides for around 9 articles that include imprisonment and fines for loose offenses, such as disclosure, dissemination, copying data, false information, pornography, violation of sanctities, the regime or state institutions, reaching prison sentences for defamation on social media and data systems, with increasing penalty if the offense targets an employee during performing his job.

Security and judicial persecutions

Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith

Security forces in plain clothes arrested Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith in Abu Dhabi, searched his home and confiscated his personal items, including his electronic memory devices. He was held incommunicado until he was brought before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court of Abu Dhabi on April 4, 2016. He then informed the court that he was tortured, beaten in detention and deprived of sleep for a period of up to a week.

The charges against Dr. Bin Ghaith in the current case include “Committing an act of hostility against a foreign country,” referring to comments he made on his Twitter account about the Egyptian authorities and the judicial system. He was also charged with “Spreading false information to defame the reputation of the state and one of its institutions” which is related to other statements he made on his Twitter account claiming they did not get a fair trial, as part of the UAE 5 case.

Ahmed Mansour:

Ahmed Mansour, is one of the initiators of the March 3, 2011 petition, calling for democratic reform in the United Arab Emirates. He was then locked up, along with four others, against the backdrop of a discussion on the UAEHewar.net forum, their case became known as the UAE 5 group. He was charged with insulting the UAE leadership publicly and sentenced to three years in prison, then he was released on a presidential pardon one day after he was sentenced, and after having spent nearly eight months in detention.

He was rearrested in March 2017 and became the most important Emirati prisoner of conscience because of his role and fame as a prominent human rights defender.

Tayseer al-Najjar:

During his travel to Jordan towards the end of 2015, Taysseer al-Najjar – a Jordanian citizen and journalist residing in the UAE – was banned from traveling and detained for allegedly insulting the rulers of the UAE and Egypt on his Facebook account in 2014 during the Israeli raids in Gaza.

Tayseer al-Najjar was detained for nearly two years, amid widespread anger among Jordanian journalists and press freedom advocates in the Arab region.

Because of the following post on Facebook: “A letter to some journalists and writers who do not like the resistance in Gaza: There are no two rights in one case, only one right, which is the resistance of Gaza, the rest are vanity as Israel, the UAE, Sisi and other regimes that are no longer ashamed even from shame itself”.

al-Najjar was sentenced to three years and a fine of 500,000 dirhams, of which he has served two years and he is still waiting to get his freedom back.

Bahrain

Overview

The public sphere in Bahrain is almost closed by the help of its neighbor, Saudi Arabia, besides relying on security services that have been involved in severe human rights violations, such as torture and murder without accountability. Internet users have not been spared the prosecution and harsh sentences thanks to the help of a non-independent judiciary – many Arab states lack an independent judiciary – which issued hundreds of prison sentences for years just for writing 140 characters on Twitter, or a post on Facebook or taking part in a statement calling for the respect of democracy and human rights.

In its war on the Internet, the Bahraini authorities imposed severe restrictions on its users, not only through security and judicial prosecution or imprisonment for years, like the case of prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, who is imprisoned in Bahrain because of a post on his Twitter account, but also by imposing strict control over the use of social networks and communication programs and technologies. The Bahraini authorities control local electronic newspapers and still trying to impose control over electronic newspapers working abroad, through public relations companies followed by financial temptations, as well as the policy of blocking websites.

Bahrain investigates prisoners for posts on social networks that bares their name, such as the case of Sheikh Ali Salman, one of the most prominent dissidents and the head of the country’s largest political group, who is languishing behind bars in Bahrain.

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Sector

Bahrain, like its neighbors, is trying to limit freedom of Internet as an alternative space for expression, but it is always seeking to develop the ICT sector, in order to benefit from it economically.

At the end of 2015, Bahrain Telecommunications Company (BATELCO) signed a new partnership agreement with Turkish company Turk Telecom to expand Batelco’s presence beyond Bahrain’s borders and enhance its services.

The local market in Bahrain has about 400 companies specialized in providing ICT services. By the end of 2015, the contribution of the telecommunications sector accounted for about 7% of the GDP.

Mobile phone usage continued to grow exponentially, reaching 2.8 million subscribers in the first quarter of 2016, compared to 2.5 million subscribers by the end of 2015 and 2.33 towards the end of 2014.

The number of broadband users reached 2.04 million, at an estimated 145% of the total population, compared to 2 million at the end of 2015 and 1.7 million by the end of 2014.

The number of Internet users in Bahrain has continued to grow significantly, reaching around 1.4 million, in other words about 95% of the total population, compared to 1.3 million in January 2015.

Although Facebook users in Bahrain are increasing to 800 thousand users at the end of 2016, Twitter continues to be one of the most popular sites, with nearly half a million users at the end of 2016, compared to 320 thousand users in early 2015.

The legislative environment

Bahrain has a repressive arsenal of anti-freedom laws, often used to pursue its peaceful opponents, opinion activists and internet activists. The most prominent and newest of these laws are the amendments introduced to the Terrorism Act, approved in December 2015, which allow for the persecution of opponents, especially internet users and activists. The new amendment allows the detention officer to hold the detainee for 28 days without charges, and gives the right to the judiciary to punish the accused under this law for periods ranging from 7 years to life imprisonment.

In a new step to facilitate the targeting of political associations and the closure and siege of the political arena, on December 6, 2015, the Bahraini Shura Council approved new amendments to Law No. 26 of 2005 concerning political associations, increasing the restrictions imposed on freedom of assembly and political associations, which some of their leaders are languishing in prison on the basis of posts and opinions on social networks.

Monitoring the Internet and spying on its users

Reports and investigations by  “Citizen Lab” have revealed that the Bahraini authorities made contracts with “Blue Planet”[3] and “Fin Fisher”[4] to monitor journalists and political opponents. The authorities in Bahrain also use software to record calls, spy on conversations on the Internet, open personal cameras, that is besides security and judicial prosecution, blocking websites’ policies, which are applied systematically, as well as the persistent attempts to prevent the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPN) programs that are used to bypass the blocking of websites.

Blocking websites:

Bahrain has a long tradition of using blocking websites as a tool for restricting freedom of the Internet. There isn’t a political association in the country opposing the authorities, whose official website isn’t blocked in its own country, as well as blocking the personal pages of activists and political opponents. On August 5, 2016, The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA)  issued its Decision No. 12/2016 on the issuance of bylaws on Internet safety[5]. This decision was imposed on all telecommunications companies in the Kingdom, companies were obliged to purchase and use a unified technical system to block websites. This system is fully controlled by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. The decision came right after the government signed an agreement in January 2016 with a Canadian company called “Netsweeper” with an amount estimated at US $ 1.2 million to develop a website blocking system in Bahrain.

Revoking the license of 2Connect

On February 2016, TRA revoked the license of 2Connect, a company which is engaged in the provision of telecommunications and Internet services, for allegedly failing to comply with national security obligations. This is probably due to the company’s failure to comply with regulations imposed by the authorities to block websites and Internet services, or failure to allow security services to access content and information sent through the company’s servers.

Examples of security and judicial prosecution of Internet activists

Every year, the Bahraini authorities pursue dozens of Internet activists and users, out of which some have been brought to trial and some are imprisoned, awaiting trial. Some of them have been banned from traveling and others have already been sentenced. The following lines provide examples:

1 – Investigations with lawyer Mohammed Al-Tajer

On November 10, 2016, lawyer Mohammed Al-Tajer was interrogated before the Public Prosecutor after he was summoned. The prosecution leveled three charges against him: insulting government institutions; inciting hatred of a religious sect, misusing a communication device. The prosecution confronted Al-Tajer with a text message he sent through his Whatsapp account.

This was against the backdrop of posts written in English on his personal account in February 2016, in which he talks about how history tells the story of the fall of tyrants, but no one learns the lesson. He was also investigated for a post that he shared, that describes the government as “the banning regime”.

2- A sentence against the human rights defender Fadhel Abbas

At its October 26, 2016 session, the Supreme Court of Appeal decided to amend the sentence of the former Secretary-General of the National Democratic Union, Fadhel Abbas, for 3 years instead of 5, for allegedly spreading false news that harmed military operations.

In June 2015, the first instance court sentenced Abbas to five years in prison for writing a blog post, in which he condemned the Saudi military operations in Yemen.

3- Imprisonment of the journalist Faissal Hayyat

On October 9, 2016, journalist Faisal Hayat appeared before the Public Prosecution after he was summoned for investigations against the backdrop of posting on his Facebook account at the beginning of the month, commenting on a speech by the Minister of Interior at the end of September, accusing Hayat of contempt of religion. The journalist has a personal YouTube channel through which he posts topics on political issues since 2013.

4- Human rights defender Ghada Jamsheer

On the evening of August 15, 2016, Bahraini security services arrested Bahraini human rights defender Ghada Jamsheer upon her return from the UK without allowing her to contact her relatives.

On June 22, 2016, the second Supreme Criminal Court sentenced Ghada Jamsheer to one year in prison on charges of insulting public officials on Twitter, against the backdrop of tweets in which she criticized a member of the ruling family.

Human rights defender Nabeel Rajab

On June 13, 2016, the Bahraini security forces stormed the home of human rights defender and head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights Nabeel Rajab. He was arrested without pressing any charges, nor was he informed of the reasons. The arrest was later found out to be on the background of a report filed by the Electronic Crimes Department. He was interrogated for publishing false and malicious news and statements about the internal situation of the Kingdom that would undermine the prestige and reputation of the state, before he was brought to trial while he was imprisoned, on charges of spreading false news about the war in Yemen. This was on the basis of his posts on Twitter. Nabeel Rajab is still on trial in that unfair case, he is a prisoner who is waiting to regain his freedom.

 

Algeria

Overview

The Algerian authorities have decided to block Facebook, Twitter, Viber, Snap Chat, Whatsapp and Instagram for several days starting June 18, 2016, on the pretext of avoiding cheating in exams. This decision has prevented millions from using the social networks, which play a large role to break the media blockade in a country with a population of more than 40 million. A decision which aroused Internet users’ anger in Algeria, a rage similar to their anger when the Internet was cut off due to a cable cut in October 2015.

Algeria is governed by the same army-backed president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, since 1999.

We cannot talk about freedom of Internet and telecommunications in Algeria without mentioning the arrest of journalist and poet Mohamed Tamalt, who was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 200,000 dinars (about $ 1,800) for allegedly insulting the president, after posting some articles on his personal Facebook account and ‘al Seyak al Arabi” e-journal. Unfortunately, Tamalt died in prison after a hunger strike in mysterious circumstances.

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Sector

Algeria’s telecommunications market is dominated by Algeria Telecom, the government’s company, which provides fixed and mobile communication services,  and Internet, but it was not the first company to provide mobile services in Algeria. Orascom acquired the first mobile phone license in Algeria through its company “Gizi,” before the launch of the Algerian communications company “Mobilis” and finally “National Kuwaiti” as a third operator through “Najma”.

On October 1, 2016, Algeria officially launched the commercialization of the fourth generation mobile phone services, which means the possibility of increasing the number of Algerian Internet users.

The number of Internet users in Algeria at the beginning of January 2017 was about 17 million users, which is about a 90% increase in the number of users compared to January 2015, due to the significant growth in the number of Facebook users, the number of users of this site multiplied several times during the same period, reaching around 12 million users.

While the number of Twitter users did not exceed 250 thousand users, despite the increase of 250% compared to the number of users in January 2015, but the number is still low compared to other Arab countries.

A number of Internet users in Algeria complain about the slow speed, especially in remote areas, which hinders their communication and work, as the Internet has become one of the basic necessities.

Legal environment regulating the ICT sector

The draft law “Electronic mail and communications” is expected to be implemented soon instead of the current “Wired and Wireless Telecommunications Law”.

The Algerian Minister of Post and Information and Communication Technologies, Iman Feraoun announced that the aim of the second amendment is to allow competition to be established for fixed Internet service, and to prevent monopoly by allowing private companies to provide the service.

However, Minister “Feraoun” made many declarations that show her animosity towards freedom of the Internet, under the guise of protecting public morals, raise fears of restrictions on freedom of the Internet when the law is passed.

The Minister of Post and Information and Communication Technologies: The greatest danger comes from social websites not from pornography

In a statement to the Algerian parliament, the competent minister, Iman Feraoun, said: If the people want to block porn websites, we can do it, but she considers that “The greatest danger facing Algerian youth comes from social networking websites.” According to her, social networks harm the Algerian economy, as the state generates significant funds to provide the means to access these sites, while the companies behind these sites are working to acheive economic domination.

Security and judicial persecutions

The death of prisoner of conscience “Mohammed Tamalt” in prison

The sentence of journalist and poet “Mohammad Tamalt” was upheld for two years for insulting the President, he died while he was on a hunger strike

On August 9, 2016, the Criminal Chamber of the Capital District Court upheld the verdict of the Sidi Mohamed court against journalist Mohamed Tamalt. He was convicted to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of 200,000 dinars (about $ 1800) for “insulting the President” on the basis of posting articles on his Facebook page and on the e-journal al Syakal Arabi..

Before the sentence was pronounced, Judge Omar Belkhershi questioned journalist Mohammed Tamalt about the reason for his sharp attack on the e-journal against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Salal, his wife and daughter, the army chief of staff and his sons and commander of the fourth military district Abdul Razzaq Sharif and his son, to which the journalist replied: “I wrote about them and published pictures of the extravagance in which they live with their children, and by doing so I defended Algeria”. The Algerian Ministry of Justice announced the death of journalist Mohamed Tamalt on Sunday (December 11th) at the University hospital of Maine Dabbaghin in Bab El-Wadi in Algieria, where he was held since 21 August 2016.

It is noteworthy that the journalist and poet Mohamed Tamalt, studied journalism and communication sciences at the University of Algiers and practiced the profession of journalism while he was still a student since the summer of 1993.

The imprisonment of “Belkacem Khansheh,” the workers’ advocate for criticizing judiciary on social networking websites

Belkacem Khanshe, the national coordinator of the Algerian League for the Defense of Workers’ Rights, criticized the Court of First Instance in Laghouat for judging his colleague for 18 months for protesting against the government’s policies.

An Algerian court sentenced the workers’ rights advocate, Khansha, to 6 months in jail on May 25, 2016. By sentencing “Khanshe”, Algerian courts condemn participants in peaceful labor protests and punish those who protest against such unfair convictions.

3 years imprisonment for “Slimane Buhafs” on charges of insulting Islam

An Algerian appeals court in September sentenced activist Slimane Bouhafs to three years jail for posting comments “insulting Islam” on Facebook. Slimane Bouhafs, who converted to Christianity, has been held in Pilar prison in Setif state since August 1, and appeared before the Court of First Instance on August 7, which sentenced him to five years imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 Algerian dinars (about $ 900) for offending the prophet” and “denigrating the dogma or precepts of Islam.”

Criminal sentence for a cartoon on “Facebook”

Tlemcen court sentenced human rights activist Zulekha Bellarbi to a fine of 100,000 Algerian dinars for insulting the president, after she posted a caricature of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, photoshopped as the Sultan and his entourage in a well-known Turkish television series called “Sultan’s Harem” on Facebook.

It is noteworthy that the police submitted a report to the Undersecretary of the Republic, “The Prosecutor of the Republic”, after what she published, she was charged with “defaming the president of the Republic, defamation and harming a state institution.”[6]

Blocking and banning the use of social networking websites and applications

The Algerian authorities have committed an infringment on the personal rights of citizens, as it decided to block Facebook, Twitter, Viber, Snap Chat, Whatsapp and Instagram from 8:00 pm on June 18, on the pretext of avoiding cheating in exams, which is a false pretext to justify the act to the public.

The authorities said it was a precautionary measure to avoid cheating during the partial re-examination of the secondary (high school) exams, which began on June 20, the services remained blocked until the end of the re-examinations on June 23.[7]

 

Saudi Arabia

Overview

The Kingdom of Darkness!

This is how Internet activists dubbed Saudi Arabia mocking restrictions, aggravated measures, imprisonment, flogging, death sentences, beheading and stoning, retrograde deeds that go back to the Middle Ages and before.

Despite the financial prosperity enjoyed by some of the population in the Kingdom, there are cases of poverty that are obscured, along with violations of human rights, freedom of expression and freedom of belief practiced by the Saudi authorities since the establishment of their state.

Those who have grievance found a resort in the internet to render their voices to the world, but the Saudi authorities, as a reaction, blocked websites, put them under surveillance, followed them, and went on arresting, flogging and torturing them.

Saudi Arabia continues its violations and breaches of privacy. Despite the discontent expressed by serious human rights institutions and even by some governments, a real measure has not been taken against Saudi Arabia because of the political and oil interests it shares with governments, not to mention the huge amounts of money paid by the Saudi authorities to the Arab and international media and even to some human rights organizations, to be silent about their crimes against their citizens, foreign expatriates, and those they attack in their wars.

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Sector

Saudi Arabia has a population of around 31 million, a figure that has not changed since the beginning of 2015, with some 11 million expatriates and foreign working residents from different countries, many of them leave, some return and some do not.

While the number of Internet users in the Kingdom is more than 21 million users; a good percentage compared to other Arab countries and the world.

The number of Facebook users is about 15 million users, which is nearly 49% of the population, noting that the youth form the majority of Saudi society.

While Saudi Arabia continues to be on top of the micro blogging website Twitter in terms of users, with 9 million users, the highest number of Twitter users in the Arab region, despite the competition from Snap Chat with regards to growth in usage.

It is noted that Saudis are still active in closed forums, perhaps this is due to the security pursuits, which is a phenomenon in Gulf societies. Forums are no longer active in the rest of the Arab world or in the rest of the world as it used to be in the past, but the population in Gulf countries resort to forums for many reasons, such as: The ability to hide the real personality, forums are less prevalent, which protects the user from security tracking, in addition, forums usually are specialized in specific topics, such as, family, childcare, or religious affairs… etc.

Cutting off communications and blocking websites:

The authorities in Saudi Arabia block many sites, not only the so-called pornographic websites, or those websites that are contrary to the teachings of Islam, especially “the Sunni Wahhabism”, as stated in the CITC statement, which continues to block websites according to directions from the “Permanent Security Committee”.  [8]

The blocking of websites exceeds that and amounts to news websites. The Kingdom not only blocks news websites that oppose its general policies, but also blocks the websites which it has doubts about its content. before it allows a news website to reach the user, first it blocks the website and then refers it to the “Permanent Security Committee” in order to revise it and decide whether it is appropriate or not. In 2013 the Saudi authorities blocked 219 news websites. [9]

Among the hundreds, or even thousands, of blocked sites each year, the Saudi Ministry of Information and Culture blocked the site of the “Huffington Post” in both the Arabic and English versions in September 2016, and before that “Arabi 21” and the “Gulf Center for Human Rights” websites, which made some of the Saudi social networks’ visitors publish a sarcastic image of the site with a message that says “contrary to the regulations of the Ministry of Culture and Information.”

Laws and Legislations:

The Network Security Center, the Internet Services Unit of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, issued a document defining Internet usage regulations, which was prepared by the Security Committee of the Ministry of Interior, in this document it was mentioned that:

All Internet users in Saudi Arabia are obliged to refrain from publishing or accessing information that contains some of the following:

* Anything contrary to, whether in principle or in law, or prejudices the holiness of Islam and its tolerant Sharia laws, or violates public morality.

* Anything that goes against the state and its regime.

* Reports and news that affect the safety of the Saudi armed forces except after the approval of the competent authorities.

* Publishing official laws, agreements, treaties or statements of the State prior to their formal declaration, unless with the permission of the competent authorities.

* Anything affecting the dignity of the Heads of State or Heads of Diplomatic Missions accredited by the Kingdom or anything that could harm relations with those states.

*All that is attributed to state officials, or institutions or local public or private bodies, or to individuals which constitutes false news that harm them or their bodies or affect their dignity.

* Advocating subversive principles, undermining public confidence, or spreading discrimination among citizens.

* Anything that would favor or call for a criminal act or incitement against others in any form.

*All that includes slandering or defaming individuals.[10]

As we can observe, after all the prohibitions in this document, the user has not any serious matter left to be discussed!  There can be no talk about doctrines that contradict Wahhabism, no talk about the state, no talk about the Saudi armed forces, which are now engaged in a war against Yemen, and it is not unlikely that one of the citizens would like to comment on the matter. It is also not allowed to talk about heads of state, of course, the document did not mention the possibility of talking about his royal highness, because this is out of the question, and it is not right for a citizen also to talk or comment on the statements of officials, not only in his country but in most countries of the world. Article number seven is loose, ambiguous and can be interpreted however the authorities want, it criminalizes talking about “destructive” principles, disrupting public peace and disseminating the discrimination among citizens.

Violations and security and judicial prosecution of Internet activists

Walid Abulkhair

Although he remains in prison since 2014 following an unfair trial of opinion issues, human rights lawyer Walid Abulkhair won the 2016 Human Rights Watch Award, the 2016 Human Rights Award from the Legal Society of Upper Canada and the Ludovic Trario International Human Rights Prize In 2015 in recognition of his human rights activities.

Alaa Berenji

On March 24, 2016, a Saudi court sentenced journalist Alaa Berenji to five years in prison and a fine of 50,000 riyals (about USD$ 13,300),  banned him from traveling for eight years and closiinf his Twitter account, prior to his arrest in May 2014, as he was returning with his family from Bahrain.

He was put on trial after he criticized the “anti-terrorism” law issued by the Kingdom in 2014 and for his participation in media campaigns through on social networking websites, rejecting and denouncing the law that allows the authorities to arrest without legal justification.

Dolan Ben Bakhit

In mid-May 2015, a criminal court in Taima province sentenced Dolan Bin Bakhit to prison for a year and six months, and to 100 lashes over tweets criticizing the failure of a hospital’s health services.

“Dolan” who was injured in a traffic accident, has submitted many complaints to the Ministry of Health and to officials in the region but they gave him the deaf ear. He resorted to open an account on “Twitter” criticizing the administration of the hospital, accusing them of failing to provide medicine and medical supplies, negligence in his treatment and rehabilitation after injury, and instead of investigating his complaint, he was put on trial and the court issued the above mentioned verdict.

Arresting Abu Sen

Against the backdrop of posting a video in which young Saudi “Abu Sen” has a conversation with a foreign girl, which did not impress some and made others laugh, and although the video doesn’t have any legal violations, he was detained for 10 days in the capital Riyadh in September 2016. He was not released except 10 days later and after a paying a bail. He was accused with charges that may lead to a five-year prison sentence, not because he committed a crime, but because he “was not in line with customs and traditions.”

 

Sudan

Overview

Sudan remains one of the top Arab countries in terms of censoring the Internet and spying on telecommunications, it is also one of the few countries that still have Internet cafes, due to the difficult economic conditions. On 1 February, 2016, more than 100 Internet cafes were subject to security raids, under the pretext of searching for “materials that threaten national security”, in reference to the Sudanese authorities’ attempt to impose its security grip on the Internet, especially social networking websites, such as “Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp”. The Sudanese intelligence services blocks websites claiming they threaten national security, it also monitors communications and e-mails. Such methods usually lead to the arrest of many Internet users, especially young people.

Users of social networks were able to organize civil disobedience to protest some economic decisions taken by the government in February 2016. Youth groups and activists worked on social networking websites, such as “Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp”, protesters also used eBay to make a cynical auction to sell President Omar al-Bashir, who has ruled Sudan for 28 years, and the ruling National Congress Party (NCP).

This civil disobedience has had a huge success among Sudan’s population, which is around 37.5 million people, despite the intimidation and terrorizing measures taken by the authorities against protesters.

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Sector

The number of Internet users increased to about 13 million by the end of 2016, compared to about 10 million users by ANHRI’s estimates in early 2015, while by the end of 2013, the number of users was about 8 million.

Internet users in Sudan continue to rely heavily on the services of mobile phone companies, via USB Modems or surfing the Internet from their mobile phones.

The number of mobile subscribers reached 29 million by mid-2016, compared to 27 million subscribers by the end of 2014, according to ANHRI.

Mobile services are offered by three companies; Zain, Sudani and MTN.

While the number of “Facebook” users is growing significantly in Sudan, about 5 million users, yet, despite its global and Arab popularity, especially after the Arab Spring revolutions, Twitter use remains limited in Sudan, as the number of Twitter users reached around 120 thousand users at most towards the end of 2016.

Despite the importance and weight of Sudan as a state, the lack of information sharing is an essential aspect of the political regime, which is particularly important for civil institutions, especially in the field of information technology, such as the network of Sudanese bloggers without borders, which makes an effort to provide information and knowledge to everyone interested in the blog known as”

http://sdunlimitedbloggers.blogspot.com.eg/

In a statement that seems positive, Telecom Minister Tahani Abdullah Attia called[11] for companies working in the fields of telecommunications, information technology and e-mails to provide all electronic services by 2018 according to what she called the plan. She highlighted the readiness of the National Information Center to provide more than 1930 government services in the framework of the Sudan E-government project.

The legislative environment

In May 2016, the Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Tahani Abdullah Attiyah, announced the introduction of a new update to the Cyber Crimes Act, which includes severe penalties for “extortion and abuse” through social networks, particularly Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter and other websites, in addition to articles related children and protecting them from online risks.The government claims that “the goal of the amendments and the large additions to the law, were to keep up with the latest developments and constant updates in electronic and social media,” and revealed severe penalties for what it called “The abuse of social media, which has become an easy way to spread false news, rumors, abuse and blackmail.” But the truth is that this law has become a cause for further restrictions on freedom of the Internet in Sudan, and the word “abuse” is an elastic term that may be interpreted to accommodate criticizing the Sudanese government.

Zain Sudan raises Internet prices 300%

In early February 2018 Zain Sudan, an Internet and communications services company in Sudan, introduced new measures in the Internet services pricing, without notifying all its prepaid users, as everyone woke up to charge their phones at the usual price, but to their surprise, Zain had made the decision to raise the prices of Internet and changing the subscription system to a system known as (quota). Such decisions outraged the majority of users, according to the network, “Muqrin” and many of them preferred to transfer their numbers to other networks, which might not be the best option, but from their point of view, ther are the best of the worst right now.

Disgruntled Sudanese citizens have led huge boycotting campaigns against Zain Sudan Telecom because of the recently announced rise in the prices of Internet packages, as the prices have increased by 300 percent[12] and the company has announced that it will not reverse these decisions, despite the fact that thousands of users have left it.

Many users have announced that they will stop dealing with the company and move to other competing companies, asserting that the new prices announced by Zain do not suit the salaries they receive. They posted on social media angry messages by activists, one of them is in the footnotes.[13]

Violations against websites and social networks

“Whatsapp” leads to imprisonment

In early January 2016, security forces arrested[14] journalist Ramadan Mahjoub, from Al Amal Hospital, where he was accompanying his brother who got injured in a traffic accident.

Raids on Internet cafes

In February 2016, a joint force[15] of the Security and Intelligence Services raided more than a 100 Internet cafes in the capital, Khartoum, for allegedly threatening the “cultural security, values, ethics and heritage of the nation,” demanding the owners of the cafes to install a CD on computers that blocks downloading any content that is “offensive to morality,” according to the authority.

Monitoring social media

The Sudanese parliament ordered the Ministry of Information to establish an independent body to monitor the social networking websites after parliamentarians launched a vicious attack on these sites, which they called “Dangerous” and dubbed them “The first enemy of Sudan”.

Censorship and blocking websites

In February 2016, Internet users in Sudan were surprised by difficulties to access some famous websites due to the blocking of Arab and foreign websites, including Saudi, Bahraini and Egyptian websites.

Among the Arab sites that have been blocked, according to “al-Nilin” website” were the Bahraini News Agency, “al-Nilin” website, the website Saudi company “Trana” and “al-Mogaz” website from Egypt.

Some technical departments of the blocked websites filed complaints to the National Telecommunications Authority (NTRA), the government body responsible for managing and regulating communications in Sudan, in order to remove the blocking. However, the problem has not been solved yet, and  the reason of blockage remains unknown.

Google Play Store officially lifts the ban on Sudan

In mid-2015, Google lifted the ban on the official Google Play Store for Android applications in Sudan, and confirmed that Sudan can now take advantage of downloading all programs and games officially and directly after this move, which came after the United States eased its sanctions on Sudan in the field of Information Technology.

Google has officially opened its play store in Sudan and canceled the technical ban on the store. Previously, the store had to be accessed through unofficial routes like changing the IP address and location to open the application on Android smartphones.

 

Kuwait

Overview

After sentencing the opposition MP Musallam al-Barak -known for the remarkably high number of voters who supported him in the elections- to two years in prison in February 2015 under the pretext of insulting the Emir (prince), and a year earlier, the resignation of five independent MPs, including the only woman in the parliament, “Safa Hashem” In May 2014, the Kuwaiti parliament became vacant of opposition or critical voices. However, the quarrels among the MPs led to the decree of Kuwait’s Emir, “Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah,” dissolving the parliament in October 2016,Then one month later, in November 2016, 50 MPs were elected forming the Kuwaiti parliament.

Despite Kuwait’s relative openness in comparison to the other Gulf countries, and despite the rise in the democratic margin, things are still largely in the hands of the Emir, and the main cause of prosecution continues to be the alleged insult of the Emir. This is seen by some Kuwaiti citizens as evidence for a sharp decline in freedom of expression and press freedom in Kuwait, while others see it as evidence for the ongoing openness compared to the other Gulf countries, in which citizens do not dare to criticize their rulers.

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Sector

The population of Kuwait in 2016 reached about 4 million people, while the country has achieved a huge rate of mobile phone users among Gulf countries, reaching about 194%[17].  The number of Internet users until the end of December 2016 reached about 3.3 million users, while it was about 3 million users at the end of 2014.

Internet services were interrupted and cut twice in 2016. On February 12, 2016, the Ministry of Communications announced that Internet services in Kuwait and some international communication services had experienced technical malfunctions and irregular interruptions, which resulted in slow Internet service following a malfunction in the GCC’s main marine cable.

Kuwait also witnessed a malfunction in Internet services from 2 to 6 November 2016, which the government said was due to the maintenance of the maritime cable.

The legal environment

The infamous flawed Law No. 63 of 2015, known as the cybercrime law, entered into force in January 2016, after its approval by the National Assembly in June 2015, and it was published in the gazette in July 2015.

The law contains 21 articles which constitute a direct violation against the right to freedom of opinion, belief and expression, especially articles 4, 6 and 7.

The law criminalizes a number of means of expression on the Internet, by loose ambiguous articles that failed to define a specific definition of “breaching public morals”, “insulting and contempt of the judiciary or public prosecution” and “contempt of or insulting the Constitution of the State”

This enabled the executive authorities to use these articles to target online activists, who express views that the state considers controversial about religious, political or social issues.

The law also punishes a number of acts stipulated in article 28 of the Press and Publications Law (No. 3/2006), including “spreading incitement to overthrow the regime”, and does not provide a specific interpretation for it, which puts the legitimate activities of human rights defenders under the guillotine of loose interpretations of the law.[20]

Several international human rights organizations and political movements have declared their rejection to the law as a new restrictive law strangling freedoms, especially freedom of opinion and expression, under the guise of combating cybercrime, among previous similar laws.

Law No. 8 of 2016 on electronic media also entered into force after its issuance by the Council of Ministers on Sunday, February 7, 2016, and its bylaws were issued by the Ministry of Information under Ministerial Resolution No. 100 of 2016. The law obligates those wishing to establish or operate websites and electronic media to obtain a license from the ministry.. It also obliges citizens who require the license to appoint a manager responsible for the website with difficult conditions that must be met by this director in order to obtain the license.[21]

On November 1, 2016, the Ministry of Information issued Ministerial Resolution No. 147 of 2016 abolishing the last paragraph of Article No. 6 of the bylaws of Law No. 8 of 2016, which allowed websites and the electronic media to conduct opinion polls related to the National Assembly elections without having to obtain prior approvals.[22]

Social media and blogs:

Kuwait is one of the highest countries in terms of using social networking websites, particularly Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

At the end of 2016, the number of Facebook users reached around 2.4 million, while it was 1.5 million in 2015, according to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information’s report “#Turn_around_and_Go_back”.

Security and judicial persecutions

Kuwait holds three records, two of them are shameful, it holds the record for the number of Twitter users in terms of population and Internet users, not only among the Arab countries, but also internationally, nonetheless, it also holds the record in terms of the number of legal prosecutions for Twitter users and prosecuting critics on Twitter under the pretext of “insulting the Emir”.

The period from 2015 to December 2016 witnessed a remarkable political activity for social networks users, which was met by the Kuwaiti authorities met with more repressive pursuits and unfair trials against many social network activists to silence opposition and critical voices, and to limit their impact on public opinion under several accusations, including “insulting the Emir”, “spreading false news,” “insulting Saudi Arabia” and “contempt of religions.”

Social networks has such power that it made Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah warn of what he described as “The abuse of social media tools” in a speech on Monday evening, June 27, 2016.[23]

Examples of persecution of Internet activists in Kuwait:

Tweep Sara Al-Derees

Sara Al-Derees was charged with insulting the Emir and contempt of religions during the period covered by the report. On October 6, 2016, the Kuwaiti Criminal Court released tweep Sara Al-Derees on bail of 500 Kuwaiti Dinars (1656 US dollars) and imposed a travel ban on her, on the basis of a tweet which the Ministry of Interior considered an “insult to the Emir” despite Sara’s explanation in later tweets that she meant to insult the naive people who humiliated her for receiving an amnesty from the Emir previously.

On April 13, 2016, the Misdemeanors Court acquitted her from “contempt of religion” following a complain by a lawyer submitted to the Attorney General on November 4, 2015, the lawyer accused Al-Derees of insulting Prophet Muhammed in reference to a tweet she wrote about a novel of the heritage books on the Prophet’s marriage to Sayyidah Safiyah bint Huyay ibn Akhtab, deeming it incompatible with Sharia’a, raising the importance of reviewing the heritage books and looking into the validity of the novels, in order to be consistent with reality and not to be exploited by extremist groups, who could rely on such novels as a reference for following into the footsteps of “ISIS”), which is what the lawyer found “insulting to the prophet”.[24]

Tweep Waleed Fares

On 20 October, 2016, the Court of Appeal ordered the suspension of the prison sentence of Waleed Fares Nawaf Hayes, accused of running “Gibrit Seyassi” account, and ordered his release pending the case.

On February 12, 2016, the Kuwaiti Criminal Court sentenced Waleed Fares, AKA “Gibrit Seyassi”, a Kuwaiti who belongs to the stateless “bedoon” (citizens with no citizenship rights), to ten years imprisonment with labor, for deliberately and disseminating false news and malicious rumors about the country’s internal situation abroad, in addition to overtly insulting the Emir (Prince) challenging his rights and authority in a written public post, and offending the judiciary, the Attorney General and Public Prosecution members, challenging their impartiality and concern for their work, as well as their commitment to the provisions of the law, against the background of his tweets on Twitter criticizing the political situation in Kuwait.[25]

al-Fintas Group

The Kuwaiti Court of Appeal is still considering the case known as the “Fintas Group” case,  in which a number of the ruling family members “Sheiks” are accused, and the court of first instance sentenced seven group members to prison for different periods.

On May 30, 2016, the Criminal Court sentenced seven members out of a 13-member Whatsapp group to prison terms of between 1 and 10 years; Falah al-Hajraf, Abdulmohsen al-Ateeqi, Sheikh Khalifa al-Ali, Sheikh Ahmed Dawood and Sheikh Athbi al fahd were sentenced to 5 years, Saud al-Asfour sentenced to one year, and also sentenced in absentia to imprison Hamad al-Haruon 10 years, while Ahmed Siyar, Mohammed al-Jassim, Yousuf al-Issa, Mashary Buyabas, Fawaz al-Sabah and Jarrah al-Dhafiri were acquitted..

On 9 July 2015, the Kuwaiti Attorney-General, counselor ‘Darar Al-Assousi”, issued an arrest warrant for13 whatsapp group members, including four members of the ruling family, and charged them with “spreading false news that would harm the country and its security, defamation and insulting judges, questioning their integrity and accusing them of bribery.” The prosecution also charged them with “misusing the telephone.”[26]

Sheikh Abdullah Salim Al-Sabah

The suppression of freedom of expression affected members of the ruling family, including Sheikh Abdullah Salem Al-Sabah, one of the grandchildren of the Emir’s brother, on the basis of his tweets. He was arrested by Kuwaiti security authorities on his return to Kuwait on June 5, 2015, accused of “Insulting the Emir”, and spreading false news that would destabilize security through posts on the social networking website “Twitter”. On July 28, 2015, the Criminal Court acquitted  Abdullah Salem Al-Sabah and press sources stated that the ruling of innocence came from the conviction of the Court that Abdullah is not the owner of the twitter account writing in his name.[27]

Tweeps opposing the war on Yemen

Many online activists rejected the war launched by Saudi Arabia in cooperation with the Gulf states and some Arab countries along with Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi on March 26, 2015, against Houthi militants and ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s forces. They peacefully expressed their rejection of the war in Yemen, which the Kuwaiti government considered offensive to Saudi Arabia, jeopardizing ties with the kingdom. It arrested many tweeps, including pilot captain Ahmad Ashour, who was sentenced on July 28, 2015, to three years in prison for insulting Saudi Arabia, after tweeting on his account describing the war in Yemen as a “cowardly war.”[28]

The State Security also arrested lawyer and member of the National Assembly, “Khaled Hussein Al-Shatti,” following his tweets in which he was criticizing the military campaign in Yemen. Al-Shatti was charged with insulting the Emir’s powers, frustrating the morale of the army men and jeopardizing ties with Saudi Arabia.[29]

 

Tunisia

Overview

Tunisia has a population of about 11.2 million, despite expectations of a more open climate with steps towards legislative reform to protect freedom of expression on the Internet and freedom of information in line with the principles of the revolution and democratic transition. However, under the pretext of war against terrorism, recent months have witnessed a marked decline in freedom of the Internet in Tunisia, where there have been prosecutions and arrests against the backdrop of publishing articles criticizing the government, institutions or representatives of the authority on various social networks, private blogs or press websites.

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Sector

Tunisie Telecom (Tunicell) dominates the fixed-line telephony market with 89% of subscribers, followed by Orange Tunisie (6.9%) and Ooredoo (3.5%). As for the mobile phone, the number of subscribers  reached more than 14.9 million users[30] distributed among four companies: Tunisie Telecom, Ooredoo, Lyca Mobile and Orange Tunisie.

Lyca Mobile has joined the Tunisian telecom market, which has seen an increase in growth and new investments in recent years. The telecom market after this company joined became divided among four major telecommunications operators: Tunisie Telecom, Ooredoo, Orange Tunisie & Lyca Mobile.

The Internet services market has also witnessed a growth in recent times, whether over fixed-line or 3G. There has been some expansion and relatively slow deployment in terms of optic fiber cables that provide high-speed Internet access.

The number of internet users in Tunisia is estimated at 7.5 million, of which there are about 6 million Facebook users, while the number of Twitter users has reached 250 thousand, which represents a huge boom, especially in the number of Twitter users, where there were no more than 110 thousand at the beginning 2015.

The legal environment

The Tunisian parliament ratified a new anti-terrorism law on July 25, 2015, raising concerns about human rights and freedom of expression in Tunisia, where many shortcomings were observed, such as the detention without trial for several days, and the government’s right to monitor the Internet and the means of communication, nonetheless, it contained articles that give the right for journalists not to disclose their sources.

On July 25, 2015, the Tunisian parliament ratified the anti-terrorism law[31], which has been widely contested by its disparate effects on freedom of opinion and expression. Although the law criminalizes the use of exceptional investigative methods such as penetration or wiretapping without a warrant, at the same time, it contains some loose ambiguous articles and definitions that open the door for exploitation to restrict freedom of opinion and expression on the Internet and in situations that do not constitute acts of violence or terrorism.

The responsibility for law enforcement and administration regarding Internet connectivity within Tunisia and falls under the functions of the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, under which three semi-autonomous administrative structures come with different competences and authorities, these are the National Telecommunications Commission, the Tunisian Internet Agency and the Technical Agency for Telecommunications.The Tunisian constitution also guarantees freedom of online media, as well as other decrees and laws that at the same level as the constitution.

Blocking or deleting content

There have been no documented incidents of governmental content blocking on the Internet in recent times. While officials said on more than one occasion that there would be no censorship of the Internet in Tunisia[32], Minister of Communication Technologies and Digital Economy Nouman Fihri admitted that there were some attempts to cooperate and coordinate with companies that own social networks to shut down pages that promote violence and extremism. According to Facebook’s Transparency Report, the Tunisian government sent one request to inquire about 48 users[33], while Google received one request to delete content under the pretext of defamation[34]. Twitter did not receive any requests for deletion or queries. However, Inkyfada website was exposed to a cyber attack and stopped working for days after hours of publishing information about the involvement of Tunisians in the famous scandal of the “Panama Papers”. There are no clear evidence as to the source of the cyber attacks.

Important online capaigns

#مانيش_مسامح (I do not forgive)

Activists launched the campaign #Manish_Messameh or I do not forgive, against the law of reconciliation proposed by President Beji Caid al-Sebsi in mid-2016, and referred by the government to Parliament for approval. The campaign was led by the opposition, young revolutionaries and representatives of civil society, because of what they considered legislation for reconciliation with the businessmen involved in corruption cases under the regime of Ben Ali, to justify their impunity and to let them get away with their crimes against the Tunisian people in exchange for the return of the looted money.

#ولدك_في_دارك (Your son at home)

Activists launched a campaign on social network websites in the summer of 2016 under the title “weldak fi darak” or”Your son at home.” The campaign’s theme was to demand that the president has to put an end to the interference of his son Hafez al-Sibsi in the affairs of the state, and not to confuse his role as a father with his job as a head of state. The hashtag was inspired from Ammar Amousia’s speech during a session to withdraw confidence from the government of al Habib al Sayd, where he addressed to the Tunisian President, saying “Your son at home” hinting to the favoritism of the President of Tunisia to his son, allowing him to intervene in state affairs taking advantage of his father’s post.

#إحترم_القانون، #طبق_القانون (Respect the law & Implement the law)

In the fall of 2016, some civil society activists launched a campaign calling for respecting and enforcing the law under the title “Respect the law” & “Implement the law”, the campaign was to urge citizens to respect and abide by the law, without discrimination and under all circumstances. The campaign seeks to convince all Tunisians to engage and defend it by signing the “Citizens Committed to Tunisia” statement.

Security and judicial persecutions

Mohammed al Youssofi[35]

On January 15, 2016, Muhammad Youssofi, the editor-in-chief of “Haqaeq Online” website, was summoned to the National Research Unit for Terrorist Crimes in Awina against the backdrop of publishing articles on terrorism in Tunisia.

“This is an attempt to intimidate journalists from engaging in terrorism issues, it is a bad indicator from the new government, and an attempt to involve the judiciary in limiting and restricting the freedom of the press,” said the head of the Tunisian Journalists Syndicate Naji Baghouri who expressed his solidarity with Youssofi and the website’s staff.

Abdel Fattah Saeed

On 30 November, 2015, the Tunisian Court of First Instance sentenced blogger and mathematics professor Abdel Fattah Saeed to one year in prison and a 2,000 dinars ($ 960) fine for allegedly insulting government officials on Facebook, and also for his declaration in a video in which he accused some public officials of being involved in the terrorist attack in Sousse.

Several solidarity demonstrations with blogger Abdel Fattah Saeed were held demanding his release, saying that what he did was an act of freedom of opinion and expression, which is enshrined and protected by the Tunisian constitution.

Muhib al-Tumi[36]

Security forces arrested al-Tumi in July 2015 on the basis of a post on his  Facebook account, criticizing some security officers’ transgressions against the law in incidents of violence, which took place during “where is the oil” campaign, in addition to charges of insulting the President. His trial has been postponed several times. The trial procedures are still ongoing. Al-Tumi said in a press statement that the post for which he is facing trial dates back to 2012. He added that during the trial the charges against him were altered from insulting the president, assaulting and inciting against national security personnel, to public defamation, in an attempt, in his opinion, to take the case out of its human rights context and to violate freedom of opinion and expression.

“Nawaat” website journalists[37]

On Wednesday, September 30, 2015, Nawaat website press staff were subjected to physical and verbal assault by security officers in Bab Saadoun area while covering a student demonstration against the reconciliation bill, despite the fact that they showed their press cards, they were beaten by a number of security personnel who tried to take them to the police station and to confiscate and destroy their equipment.

Nour al-Din al-Mubaraki[38]

On July 8, 2015, the judicial authorities charged Nour al-Din al-Mubaraki, the editor-in-chief of Akher Khabar online news website, of complicity with terrorism for publishing a photograph showing Saif al-Din al-Rizki, who killed 38 foreigners in the June 26 in Sousse terrorist attack, as he was getting out of a vehicle, just before he went to the beach and opened fire. The investigating judge said to al-Mubaraki that he is facing charges of “facilitating the escape of terrorists” according to chapter 18 of the 2003 Anti-Terrorism Law, because the image he published might cause the ongoing investigation to be disrupted, because it might serve as an alert to Rizki’s partners. It worth mentioning that the new anti-terrorism law that provides protection for journalists who refrain from disclosing their sources was not approved at that time.

Rached Khiari & Jamel Arfaoui[39]

The prosecution charged Rached Khiari, chief editor of the newspaper and website Al Sadaa (The Echo) on November 16, 2016, with impugning the reputation of the army and undermining its morale under both the code of military justice and the penal code. Khiari appeared before the investigating judge for the first time on November 21. On September 26, the military prosecutor charged Jamel Arfaoui, an independent journalist, with impugning the reputation of the army in an article on the website Tunisie-telegraph.com, under article 91 of the code of military justice. Both are free pending trial.

Afra ben Azza[40]

Afra Ben Azza, a 17-year old third-year student at a secondary school in al-Kaf, who is active in the student movement and an independent activist.  Police arrested her on Wednesday 16 December 2015 in Al-Kaf city on the backdrop of taking part in a protest denouncing the negligence of Cafe Sidi Makhlouf, which is considered to be one of the historic sites in Al-Kaf. The arrest was accompanied by verbal and physical violence by the police, and according to her mother and sister, who heard her screaming, violence was also used in the police department during the interrogation without the presence of a lawyer, she was forced to sign the record of search and the record of her detention although she is a minor. She was also charged with launching a campaign against security for denouncing police violence on social media. The juvenile judge released her on January 29, 2016.

 

Oman

Overview

Although the Sultanate of Oman seeks to provide infrastructure and telecommunications services and increase the types of services and expand the geographical reach, it left the user community prey to companies and high prices, which forced citizens to call for the boycott of Omantel and Ooredoo in October 2016.

As with most Arab governments, the government launched a number of initiatives to increase the outreach of Internet service in the Sultanate, focusing on broadband access at high speeds, but sought to occupy the pages of social networks and gain control over websites, imprisoning and prosecuting Internet activists who criticize the government and demand administrative and political reform.

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Sector

Oman’s population was about 4.6 million people by the end of 2016. Oman’s telecommunications services provided by 13 operators subdivided into three categories:

The first category is government and private companies that have a telecommunications infrastructure, or companies that provide international public telecommunication services through international outlets. These types of licenses are issued by a royal decree. These include Oman Telecommunications Company (Omantel), Qatari Telecommunications – Ooredoo, al Madakhel for investments, FRiENDi mobile, Awaser Oman and Samatel for telecommunications).

The second category the companies that provide the service of reselling the mobile telecommunications services using the infrastructure of the operators of the first category. It is issued by a decision of the Minister of Transport and Communications. This category includes (Majan Telecom, Renna, FRiENDi, Samatel, Zagel for telecommunications and Via cloud Muscat LLc)

The third category companies that provide private telecommunications services that are not connected to the public telecommunications network. These include companies such as Azian Telecom and Regent Middle East. [41]

At the end of June 2016, OTI acquired Majan Telecom’s share in Renna Mobile.

The total number of fixed line lines reached 470 thousand lines by the end of 2016. The number of mobile phone users exceeded 6.5 million by the end of 2016. The total fixed broadband users which includes DSL, leased lines and WiMAX reached 276,643 users. The number of broadband Internet users reached 3,910,685 users.  [42]

The Sultanate of Oman is considered the last bastion of online forums, it remains the most important means of communication and dialogue in the Sultanate, even

though number of Facebook users has increased significantly since 2014, with 1.6 million users at the end of 2016, while Twitter is ranking behind in usage in Oman, with the number of Twitter users not more than 200,000.

The legal and legislative environment

The authorities continued to put freedom of opinion and expression on the Internet and on the means of communication under siege through the Telecommunications Regulatory Law issued by Royal Decree No. 30/2002, which provides for the punishment of any person who sends a message contrary to the regime or public morals through any means of communication. These are loose ambiguous expressions that allow the Omani authorities to prosecute Internet activists. It also continued to use the Press and Publications Law, the Control of Artistic Works Act, the Private Enterprise Law and the IT Crimes Act issued by Royal Decree No. 12/2011 to suppress critical voices calling for reform.

Security and judicial persecutions

The Omani authorities have continued to impose restrictions on freedom Internet by prosecuting journalists, websites and social media critics, under broad provisions of the Penal Code and the Press and Publications Act.

The authorities arrested and prosecuted a number of social networks’ activists, against the backdrop of solidarity with the newspaper “Azamn” closed by the Ministry of Information, blocking its website with orders issued by the Minister of Information on August 9, 2016, under a ministerial decision against the background of the newspaper raising questions about suspicions of corruption of public officials, and allegations of intervention by the President of the Supreme Court in the judgments of the judiciary on the pretext of “implementing instructions of higher authorities.”

Tweep Saqr Al-Balushi

Activist Saqr Al-Balushi was arrested after appearing before the special section of the General Directorate of Oman Police (Intelligence service)  in Muscat after being summoned by phone by the Internal Security Agency on October 5, 2016, against the backdrop of his support for Azamn newspaper. He was not allowed to have a lawyer, and he was only allowed once to communicate with his family to inform them that he would remain in custody.

He was previously a member of the municipal council of the state of Lui. He was arrested after participating in a protest on 22 August, 2013, against the emission of toxic gases from industrial facilities in Sohar Port. The Interior Ministry then issued a decision to replace Sakr Al-Balushi for the municipality and prevented him from running in the next election.[43]

Poet Mohammed al-Harithi

In mid-August 2016, the security arrested poet Mohammed al-Harithi for one day without disclosing the reasons. The arrest was believed to have been the result of tweeting denouncing the arrest of three journalists from Azamn newspaper, in addition to his views against corruption in the country.

Author and story writer Hamoud Al-Shakily

On October 18, 2016, the court of first instance in Muscat sentenced Hamoud Al-Shakily, author and story writer, to three years’ imprisonment, a fine of OMR 1,000 (about $ 2,600) and a guarantee of OMR 5,000 (about $ 13,000) in the case of submitting an apeal, against the background of posting a symbolic poem on his Facebook account, appealing to his audience to break the barriers of silence and fear.[44]

Author and story writer Hamoud Al-Shakily was arrested on 14 August 2016 in solitary confinement and entered a hunger strike for a few days on 27 September 2016.

Activist Hassan Mubarak Al-Balushi

On 13 June 2016, the Sohar Court of Appeal upheld the prison sentences of activist Hassan Mubarak Al-Balushi, known as Hassan al-Basham, abolishing the fine for the second charge of “insulting the Sultan”. The court of first instance in Sohar sentenced al-Basham on February 8, 2016 to prison after being found guilty of “openly blaspheming against god”, “insulting the sultan” and “using the web to violate religious values”.

Human Rights Defender Saeed Jaddad

Prominent human rights defender Saeed Jaddad spent his one-year imprisonment and was released on 26 August 2016. He was accused of “using the Internet to threaten public order,” against the backdrop of topics he wrote in commemoration of the protest movement in Salalah on February 25, 2011, and also for writing a letter to Barack Obama, in which he expressed his displeasure with US policies on human rights in the Gulf region.

Security forces arrested Jaddad after midnight on November 25, 2015. He was deported to Arzat Prison in Salalah to fulfill a sentence handed down by the first instance court in Salalah on 7 April, 2015, and upheld by the court of appeal in the same city on 18 November, 2015, to one year imprisonment and a fine of 1000 Omani Rials (about $ 2,600).[45]

E-journal “Mowatin” suspends its activities to protect its writers and employees

On January 14, 2016, the Omani e-magazine “Mowatin” announced that it had stopped publications, “To protect the safety of its writers and employees”.[46]

The editor-in-chief of “Mowatin”, activist and author “Mohammed al-Fizari” was threatened, security harassment, his personal documents were confiscated and he was banned from traveling for several months before deciding to leave Oman in July 2015, “illegally” and seeking asylum in the United Kingdom.

The special section of the Omani police headquarters in Muscat (the executive arm of the Internal Security Agency), summonded human rights defender and one of the editors of the magazine, Basma al-Badi, who had been interrogated for three consecutive days and forced to sign a pledge not to work with “Mowatin” and to put an end to communicating with all human rights activists.[47]

It is noteworthy that the e-magazine “Mowaten” focused on human rights issues, protection of public freedoms in Oman, and worked to create a free and innovative media thought that reflects the events and issues of the Omani society.

 

Lebanon

Overview

In October 2016, the former commander of the Lebanese army, Michel Aoun, was elected president of Lebanon, after a 30-month deadlock, in which Lebanon witnessed several crises, including two Internet scandals:

The first: “Waste Scandal” concerning export contracts found to be forged for fictitious companies, as the government and those who were involved, worked on withdrawing these contracts from circulation as fast as possible, to avoid being held accountable. [48]

The second is the scandal of illegal Internet networks that were blown up when the ISPs filed a complaint submitted to the Ministry of Communications in January 2016 against 12 companies licensed by the Ministry of Communications selling Internet illegally. This illegal sector accounts for 30% of the Internet market in Lebanon, which amounts to a huge financial loss in the state treasury, estimated at 200 million dollars a year, as announced by the Minister of Finance Ali Hassan Khalil during the meeting of the parliamentary communications committee in the House of Representatives in March 2016. “[49]

The involvement of public figures in the recent scandal has echoed in the Lebanese and Arab media. Detainees in this case may face other charges, such as spying for foreign countries, especially since the illegal networks were closely linked to Cyprus and Israel.

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Sector

Lebanon is one of the countries with the highest and most expensive Internet access. Illegal networks may seem an attractive option for the Lebanese citizen, providing Internet service at a much lower price than the state.

Lebanon has a population of 5.9 million, including hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, which in turn increased the number of Internet users to about 4.5 million users, most of whom access the Internet via mobile phones.

Facebook is the favored social network of Lebanon’s Internet users, with 3.2 million users at the end of 2016, while Twitter users are around 350,000 a modest rise from 250,000 at the end of 2014. The reason for this is the decline of Twitter in general and the fierce competition with new networks such as Snapchat.

Legal environment regulating the ICT Sector

The State has not moved towards the implementation of the draft law on electronic transactions and personal data, except after convening a subcommittee to discuss the law in July 2015. The Committee pledged to hold more meetings to discuss the rest of the provisions of the law, and there hasn’t been any announcements regarding the implementation of this law.

The anger of the Internet Police, the office known as “Combating Cybercrime”, continues as Internet freedom of expression is increasingly violated by summons and inquiries of Internet users, particularly social networks.

In general, Lebanese laws do not protect privacy. The Lebanese user has suffered from surveillance and monitoring, not only by the state but also by third parties and other countries. Some countries, individuals and entities, have been able to establish illegal networks in the absence of a solid legal system that protects the user’s personal data.

Political mobility and its impact on the Internet in Lebanon

The most prominent event in the Internet community in Lebanon was the Lebanese protests known as “you smell” or “Talaat_Rihtkm”, which took place between July and October 2015, the protests were the largest in recent years, but they differ in their organization and launch from the Cedar Revolution on several levels, the most significant difference is the role of the web in organizing and spreading news about the places of gathering, updates, photos, and determining goals.

“you smell” is connected to the aforementioned scandal referred to in the report, the waste scandal and the involvement in contracts with fictitious companies.

During the period of the Lebanese movement the Hashtag # Talaat_Rihtkm was the most trending on “Twitter”. The number of followers of the page “Talaat Reitkm” on Facebook and Twitter reached hundreds of thousands, in addition to other pages that covered the protests at the time.

Judiciary pursuits against Internet activists

Pledges of silence

There is no legislation in Lebanon that would protect Internet activists or journalists from prosecution, thus freedom of opinion and expression in Lebanon is at risk.

Although the Lebanese political and social environment has been the most open among the Arab countries, the Office of “Combating Cybercrimes”, which has been operating since 2006, plays the role of pursuit after activists and journalists, rather than doing its job, which is protecting personal data, combating defamation and protecting users from hackers attempting to steal their accounts.

One of the most famous violations by the Office of “Combating Cybercrimes” in Lebanon is the so-called “pledges of silence”, which are statements and pledges that the office compels an activist to sign after hours of investigation, in which the activist undertakes an oath not to talk about the issue which is the subject of the investigation, whether it is about a public figure, or a general issue.

Photographer Ali Khalifa

AKA “the photoshop indicted”, was arrested on February 8, 2016 after storming his home. “This was because he was accused of distorting pictures of President Rafik Hariri adding abusive terms and sharing them on some social networking websites. He was released two days after his interrogation at the Saida Prosecution, the goal behind his arrest was to deliver a message to silence and a stop him from criticizing. The police demanded from his mother to ask him to stop what he was doing on Facebook.

Nabil Halabi

Police forces broke into the house of lawyer Nabil al-Halabi in May 2016, claiming that he did not respond to a summoning for investigation in an accusation by a security official charging Halabi of insulting and defaming him, as Halabi asked the Lebanese Ministry of Interior to cleanse itself from corruption.

As usual, Halabi spent his night with the security services before he was released, after he received a message of intimidation.

Bassel Al Amin

After the young Lebanese Basil al-Amin watched a video of a Syrian refugee kneeling, almost naked, in front of a Lebanese man, he wrote on Facebook with rage: “The shoes of a refugee, worker and Syrian citizen is better than your Republic, your cedar, your Lebanon, your oath, your independence, your government, your history, your revolution and your presidency.”

Bassel al-Amin was detained and held for seven days on charges of insulting national symbols, he was subsequently released on bail.

Blocking websites

The Lebanese authorities continue their policy of blocking “pornography” websites and sites that “encourage inter-communal strife”.

Surveillance is a real issue in Lebanon. In the majority of Arab countries the Internet is subject to censorship by the state, which increases the scope of repression and restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression. In Lebanon however, the user is monitored by the state and by other countries. The Internet scandal announced by Minister of Communications Boutros Harb revealed that Lebanese Internet user may be a victim of other countries and entities that penetrate his/her data and violate his/her privacy. Lebanese citizens became victims between the hammer of the state control and the anvil of other countries and entities monitoring them.

 

 

Egypt

Overview

The most important feature of the Internet in Egypt over the past two years is the Egyptian government’s interest in so-called “cybercrime” and the enactment of legislations, introducing new bills that encapsulate freedom of expression on the Internet to the Parliament.

In addition to many legal and political prosecutions during these two years, which came as a result of a huge campaign of surveillance and monitoring of Internet users, especially on Facebook and Twitter. Repeated security summons of Internet activists, whether to deliver a message: “you are being watched” or as an attempt to recruit them. As part of a large-scale operation aimed at blocking the public sphere and aborting any opportunity for public mobilization, similar to the movement of January 2011.

Moreover, the state is interested in having a strong presence on the social network websites, and even compete with the users in the so-called “Hashtag activism” through media figures close to the state or the so-called e-committees that work for them, besides the pages of ministries on social network websites, especially Facebook and Twitter .

This happens because of the impact of the Internet in general, and social network websites in particular, on Egyptian society and Egyptian political life, it is so strong that we can say that there is a strong “cyber” society in Egypt.

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Sector

By the end of 2016, the number of Egyptians living inside Egypt was about 92 million, not to mention Egyptians living abroad and emigrants.

In 2016, the Egyptian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology issued a report stating that the number of fixed telephone subscribers in 2016 amounted to about 6 million subscribers, which means a continued decline of landline usage, and the number of mobile phone subscribers in June 2016 reached about 97 million users, which means that number of mobile phone lines exceeds the population.

The number of Internet users in Egypt is about 56 million users, including about 45 million Facebook users, which means that Egypt continues to be at the top of the Arab countries in Facebook usage, though the ratio is small compared to the population, while the number of Twitter users amounted to about 7 million, which ranks Egypt second in twitter usage after Saudi Arabia, which takes the lead in terms of the number of Twitter users.

Legal Environment regulating the ICT sector

On April 16, 2015, the Egyptian state issued a new cybercrime law that included the following items:

1- Any person who enters an information network that would stop the network, disable it, limit its efficiency, interfere with it, obstruct it, intercept it or interfere with its work, shall be punished by imprisonment and a fine of not less than EGP 50,000 and not more than EGP 250,000.

2- Anyone who uses an e-mail that does not belong to him/her shall be punished by imprisonment and a fine of not more than 5,000 EGP. Imprisonment and a fine of not less than five thousand Egyptian pounds and not more than ten thousand Egyptian pounds shall be the punishment for anyone who creates an e-mail or a website and attribute it falsely to a natural or legal personality

  1. 3. Anyone who establishes or takes part in the establishment of an information network aimed at promoting any crime provided for in the Penal Code or any special law shall be punished by imprisonment for a period not less than two years.

A person who is responsible for the actual administration of any legal personality shall be punished if the website or e-mail of the entity he/she administers is exposed to any of the crimes provided for in this law.

  1. 4. The law grants force to the competent authorities of inquiry and control, if the presence of websites inside or outside the Republic places any words, numbers, pictures, films, propaganda or other materials that threaten national security. The investigative authority shall present the application for permission to the Criminal Court, which shall be held in a counseling room within twenty-four hours, accompanied by a memorandum of opinion. The Criminal Court shall issue its decision in the application, on the same day as the offer either by acceptance or rejection[50].

The last article of the law is the most dangerous, since there is no concrete definition in the Constitution or the Egyptian law of what is “national security” and it is left open to the interpretation of the authorities.

Not only did the Egyptian state introduce this law, but it also submitted a bill to the Parliament, which provides for the death penalty for so-called cybercrimes, and the Parliament approved the bill, which has not been implemented yet. [51]

Internet Surveillance

On April 1, 2016, Reuters published a report on Egypt’s suspension of Facebook’s “free basics internet” at the end of 2015. The agency attributed the reason for the suspension to the company’s refusal to allow the Egyptian authorities to monitor the electronic accounts on Facebook. The Egyptian authorities did not deny or respond to the report. Facebook’s administration did not give details of the Egyptian requests or how the Egyptian authorities wanted to monitor the accounts, but it did not deny the report either.

It seems that Internet users in Egypt, especially on social network websites such as Facebook, Twitter and others, are fully aware that they are under surveillance, and users have indicated their knowledge through the hashtag #Wearemonitored, yet the Egyptian authorities have made no effort to deny, while Internet activists arrests have risen and escalated.

The prosecution also used to provide screenshots of publications by some of the accused in political cases writing on their personal pages or pages attributed to them as evidence for the charges against them.

Not only has the Egyptian state issued laws restricting freedom of Internet, but it also bought surveillance and penetration systems from Italian and French companies, according to various press releases.

The aim of these technologies is to tighten the security grip completely on Internet users in Egypt.

But was the Egyptian authority satisfied to this extent?

This was the hope of many activists and advocates of Internet freedom, but they were all very disappointed.

The most significant shift in the history of the state’s relationship with the Internet took place on May 24, when the state blocked a number of news websites, in a move that has not been carried out by the various political regimes that ruled Egypt, including Mubarak, the Military Council, Muslim Brotherhood, or the July 3 regime.

In mid-May, the authorities blocked a number of news websites at the beginning, and then expanded the blocking to include several other websites, totally unrelated to politics, such as the site “Korabia”, the blocking amounted to hundreds of websites with different activities and backgrounds.

The matter did not stop at blocking websites, but extended to the Tor service as a network, or browser to bypass blocking, and also the “bridges”, which are used to bypass Tor blocking.

In addition to Tor, a number of websites that provide VPN and Proxies have also been blocked.

In order to tighten the control, the Egyptian authorities blocked “Signal private messenger” in Egypt for several days, before the application’s developers came out with a solution, and they used the Google domains to bypass the blocking.

For purely profitable reasons, telecom operators, at various times, block VoIP services such as Skype on mobile networks.

Security and judiciary pursuits:

First: Internet cases

Facebook and Twitter:

Several lawsuits have been filed demanding shutting down Facebook and Twitter in Egypt, under the pretext of inciting violence, some lawsuits have been rejected, others are still being considered by the judiciary.

The Ministry of Interior closed 163 Facebook pages because of incitement to violence.

This is not the number of pages that were closed by the Ministry of Interior on Facebook, but it is rather the number of pages mentioned in one news article[52] among hundreds of pages that have been closed, besides the arrests of hundreds of Facebook users.

There are many accusations leveled against those who are arrested, the most important of these charges:

Insulting the President on the Internet,

Stirring up public opinion and obstructing state institutions,

Incitement to overthrow the regime,

Incitement to violence

According to theses charges, the detainee may remain in jail for months and may be tried for years in jail. Among those imprisoned on account of these broad charges:

Poet Ghazi Habiba

Lawyer Malik Adly.

Poet Khaled Said

Activist Nayel Hassan

You can write on Google’s search engine (Ministry of Interior closes pages on Facebook, or, the Ministry of Interior arrests…  because of Facebook) to get some of the results documented by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, including about 350 pages closed, as well as dozens arrested for posting on Facebook.

The heavy presence of the state on social network websites:

It should be noted that the President of the State has an official Facebook page, as well as the Ministry of Interior, and the armed forces. All these pages interact actively.

A prominent media figure who is a fierce supporter of the regime has launched a public poll on Twitter asking: Do you support Sisi’s candidacy for a second term? The result came on Twitter: 89% No, forcing him to close the poll and appear on TV, stressing that the result was forged by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Internet & Social Networks Users in the Arab World

February 2017

 

Country Inhabitants & residents by millions Internet users Facebook users Twitter users
Jordan 9 million 7.5 million 5,2 million 400,000
Emirates 9.2 million 8,5 million 7 million 2,5 million
Bahrain 1,5 million 1,4 million 800,000 500,000
Algeria 40 million 17 million 15 million 250,000
Saudi Arabia 31 million 21 million 15 million 9 million
Sudan 37,5 million 13 million 5 million 120,000
Kuwait 4 million 3,3 million 2,4 million 2 million
Tunisia 11,2 million 7,5 million 6 million 250,000
Oman 4,6 million 3,9 million 1,6 million 200,000
Lebanon 5,9 million 4,5 million 3,2 million 350,000
Egypt 92 million 56 million 45 million 7 million
Morocco 35 million 21,5 million 8 million 250,000
Yemen 28 million 7 million 2.2 million 100,000
Syria* 19 million 5.5 million 3 million 200,000
Libya 6,5 million 2,6 million 2 million 100,000
Mauritania 4,2 million 750,000 500,000 10,000
Somalia 11 million 750,000 650,000 10,000
Qatar 2,4 million 2,1 million 1,6 million 700,000
Palestine 4,9 million 3 million 2,2 million 220,000
Iraq 38 million 5 million 3,5 million 250,000
Total 394,9 191,8 129,85 Around 24.5 million

The battle is not over.. Internet and the Arab governments pdf

—————————————————

[1]     An article on 7iber website http://7iber.com/technology/jordan-blocking-corporate-websites/” Last visit: 17 December 2016.

[2]     An article on 7iber website “How a facebook post can lead you to the state security court” Link: http://7iber.com/politics-economics/how-a-facebook-post-can-lead-you-to-state-security-court/Date of publishing: 8 December 2016 Last visit: 18 December 2016

[3]     An investigation published on Citizen Lab’s website on governments that use the services of “Blue Planet”:https://citizenlab.org/2013/01/planet-blue-coat-mapping-global-censorship-and-surveillance-tools/ Last Visit on 20 December 2016

[4]     A report published on Citizen Lab’s website on governments that use the services of “Fin Fisher”: https://citizenlab.org/2015/10/mapping-finfishers-continuing-proliferation/ Last Visit on 20 December 2016

[5]     A joint statement by 5 organizations on ANHRI’s website “Bahrain walks towards taking measures to intensify Internet censorship”: https://anhri.net/?p=172471Published on: 16 August 2016, Last visit: 20 December 2016

[6]           An article in al-Quds al-Arabi ”

Activist Zulekha Bellarbi fined for comparing Bouteflika aides with Hareem al-Sultan”

http://www.alquds.co.uk/?p=504023

Published on: 23 March 2016

Last visit: 16 November 2016

 

[7]           A statement on ANHRI’s website condemning the blocking of social media websites. Published on: 20 June 2016, Last visit: 19 December 2016

http://anhri.net/algeria-blocking-social-media-websites-is-a-flagrant-attack-on-the-right-to-information/?lang=en

 

[8]      http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/04/18/208633.html

Publishing date: 2012

Last visited on: November 2016

[9]      http://www.moutini.com/index.php/jordan-today/3729-2013-06-03-20-42-24

Publishing date: June 2013

Last visited on: November 2016

[10]    http://www.netsec.org.sa/ar/dwabit.htm

 

[11]          An article in the Sudanese Ashoroog network “Tahani calls upon telecom companies to fulfill the aspirations of the state”

Published on 19 September 2016, Last visit: 17 December 2016
http://www.ashorooq.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=60923:2016-09-19-08-57-19&catid=37:2008-07-30-07-04-24&Itemid=29

 

[12]          An article in al-Quds al-Araby “Sudanese citizens lead huge boycotting campaigns against a telecom company that raised internet services by300٪”

Published on: Posted on 4 February 2016, Last visit: 17 December 2016

 

[13]          A video on YouTube showing an activist expressing his discontent with Zain’s decision to raise prices.

Posted on4 February 2016, Last visit: 17 December 2016
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=id61He1M5nA

 

[14]          An article on ANHRI’s website Published on:5 January 2016

            http://anhri.net/sudan-still-censors-the-internet-arrests-media-professionals-over-defamation-charges/?lang=en

 

[15]          A statement by ANHRI condemning the raids on Internet cafes Published on 28 February 2016

http://anhri.net/sudan-anhri-condemns-raids-on-internet-cafes-in-khortum/?lang=en

 

[16]          An article in al-Nilin portal “Sudan’s NTRA blocks al-Nilin portal along with Arab and Saudi websites” Published on: 2 March 2016, Last visit: 17 December 2016

            http://www.alnilin.com/12755755.htm

 

 

[17]          Website of the Saudi Ministry of Communication and Information Technology Published on: 31 March 2016 Last Visit: 17 December 2016

            http://www.mcit.gov.sa/Ar/Communication/Pages/ReportsandStatistics/Tele-Reports-22061437_453.aspx

 

[18]          al-Watan Kuwaiti newspaper published on12 February 2016, Last visit: 16 December 2016

            http://alwatan.kuwait.tt/articledetails.aspx?id=467624

 

[19]          Annahar Kuwaiti newspaper published on1 November 2016, Last visit: 16 December 2016

            http://www.annaharkw.com/annahar/Article.aspx?id=695457

 

[20]          A joint statement by some Human RIghts organizations published on22 January 2016, Last visit 16 December 2016https://www.ifex.org/kuwait/2016/01/22/cybercrimes_law/ar/

ANHRI’s website

            http://anhri.net/?p=158414

 

[21]          Official website of Kuwaiti e-government

            https://www.e.gov.kw/sites/kgoarabic/Forms/MediaLaw082016.pdf

Law No.8 of 2016 & its bylaws, Last visit 2 Nomvember 2016

[22]          An article under title “Ministry of Information” abolishes an anrticle of the electronic media regulation law

            http://www.alraimedia.com/ar/article/local/2016/11/01/719818/nr/nc

Published on 1 November 2016, Last visit 2 November 2016

 

[23]          An article on al-Rai published on 28 June 2016, Last visit 18 December 2016

            http://www.alraimedia.com/ar/article/local/2016/06/28/690699/nr/kuwait

 

[24]          ANHRI’s website

            http://anhri.net/kuwait-a-flimsy-charge-insulting-the-emir-led-to-the-imprisonment-of-tweep-sara-al-derees/?lang=en

 

[25]          ANHRI’s website

            http://anhri.net/kuwait-anhri-condemns-the-unjust-10-year-in-prison-sentence-against-waleed-fares/?lang=en

 

[26]          ANHRI’s website

            https://anhri.net/?p=179123

 

[27]          ANHRI’s website

http://anhri.net/?p=148317

            http://anhri.net/kuwait-repression-reaches-a-ruling-familys-member-sheikh-abdullah-salim-al-sabah-interrogated-for-a-tweet-on-twitter-website/?lang=en

            http://anhri.net/?p=148280

 

[28]          ANHRI’s website

http://anhri.net/?p=148581

            http://anhri.net/?p=146581

 

[29]          ANHRI’s website

http://anhri.net/kuwait-further-police-harassment-against-tweeps-anhri-condemns-the-arrest-of-writer-khaled-al-shatti-dr-salah-al-fadly-2/?lang=en

 

[30]    http://www.intt.tn/upload/files/TB2_Mobile%20-%20Septembre%202016.pdf

Latest report by the Telecommunication National Regulatory Authority of Tunisia (INTT) on September 2016 – Last visit 19 December 2016

[31]    http://www.bct.gov.tn/bct/siteprod/documents/Loi_2015_26_fr.pdf

The counter-terrorism and money laundry law, published on the website of the Tunisian Central Bank website on: 26 August 2015, Last visit: 19 December 2016

[32]    https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20150602-tunisia-will-not-censor-internet/ Last Visit 17 December 2016

[33]    https://govtrequests.facebook.com/country/Tunisia/2015-H1/#Latest Facebook Transparancy Report – Last visit: 17 December 2016

[34]    https://www.google.com/transparencyreport/removals/government/TN/?hl=en

Google’s latest transparency report, Last visit: 17 December 2016

[35]    https://anhri.net/?p=158148

Published on 18 January 2016 – Last visit 19 December 2016

[36]    http://anhri.net/tunisia-anhri-condemns-prosecution-of-muhib-al-tumi-for-a-post-on-facebook/?lang=en

Published on 23 August 2015 – Last visit 19 December 2016

[37]    https://anhri.net/?p=151771

Published on 1 October 2015 – Last visit 19 December 2016

[38]    https://anhri.net/?p=148842

Published on 9 August 2015 – Last visit 19 December 2016

[39]    https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/11/30/tunisia-journalists-military-tribunal

Published on 30 November 2016 – Last visit 19 December 2016

[40]    https://nawaat.org/portail/2015/12/17/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D9%81%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AC-%D8%B9%D9%86-%D8%B9%D9%81%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%A1-%D8%A8%D9%86-%D8%B9%D8%B2%D8%A9/

Published on 17 December 2015 – Last visit 20 December 2016

[41]                   Oman Ministry of Transport and Communications Annual Report, Last visit20 December 2016

                http://www.motc.gov.om/Ann/2015en/index.html#/74

 

[42]                   An Article a 7.2 % increase in the number of fixed line users by the endo of November, Published in Oman Daily, Last visit 21 December 2016

                http://omandaily.om/?p=418431

 

[43]                   A Statement by the Omani Observatory for Human Rights: Updates of Al Zaman case, the detention of Saqr Al-Balushi and Hamoud Al-Shakily goes on hunger strike – Published on:16 October 2016

                http://anhri.net/?p=176493

 

[44]                   An article entitled Hamoud Al-Shakily’s trial postponed to 11 October 2016, Published on 28 September 2016

                http://anhri.net/?p=175218

 

[45]                   A statement by ANHRI “Oman: ANHRI Condemns the Continuous Harassment of Human Rights Defender Saeed Jadad” Published on: 1 December 2015

Oman: ANHRI Condemns the Continual Harassment of Human Rights Defender “Saeed Jadad”

 

[46]                   Mowatin’s Twitter account

                https://twitter.com/MowatinOman/status/687510936723288064

Last visit 30 October 2016

 

[47]                   A statement by the Omani Observatory for Human Rights entitled An e-magazine stops publishing, and citizens persecuted for suggesting the idea of national dialougehttp://anhri.net/?p=158314 Published on 21 January 2016, Last visit 20 December 2016

 

[48]       http://www.alarabiya.net/ar/arab-and-world/2016/03/18/%D9%81%D8%B6%D9%8A%D8%AD%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%AA%D8%B1%D9%86%D8%AA-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D9%84%D8%A8%D9%86%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A3%D8%B3%D8%A6%D9%84%D8%A9-%D8%AD%D9%88%D9%84-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%B1%D8%B7%D9%8A%D9%86.html

published: March 8 2016, visited: September 3 2016

 

 

[49]http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/ar/contents/articles/originals/2016/04/lebanon-internet-scandal-israel-corruption-illegal-stations.html

published: April 8 2016

visited: September 3 2016

 

[50]   http://www.youm7.com/story/2015/4/16/%D8%A3%D9%88%D9%84-%D9%82%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%88%D9%86-%D9%84%D8%AC%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%A6%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D9%86%D8%AA%D8%B1%D9%86%D8%AA-%D9%81%D9%89-%D9%85%D8%B5%D8%B1-%D9%8A%D8%AA%D8%B6%D9%85%D9%86-%D9%85%D8%B9%D8%A7%D9%82%D8%A8%D8%A9-%D9%83%D9%84-%D9%85%D9%86/2143499                Published: April 16 2015               Visited: December 4 2016

 

[51]   http://www.alarabiya.net/ar/arab-and-world/egypt/2016/05/10/%D9%85%D8%B5%D8%B1-%D9%85%D8%B4%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B9-%D9%82%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%88%D9%86-%D9%84%D9%84%D8%AC%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%A6%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D9%84%D9%83%D8%AA%D8%B1%D9%88%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D9%8A%D8%B9%D8%A7%D9%82%D8%A8-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D8%B9%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%85.html          Published: May 10 2016    Visited: December 4 2016

3- – http://ara.reuters.com/article/internetNews/idARAKCN0WY4G7

Published: April 1 2016

Visited: December 4 2016

 

 

 

[52]             Published: December 16 2016          Visited: May 7 2017    ، http://bit.ly/2wyT0hV

 

 

 

 

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