One of the most grave threats to free expression in many countries these days is the intimidation and persecution of bloggers and online journalists. The effects are often far-reaching as bloggers are scared into silence. While the Arab Spring has brought about many positive changes throughout the region, several Middle Eastern countries continue to take measures to silence bloggers. This issue is not, of course, limited to the Middle East. In Thailand, web editor Jiew still faces up to fifteen years in prison, while US-Thai citizen Joe Wichai Commart Gordon pleaded guilty on charges of lèse majesté–a charge that can result in a prison sentence of up to fifteen years–and faces sentencing on November 9. In Mexico, bloggers and online activists may face an even worse fate.
Blogger in UAE Boycotting Trial in Protest
Blogger Ahmed Mansoor was arrested in April after signing a petition calling for democratic reforms in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). According to Reporters Without Borders, more than ten police officers took part in Mansoor’s arrest, seizing two laptops and several documents. Prior to Mansoor’s arrest, he was the target of a smear campaign on social networks.
Mansoor, as well as four other democracy activists, has refused to appear in court following a closed-door hearing in September. All five men face charges of threatening state security, undermining public order and insulting the president, the vice president and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. Reporters Without Borders has suggested that the trial is intentionally being dragged out over a period of several months in order to keep the four defendants in prison.
We join Reporters Without Borders in urging the judicial authorities to drop the charges against Mansoor–as well as activists Farhad Salem, Nasser bin Ghaith, Hassan Ali Al-Khamis and Ahmed Abdul Khaleq–and to respect the right to free expression.
Egyptian Blogger Faces Military Prosecutor
Under the interim rule of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), free expression is apparently not a right. In August, we reported on the interrogation of Asmaa Mahfouz, and we have repeatedly called for the release of blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad. On Monday, we learned that Alaa Abd El Fattah, a well-known blogger and activist who was imprisoned in 2006 under the Mubarak regime, will face a military prosecutor on Sunday for unknown reasons. Abd El Fattah spoke Tuesday at the Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference and used his platform to draw attention to the extraordinary injustice taking place in Egypt, mentioning Sanad’s case.
According to Al Masry Al Youm, a video blogger has claimed to have video evidence against Abd El Fattah that shows him throwing stones on October 9 and alleges that the blogger incited violence during the massacre of Coptic Christians that took place that day. In contrast, the newspaper states that it witnessed Abd El Fattah assisting the wounded following protests on October 9.
EFF has grave concerns about SCAF’s use of military trials to silence speech. We will be following Abd El Fattah’s case closely.
Syria Arrests Another Blogger
According to a Facebook campaign calling for his release, Syrian blogger Hussein Ghrer left his home on Friday, October 24, and never came back. As we’ve previously written, Syrian bloggers who dare express themselves face grave threats, particularly the start of this year’s uprising that left more than 3,000 Syrians dead. Today, Reporters Without Borders released a list of detained bloggers, journalists, and cyberactivists currently detained in Syria.
Syrians face not only the threat of arrest, but the additional threat of intimidation and hacking by the Syrian Electronic Army, a cabal of pro-regime hacktivists that has in recent months defaced the website of Harvard University and attacked numerous public figures on Facebook for their support of the Syrian opposition.
In addition to the Facebook campaign for Ghrer, activists have put together a blog (in Arabic), in which they call for Syrian authorities to disclose information about Ghrer and “release those detained in violation of the law and human rights.”
As we stated previously, the intimidation and persecution of bloggers poses a grave threat to free expression globally.
In light of that fact, EFF is currently working on adding a new component to our international work highlighting these threats. Though there are already many excellent voices in this space–among them Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Global Voices’ Threatened Voices project–as long as governments continue to threaten and persecute bloggers, the call for justice can never be too loud to garner attention to these gross violations of human rights.
Written By Jillian C. York
Re-published from EFF.org under the Creative Commons license.
- And Lenin’s “gullible idiots” thought they elected an anti-Bush (trutherator.wordpress.com)
- ‘Cry Emirates’: Abu Dhabi goes after Human Rights Defenders (thoolen.wordpress.com)
- Egyptian Blogger’s Summons Adds Fuel to Campaign Against Military Trials (advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org)
- Alaa Seif Abd El Fattah refused to be prosecuted under military law #FreeAlaa (masrwaaloma.wordpress.com)
- Syria: Prominent Blogger Disappears in Damascus (advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org)
- Detained Bloggers and Journalists in Syria: the list gets longer (advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org)