- Sudan Media Crackdown
- Cyber Warfare
- Social Media Policing
- Blogging and Online Journalism in the MENA Region
- Syria Updates
- Post-Electoral Egypt
- News from Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace
- Gaming and Entertainment
- Iran Telecommunications Updates
Documenting the protests online – Anti-austerity protests in Sudan have highlighted both the creative use of social media to monitor and organise protest activity, as well as the hard stance that the Sudanese government has taken against online activists and other voices of dissent. Tight controls on information within the country have led to social media and the blogosphere being a key source of uncensored information. Sources such as the Twitter hashtag #SudanRevolts and its related blog site have distributed photos and stories of the protests online. Support for the student-led protests has been internationalized. An online campaign in the form of netizens taking pictures of themselves while holding signs in support of the protests has gone viral, with messages from Egypt, America, Kuwait, the UK, Syria, and Indonesia being sent across on Twitter and Facebook.
The Sudanese government’s response – The role that online media, bloggers, and social media activists have played in the protest movement has not been lost on Sudanese authorities. Twitter activists involved with the protest movement have been arrested, including Usamah Mohammed Ali who had been tweeting on the security presence in various areas of Khartoum. This week, Ahram Online journalist Salma El-Wardany and blogger Maha El-Senussi, who were previously reported arrested in Khartoum, were released, with El-Wardany deported back to Egypt. El-Senussi was, however, briefly re-arrested on the night of 26 June and her computer and phone were confiscated by security forces.
The Sudanese government has also increased its filtering of “dissident” media sites, including the online newspaper Hurriyat Sudan for its coverage of the protests in Khartoum and other cities. In response to its blocking, Hurriyat Sudan has encouraged users to download Ultrasurf to access its site within the country. While a general Internet shutdown as seen in Egypt last year has not yet occurred, rumors of a telecommunications “blackout” spread across Sudanese social media, with even the US Embassy in Khartoum warning of potential mobile outages.
It is uncertain at this point whether the Sudanese protests will gain enough momentum to form a broader anti-government revolt and lead to change in the political status quo as in Tunisia or neighboring Egypt, or simply peter out under pressure from the government and security forces. As civil strife in the country will continue, so will the monitoring of the situation by its netizens in much the same way as it had in the rest of the MENA region during the Arab Spring. How severely the Sudanese government responds to this online circumvention and undermining of state-controlled information sources, however, is still to be determined.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is preparing for response to cyber attacks – Deputy Chief of Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces, Mostafa Izadi, believes that the enemy will use cyberspace and satellite networks to undermine Iranian security. “The enemy will use its intelligence to undermine the Islamic system, and it is the responsibility of the Revolutionary Guard to defend the republic and its values by preparing itself for such an attack,” he said.
Cyber war on Islamic identity in Iran – The acting Chief of the Joint Staff of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has expressed that “the new state of the world”, with advancements in the field of telecommunications and the creation of a shared cyberspace, has changed the nature of threats against the Islamic Republic. He continued to express that Iran’s enemies know that the greatest success of the Islamic system is the “alert minds and faithful hearts of the people”. If the enemy is able to brainwash and attack the very identity of the people who are a part of this society, then there will be no defence.
Iranian police make second arrest for blasphemy in cyberspace – Following last week’s news of the first such arrest, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported that another arrest has been made in the province of Hamedan after police discovered blasphemous statements made on a social network website.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) denounced Oman‘s continuing crackdown on activists and bloggers. Dozens of activists have been arrested in the past two weeks, many for their activities on Facebook and Twitter. Some have since been released, but not before being forced to sign statements promising that they will not participate in any demonstrations or protests in the country. Others who remain in detention are on a hunger strike to protest the increased arrests and attacks on freedom of speech.
Twitter has faced criticism over its announcement that it will comply with local laws and block tweets on a country-by-country basis. Activists from the MENA region have expressed concerns that this will allow governments to censor the type of online content that has fueled Arab Spring protests. Some are wondering whether a $300 million investment in Twitter by Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal of Saudi Arabia was what prompted the change in policy. The company has promised to be transparent, posting take-down requests at ChillingEffects.org, and said that the removed content will still be available to users in other parts of the world.
Tunisian citizen Jabeur Mejri, who was jailed in March for posting cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad “in the nude” and “slanderous” pictures of other prominent Tunisian figures on Facebook, has lost his appeal. He was sentenced to seven and a half years for “transgressing morality, defamation and disrupting public order”. Charges of this type have been on the rise since the Islamist Ennahda (Renaissance) party won Tunisia’s first post-revolution polls in October 2011.
Blogging and Online Journalism in the MENA Region
Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab released from jail – Nabeel Rajab was released from jail on 28 June. MENA Cyber Watch had reported last week on the European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights’s (EBOHR) condemnation of his arrest, which many believe was due to his criticism of the Prime Minister of Bahrain on Twitter. Prosecutors had earlier released a statement saying that they received complaints about Rajab talking “on social networks about the people of [the province of] Muharaq in a way that questioned their patriotism and insulted them.” He is now on trial for four separate charges – two for posting Twitter comments deemed insulting to the regime and the people and two for protests. His next hearing will be on 9 July.
The government’s repeated harassment of Rajab for posting “insulting comments on Twitter” can be read as a pretext for cracking down on a particularly vocal pro-democracy advocate.
EU imposes fresh sanctions on Syria – On 25 June, the EU imposed new sanctions on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, targeting a television station as well as six government ministries and a bank. The General Organization of Radio and TV, which operates Syria’s state-owned television channels and government radio stations, was sanctioned because it is a “state-run agency subordinate to Syria’s Ministry of Information and as such supports and promotes its information policy.” The EU further criticized it for inciting violence against the population, serving as a propaganda instrument, and spreading disinformation.
Syrian rebels storm pro-Assad TV station – On 27 June, Syrian gunmen stormed the headquarters of al-Ikhbariya TV, a pro-government TV channel. The attack resulted in the deaths of three reporters and four security guards, as well as the bombing of a building. While privately owned, al-Ikhbariya has reportedly sought to serve as a counterweight to a “campaign of misinformation by Western and Arab satellite channels on the uprising.” The channel had broadcasted a speech by President al-Assad the day prior. The attack raises questions about the targeting of civilian institutions and whether the rebels’ action can be viewed on par with the regime’s campaign of media censorship and stifling of opposition voices.
The “Morsi Meter” – Al Arabiyya TV reports that a group of Egyptian youth have launched a website called “Morsi Meter” to monitor the performance of the new Egyptian president. The website enumerates the five points that together form Morsi’s first 100-day program: bread, traffic, security, fuel, and cleanliness. The solutions proposed by Morsi are then listed so that each can be checked off if and when it is implemented. The website is an example of the use of social media and ICTs to ensure political accountability on the ground.
The Muslim Brotherhood and the Internet – The victory of Mohamed Morsi has engendered contrasting reactions from officials in the telecom sector regarding Internet freedom. Daily News Egypt reports that some fear the Muslim Brotherhood will impose restrictions on Internet use that will ultimately limit freedom of thought and innovation. However, most people expect that there will be a greater reliance on the Internet due to the political parties’ heavy use of technology during the election campaigns.
News from Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace
Mehr News Agency, a privately-owned news agency, affiliated with the Islamic Propagation Organization, published a roundup of the week’s activities of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace:
- Mehdi Akhavan Behabadi, the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace and Director of the National Center for Cyberspace, noted in his first press conference that the current state of the country’s cyberspace devices is the council’s biggest priority.
- Since its creation in March, four Council meetings have been held in the presence of the Iranian President.
- The head of the Council responded to questions about the its role in the filtering of websites by stating that it will not play a direct role. He explained that the Council’s role is not in the implementation of policies, but rather in decision-making, coordinating of other cyberspace institutions, and overall performance monitoring.
- The decree by Ayatollah Khamenei, which led to the establishment of the Council, will not be made public as it contains sensitive information about hostile actions by Iran’s enemies.
- The former Deputy Minister of Information and Communications Technology has said that the Ministry of Communications is now required to coordinate its actions with the Council. It will also need to obtain approval to ensure that its activities are within the Council’s guidelines. This signifies the increasingly important role that the newly created Council will play.
Mehr News Agency also reported that the General Secretary of Iran’s Supreme Council of Information and Communications Technology, Saeed Salarian, has said that the Council will assess websites of all government institutions and define a standard series of templates and styles to be followed by all such web pages in order to “help national progress”.
“Iran: Hub of game development in the Islamic World” – Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini, the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, has said: “Participation in the field of computer game development has increased by 100 percent in the past year.” He believes that Western countries are developing games that portray the Islamic world, and through that, the Iranian nation, as cruel and fierce. He continued: “Given that the rest of the Islamic world expects Iran to take a lead in the field of game development in order to become less dependent on Western games, we are committed to fulfilling this expectation.”
The development of Iran army’s first video game, Combat in the Gulf of Aden, can be viewed as a sign of the government’s commitment to this issue.
Iran Telecommunications Updates
Righ-Tel’s Future in Limbo – Mobna News Agency reported that bandwidth limitations, the high cost of Internet access, and cultural issues have led to the uncertain future of Righ-Tel, the country’s third Internet operator. This news comes only one week after we reported about its increased network coverage in the cities of Mashhad and Qom.
Ali Akbar Jalali, an IT expert, told Mobna that until issues regarding bandwidth and cost are resolved, it is unlikely that Righ-Tel will succeed.
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