24 August 2011

Governments attack Twitter activists


Egyptian activist Asmaa Mahfouz faces a military investigation for her comments on Twitter and Facebook
Egyptian activist Asmaa Mahfouz faces a military investigation for her comments on Twitter and Facebook
Graphic Resistance
The governments of at least three Arab countries - Egypt, Bahrain and Kuwait - have launched investigations into or prosecuted Twitter activists, provoking other countries in the region to follow suit, reports the Arabic Network of Human Rights Information (ANHRI).

In Egypt, activist Asmaa Mahfouz faces a military investigation for her comments on Twitter and Facebook, in addition to a phone call she had made to a religious satellite channel, that "insulted the military," report ANHRI and Human Rights Watch. Mahfouz had criticised the military for failing to intervene to protect protesters on 23 July. Although she was released on 20,000 Egyptian Pounds (US$3,400) bail, Mahfouz still awaits trial.

The Mahfouz case is the latest in a series of moves prosecuting critical expression by Egypt's military, which is increasingly setting narrower and narrower limits on what is permissible, Human Rights Watch said. According to Human Rights Watch, military courts have sentenced at least 10,000 civilians since January 2011 after unfair proceedings.

Bahrain started targeting Twitter users last April when it investigated well-known rights activist Nabeel Rajab for publishing a picture of a Bahraini citizen who allegedly died after being tortured in police custody. According to ANHRI and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), of which Rajab is president, another investigation is planned into Rajab's tweets.

Last week, Rajab was called in for questioning for allegedly "deliberately posting sensational propaganda and false information on his social networking site likely to disrupt public order, spark fear among people, damage public interests and defame authorities." He had recently posted a letter critical of the head of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. Rajab stands by his posts and said he will continue to tweet. Read his posts here: @NABEELRAJAB

In Kuwait, blogger Nasser Abul was arrested in June for allegedly threatening state security in Twitter messages, report ANHRI and Human Rights Watch. Abel had posted tweets that sharply criticised and mocked the ruling families of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia for the military crackdown on anti-government protests in Bahrain, supported by Saudi troops. His lawyer said that Abul denied writing some of the more inflammatory tweets, and that hackers had posted the messages.

"Nasser Abul has been held for more than a month on the basis of a few tweets that clearly constitute protected speech," said Human Rights Watch. "His detention appears to be an illegal effort to punish him and intimidate others who might dare be critical about Kuwait's fellow Gulf monarchs."

Kuwaiti authorities should immediately investigate allegations that Abul has been mistreated in detention, having reportedly been subjected to sleep deprivation, held in solitary confinement, and denied family visits and legal counsel, Human Rights Watch added.

Kuwait's "Al-Siyasah" newspaper reported that a member of Bahrain's ruling al-Khalifa family plans to file a defamation suit against Abul on behalf of the royal family.

Meanwhile, security services in the United Arab Emirates are closely monitoring activity on social networking sites, says ANHRI.

Anyone posting false and malicious news or statements that would harm public security would be punished with imprisonment of one month to three years, the Ministry of Interior announced on 17 August.

"It seems that Arab governments have run out of values like tolerance, dialogue, or respect for freedom of opinion and expression, and have settled for police repression as a means to deal with different and critical opinions," said ANHRI. "It has become crystal clear that a war is raging between speech and the police."

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