politics of cyberspace
Kuwait's Supreme Court on July 12 upheld a 10-year jail sentence for a man accused of posting Tweets that insulted the Prophet Mohammed and the Sunni Muslim rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Hamad al-Naqi, a 24-year-old member of Kuwait's Shiite minority, was also found guilty of spreading false news that undermined Kuwait's image abroad. The Supreme Court's decision is final and can only be commuted by the Kuwaiti Emir. An appeals court affirmed al-Naqi's sentence in October. The result drew criticism from Human Rights Watch (HRW), which condemned the decision as a "violat[ion of] international standards on freedom of expression." He has been in prison since his arrest in March 2012, and was originally sentenced in June 2012. Al-Naqi has maintained his innocence, arguing that his Twitter account was hacked.
An Ethiopian court on July 18 charged nine journalists with terrorism and inciting violence under Ethiopia's anti-terrorism law (PDF). The journalists, including six bloggers, were arrested in April and have been prevented from accessing their families or legal counsel since their arrests. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), since the implementation of the anti-terrorism law in 2009, Ethiopian authorities have used it as a tool to limit journalism critical of the government. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has repeatedly called upon the Ethiopian government to repeal the law, alleging that the government stifles the establishment of new media publications.
A Buddhist mob attacked Muslims in Burma's second city of Mandalay July 2, damaging a mosque and Muslim-owned shops and leaving at least five injured. Police fired warning shots to disperse the mob of some 300 Buddhists, including a contingent of about 30 monks on motorbikes. The conflagration apparently began after rumors were aired on Facebook that a Buddhist domestic worker had been raped by her Muslim employers. More than a thousand police officers have been deployed in central Mandalay. (OnIslam, The Irrawady, Democratic Voice of Burma, July 2)
The ISIS militants that have seized Iraq's northern city of Mosul have, not surprisingly, been engaging in a campaign of cultural cleansing—targeting not only the city's inhabitants, but its artistic and historical treasures. Religious buildings, cemeteries and public art have been destroyed or defaced, witnesses say. Among the destroyed works are sculptures of 19th-century musician and composer Osman al-Muesli and Abbasid-era poet Abu Tammam. The grave of Ibn Athir, a philosopher and chronicler who travelled with Saladin during the 12th century, is also reported destroyed. ISIS consider visiting religious sites to be idol worship, and have also destroyed many shrines and other ancient buildings in Syria. A jizya tax has been imposed on the city's Christian population, but most of the area's Christians—some 160 families—fled before the ISIS advance. (Aydinlik, Turkey, June 21)
Kuwait's Supreme Court on June 15 upheld the two-year jail sentence of an opposition online activist for writing tweets found to be offensive to the country's Emir. After the ruling, activist Hejab al-Hajeri said on his Twitter account that his "determination is bigger than their jail." Al-Hajeri, a law student in his early 20s, was sentenced by the emirate's lower court last April after it found that comments he made on his Twitter account were critical of the emir, Shaikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah. The appeals court upheld the sentence six months later. Al-Hajeri has been out on bail, but now must serve the jail term, as the high court's verdicts are final. Criticizing the emir is illegal in Kuwait, and carries a jail term of up to five years.
An Egyptian court on June 11 sentenced a prominent activist from the 2011 revolution to 15 years in prison for organizing an unsanctioned protest and assaulting a police officer last year. Activist and blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah was forced to wait outside of a courtroom at Cairo's Torah Prison while he was tried in absentia inside. Abdel Fattah, who was released on bail in March, was charged along with 23 other co-defendants for a protest in Cairo that occurred in November of last year. The men were protesting provisions in a new constitution that would allow civilians to be tried in military courts, breaching a law banning all but police-sanctioned protests. The defendants were additionally fined LE 100,000 ($14,000) each and will be placed on five years probation after the completion of their sentences. The conviction is the first of a leading activist since Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi took the office of the presidency on Sunday. Abdel-Fattah is expected to be granted a retrial.
Chinese authorities carried out aggressive detentions ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Sqauare massacre, with New Tang Dynasty news agency reporting 70 journalists, dissidents and rights defenders arrested over the past month. Blogger and journalist Gao Yu went missing at the end of April, and Beijing activist Hu Jia has been under house arrest for more than three months, after announcing his intention to hold a vigil in the square on the June 4 anniversary, in defiance of authorities. The Wall Street Journal's China Real Time blog notes that tens of thousands attended a vigil in Hong Kong, but the New York Times' Sinosphere blog reports that Tiananmen Square itself was so thick with security patrols and checkpoints that even the usual throng of tourists was down to a mere trickle. A tantalyzing report in the Globe & Mail says that a small group of black-clad citizens did manage to walk through the square in a silent, symbolic protest.
Iranian women by the thousands are posting their photos without a hijab on a Facebook page called My Stealthy Freedom, created by London-based Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad, and winning over 180,000 "likes" since it was launched May 3. Women post photos of themselves in varying degrees of defiance, from some only showing the backs of their heads while others standing bareface in front of government offices. "It is painful that I shall not be free so that you will not sin," comments one woman below her photo. "That I have to be covered so that your weak faith does not break!" The women, generally anonymous, are standing up against the Islamic Republic's 35-year law that requires women to dress according to sharia law. In addition to the head covering, they cannot wear clothing that exposes their arms or legs, and must wear a cloak or overcoat that covers three-quarters of the body. The semi-official Fars News Agency has condemned the page and accused Alinejad of inciting immoral behavior and collaborating with Iran's enemies. (Mid East Faces, May 14)