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Activists' relatives targeted, Bahrain advocacy, Israel arrests Palestinian journalists

A photojournalist for Turkey's Anadolu Agency lies on the ground after being shot with rubber bullets by the Israeli forces while covering demonstrations in the village of Ras Karkar near Ramallah, West Bank, 4 September 2018
A photojournalist for Turkey's Anadolu Agency lies on the ground after being shot with rubber bullets by the Israeli forces while covering demonstrations in the village of Ras Karkar near Ramallah, West Bank, 4 September 2018

Shadi Hatem/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

In Egypt, authorities are continuing to use laws such as the latest 'cybecrime law' as tools of repression. In addition to asking the authorities to release two Egyptian journalists, Hisham Gaafar and Wael Abbas, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has formally requested the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to recognise the "arbitrary nature" of their detention. RSF also said that Egypt's latest "cybercrime law", signed by President Sisi, "legalises and reinforces the existing censorship and blocking of websites" as well as criminalising "both those who operate sites and those who use them".

Meanwhile, on 10 August, RSF commemorated the first anniversary of its website being blocked in Egypt in an interesting way: by circumventing the censorship, while using the hashtag #RsfWebsiteisback. The organisation also called on the Egyptian government to "stop systematically blocking hundreds of websites, including news websites".

14 August 2018 was the 600th day in detention for Al-Jazeera producer Mahmoud Hussein. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has renewed its call for his release.

There were also actions in support of Amal Fathy. The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) have demanded that the authorities release Fathy, whom they believe is being held because she is the wife of Mohamed Lotfy, the director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF).

They argue that Fathy's case is "emblematic of the Egyptian state's ruthless prosecution of human rights defenders and rights organizations" which was "widened" to target relatives of human rights defenders.

Meanwhile, Iran is persecuting environmental activists. Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a statement on 3 August 2018 expressing its concern, and requested that eight environmental activists who have been detained for six months without charges be immediately released. At least 50 environmental activists have been arrested in Iran since January 2018.

Less than a week later, HRW along with two other organisations condemned the government's use of activists' relatives to pressure activists and journalists "as a means to silence dissent and criticism".

RSF then condemned "the extremely harsh sentences" passed by a Tehran court against six journalists from Majzooban Noor, a website that is currently "the only independent source of news and information about the Sufi religious community of Gonabadi dervishes in Iran."

The harsh sentences include: seven years in prison to two editors, Saleholldin Moradi and Reza Entesari, and a citizen-journalist, Sina Entesari; twelve years for another citizen-journalist, Mohammad Sharifi Moghadam, and editor Kasra Nouri; and 26 years for editor Mostafa Abdi. They were also all sentenced to 74 lashes each as well as "two years of internal exile and a simultaneous two-year ban on all civil society and journalistic activity" when they complete their jail terms. This comes a month after three women citizen-journalists, also writing for Majzooban Noor, were sentenced to five years after being charged with "meeting and plotting against national security."

In Israel and Palestine, at least seven Palestinian journalists in the West Bank were arrested by Israeli authorities between 30 July and 7 August 2018. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has condemned their arrests, which happened after Avigdor Liberman, Israel's Defense Minister, declared the Hamas-affiliated broadcast Al Quds TV a terrorist organisation and banned its activities in Israel and the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

In response, the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) has called on the international community to pressure the Israeli government to halt its targeting of Palestinian journalists. Soon after, on 17 August 2018, the CPJ reported that between 27 July and 10 August 2018 at least four Palestinian journalists were injured by Israeli gunfire and shrapnel while covering protests in Gaza.

There is new research available on digital rights in the area. 7amleh the Arab Center for Social Media has released a policy brief asking if a new wave of Israeli legislations would diminish internet freedoms. This was prompted by what 7amleh described as a "dramatic upsurge in the number of laws being put forth by Israeli legislators that violate the right to privacy, freedom of expression". In it, 7amleh listed three of the most alarming internet laws: prohibition against photographing and documenting Israeli soldiers; pressuring social media corporations to comply with the Israeli government's definitions of "incitement"; a bill which would see the establishment of an "Israeli National Cyber Directorate" (INCD) which "will have increased authority to issue national guidance on cybersecurity matters". 7amleh concluded that these legislations regularly show "racist and discriminatory features".

Nabeel Rajab's continued unjust detention in Bahrain is still the focus of much advocacy. 127 signatory human rights groups from around the world welcomed the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD)'s Opinion on Nabeel Rajab's detention under international human rights law, which judged it to be both arbitrary and discriminatory. Rajab, who is president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Deputy Secretary General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Advisory Committee, was arrested on 13 June 2016 by Bahraini authorities and has been detained since then. The signatories include: IFEX, GCHR, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), ARTICLE 19, AFTE, BCHRights, CIHRS, Human Rights Watch (HRW), I'lam Arab Center for Media Freedom Development and Research, Index on Censorship, Maharat Foundation, MARCH, PEN International and World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.

Still on Bahrain: Following reports of deteriorating health, ADHRB, the Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy (BIRD), and the European Centre for Democracy & Human Rights (ECDHR) requested that the Bahraini authorities allow political prisoner Hassan Mushaima to receive much-needed medication in the country's notorious Jau prison. Mushaima was the Secretary-General of the Haq Movement for Liberty and Democracy and is the co-founder and former Vice President of al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, the largest political opposition group, which the Bahraini authorities dissolved in 2016. The groups also took the opportunity to ask the government to ensure "the rights of humane treatment of prisoners of conscience" in the country. As part of their 'profiles in persecution' series, ADHRB explained that Mushaima, who is 70 years old, was arrested and sentenced for his role in the pro-democracy protests in 2011 as part of the wider 'Arab Spring'.

In Brief:

As of August 13, at least 10 activists were interrogated by security agencies in Lebanon over Facebook and Twitter posts in just a few weeks, according to Global Voices Advox. In comparison, 18 people were summoned in the years between 2010 and 2016, according to Social Media Exchange (SMEX).

In Libya, the IFJ condemned the murder of journalist Moussa Abdel Karim. Abdel Karim, who worked for Fasaniah newspaper, was aducted on 31 July 2018 and later killed.

In Saudi Arabia, the GCHR confirmed that security forces arrested women's rights activists Samar Badawi and Nassima Al-Sadah.

In Yemen, the Houthis detained human rights defender Kamal Al-Shawish of Mwatana in Hodeidah, according to the GCHR.

Finally, SMEX released a report in which they've interviewed 15 journalists and civil society researchers to explain the obstacles faced by people covering digital rights in the MENA region. Those interviewed came from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia, and Yemen.

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