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Tunisian media freedom organization shuts down – On July 4, the National Authority for Information and Communication Reform (INRIC), which was tasked with helping to reform the post-revolution media landscape, announced the end of its mission. The head of the commission, Kamel Labidi, accused decision makers of “ignoring” the INRIC’s final report, submitted on April 2012. The report, among other things, urged the government to implement decree laws 115 and 116 ratified in November 2011 by the interim government of former PM Beji Caid Sebsi. Decree 115 (also known as the new press code) guarantees the protection of journalists from harassment and eliminates prison sentences for criminal defamation and a number of other speech offences, while decree 116 laid the ground for the establishment of an independent authority to “organise the audio-visual media landscape in a pluralistic, democratic, and transparent manner.” Despite the laws passing,  there has been a succession of  statements and actions by the government that rides roughshod over the provisions of the current press law. For instance, a 2,400-dinar (US$1,500) fine was imposed on Nabil Karoui, the owner of the television station Nessma TV, for broadcasting the animated film “Persepolis”, denounced as blasphemous by some Islamists.

Tunisians launch online platform to monitor police abuse – The Tunisian Association for Digital Liberties (ATLN) launched Yezzi, a tool which seeks to “collect violence testimonies sent by mobile, web, email and SMS, and then place them on a Google Map.” There is a broad impunity for police officers and acceptance of police brutality in Tunisian society. Indeed, it was the actions of corrupt law enforcement officials that precipitated the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi and sparked the Arab Spring. Yezzi (translated as “enough” from Tunisian dialect) combines social activism, citizen journalism, and technological innovation to expose such abuses and seek accountability.

ANHRI condemns the blocking of Alsaha Al-Arabia website in Saudi Arabia – The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) condemned Saudi authorities for blocking Alsaha Al-Arabia, the first Arabic discussion forum created by a group of young Emiratis in the 1990s. The website has been blocked in Saudi Arabia for some time, but remained operational and could be accessed through various circumvention tools. However, site administrators published a statement on June 28 which said that the website will be shut down effective August 1 due to financial concerns. Advertisers have allegedly pulled their funding due to pressure from the Saudi government. Despite the administrators’ attempts to contact the government, they have not provided a rationale for their actions. This is an unusual censorship method as the regime chose to exert pressure financially,  instead of forcing administrators to shutter the website outright.

More than 100 sites filtered in Iran in just three months – Despite the unavailability of official statistics on the number of websites that are filtered across Iran, information collected by provincial governments has shown that more than 100 Iranian and foreign websites have been filtered in the past three months.

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Anonymous claims responsibility for Syria Wikileaks – On July 6, the hacktivist group Anonymous released a statement in which it took credit for having provided to WikiLeaks over two million emails that were taken “from Syrian political figures, ministries, and associated companies”.  It also revealed that the “Anonymous Op Syria” team had consisted of elements from Anonymous Syria, the reformed Lulzsec  that is now known as Antisec, and the Peoples Liberation Front. They had aimed “to create a breach of multiple domains and dozens of servers in Syria” . Many hacktivists taking part in the operation were working from inside the country.

Opposition radio in Syria – Syrian activists living in Cairo have founded Radio Ana as an alternative to state media. The Assad regime employs the state media for its propaganda, while private stations have avoided covering political matters entirely for fear of having their licenses revoked. Radio Ana’s founders, Deiaa Dugnmoch and Rami Jarrah, hope that the station will lay the foundations for the development of a democratic system after Assad.

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Detention in Sudan – Blogger Maha El-Senussi, who was arrested weeks ago by Sudanese authorities while covering a series of anti-austerity protests, has given an account of her interrogation and detention by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).

Lèse majesté arrests in Oman – Lèse majesté laws have been cited in the arrest of four Omani dissidents accused of making defamatory comments against reigning Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Among them was poet Hamad al-Kharusi who was arrested for publishing a poem directed at the Sultan on his Facebook page. Cited in the arrest was Article 16 of Oman’s Cybercrime Law which prohibits the use of the Internet for “spreading news, video or audio recordings about the private life of individuals, even if it is right, or for insulting or defaming others.”

Iranians posting “lies” or blasphemous comments online can be jailed – Iran’s Cyber and Information Exchange Police (FATA) has released a statement stating that anyone convicted of posting “lies” or blasphemous comments online will face 91 days or up to two years in prison and/or a fine of US$250 up to US$2,000.

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Social media use surges in Bahrain while the government continues to crackdown on political content – 51 percent of Bahrain’s 900,000 Internet users are now active on social networking sites, an increase of approximately 120,000 social media users since last year. Currently, 340,000 citizens are active on Facebook and 60,000 people have Twitter accounts. The government, however, still closely monitors and imposes censorship on these networks, as well as threatens users who post dissenting opinions with arrest. MENA Cyber Watch previously reported on the case of Nabeel Rajab, a prominent human rights activist who was arrested for posting tweets critical of the regime. This week, Rajab was found guilty of libel and sentenced to three months in jail. He also faces jail time for two other charges related to participating in and calling for protests through social media. The trial will resume on July 12.

Sudan’s social media smear campaign against opposition – Darfurian Rudwan Dawod, project director for Sudan Sunrise, an organization working towards peace and reconciliation in Sudan and South Sudan, was arrested last week at a protest organized by the pro-democracy student group, Girifna (Arabic for “We’re Fed Up”). A social media smear campaign then surfaced against Dawood, alleging that he was a terrorist who had been planning to bomb Khartoum. It came as no surprise, as President Omar al-Bashir has been known to use the state-controlled media to discredit activists who opposes his regime. Dawod has reportedly been tortured during his detention in an effort to get him to confess to being a CIA operative.

Arrest of ‘Satanism’ page owner in Iran – Iran’s FATA’s chief police officer in the province of South Khorasan said that cyber experts and police officers have identified a group on a social networking website that promotes Satanism in the country. Police officers have reportedly arrested the owner of the page.

Saudi protesters using social media – Saudi activists in the restive Eastern Province have used social media to draw attention to protests against and abuses by Saudi forces. Videos were posted showing thousands of mourners gathering in the streets during the funeral of Muhammed el-Filfil who was shot and killed on July 8 while protesting the arrest of a prominent Shiite cleric, Sheik Nimr al-Nimr. Videos of protesters clashing with security forces and throwing Molotov cocktails at the police after the funeral have also surfaced.


Sudanese government allegedly stops cyber-attack – Government-sponsored news source Al-Ahram Al-Yawm reported that the Sudanese government has thwarted attempts by hacker groups to plant spy software into more than 50 government websites. The revelation of the cyber-plot came after Anonymous released a YouTube video warning  that it will take action to protest Sudanese government’s restrictions on free speech and Internet access. MENA Cyber Watch has been covering the ongoing crackdown on anti-government websites and arrests of bloggers since protests against the regime began three weeks ago.

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News from the Supreme Council of Cyberspace:

  • Mehdi Akhavan Bahabadi, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, spoke on the successful transfer of government websites to Iranian hosts: “In recent years, attempts to host governmental portals and websites from within Iran have been achieved up to approximately 96 percent. However, it seems that the main goal of such a decision, to create a domestic market for the private sector to host governmental data centers, has been forgotten”. Bahabadi went on to say that Iran’s private sector should play a greater role in the IT industry’s expansion and governance. He expects that some of its policies and strategies will be modified in consultation with the private sector and with the help of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace.
  • Bahabadi also announced a new decision on the amalgamation of the Telecommunications Research Center with the Supreme Council of Cyberspace following the President’s recommendations. From now on, not only would the Telecommunication Research Center operate under the Supreme Council’s supervision, but the entire facility and staff would also be relocated to the Supreme Council’s current location.
  • Hamid Shahriari, member of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, stated that the formation of the Supreme Council followed a similar example in Ireland. He said: “In a report prepared for the Supreme Leader of Iran, it has been recommended that an inter-governmental council could greatly contribute to solving some of the current problems in the IT and Communication sector”. In Ireland, a similar council works under the supervision of the Prime Minister and all the ministries and governmental agencies are required to seek the council’s approval before issuing any certificate or allowances in the IT and Communications sector.

Plans for public Wi-Fi zones in Tehran cancelled – MobinNet, an Iranian telecommunications company, has been working on plans to bring high speed wireless Internet to Iran’s capital city. However, according to Mehr News Agency, the Communications Regulatory Authority refused to provide the company with a license to operate.

Iranian citizens typically use Google search engine five times a day – According to research results published by the IT and Digital Media Association, Iran’s 36.5 million Internet users, most of whom use the Google search engine approximately five times daily, contributed US$277 million to the company’s 2011 profits.

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