politics of cyberspace
Bangladesh on May 25 banned an Islamist militant group suspected of involvement in the murders of atheist bloggers that sparked protests in Dhaka earlier this year. The Home Ministry's move to outlaw the Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) comes after police asked the government to ban the group. Police have also charged ABT followers with the 2013 murder of blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider. ABT is the sixth Islamist militant group to be banned in the country, which has seen a rise in militant attacks in recent years. The msot recent slaying of a blogger, which took place two weeks ago in Sylhet city, was claimed on Twitter in the name of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). AQIS previously claimed responsibility for the February slaying of blogger Avijit Roy in Dhaka. An Islamist has been arrested in connection with his murder but not formally charged. (Channel NewsAsia, May 25)
Chinese prosecutors on May 15 said that prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang has officially been indicted on charges of fanning ethnic hatred and provoking unrest for comments that he posted online. He has already been detained for one year. A more severe charge of inciting divisions and a charge of illegally obtaining personal information were dropped by prosecutors. In a statement the Beijing prosecutors' office said that the human rights lawyer should face criminal prosecution for comments he made on social media and his microblog, which has since been shut down by authorities as a disruption of social order. The US State Department urged Chinese authorities to release Pu earlier this month and respect his rights in accordance with the country's international human rights commitments, but China refused to release him. According to one of Pu's lawyers, the charges could result in a maximum sentence of 10 years, though it is unlikely that such a sentence will be imposed. Pu continues to reject the charges and maintain his innocence, asserting that the case is baseless and politically motivated.
Hundreds of protesters gathered in Dhaka Feb. 27 to denounce the murder of Bangladeshi-American blogger Avijit Roy, hacked to death with machetes earlier that day while walking near a book fair he was visiting in the city. Roy was founder of Mukto-Mona (Free Mind) blog, which advocated secularism and atheism. He had received numerous threats from Islamists in recent months. His wife was also injured the attack. There have been no arrests. At the rally, protesters chanted "We want justice" and "Raise your voice against militants."
An Egyptian court on Feb. 23 sentenced activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah to five years in prison in a retrial on charges stemming from the 2011 uprising. Abdel-Fattah, a secular activist, was initially charged in November 2013 and later sentenced to 15 years under the country's law criminalizing unauthorized protest. While Abdel-Fattah's sentence was reduced on retrial, many supports have criticized the court's decision, claiming he should have been set free. Judge Hassan Farid also ordered that Abdel-Fattah and his co-defendants be subjected to police surveillance for a period of time after released from their prison sentences.
Bahrain's Ministry of Interior initiated a criminal investigation on Feb. 17 into alleged illegal content posted by the country's main opposition group, al-Wefaq National Islamic Society. Al-Wefaq regularly publishes content to its website and Twitter account, including pictures of protests against the Sunni majority party. Feb. 14 marked the four-year anniversary of a Shiite uprising in Bahrain and hundreds took the streets to protest a lack of political reform and the imprisonment of Al-Wafeq leader Sheikh Ali Salman. The alleged criminal content involves pictures of wounded protesters from the weekend protests, and claims that the authorities fired buckshot and tear gas to disperse protesters. Al-Wefaq is accused of publicly inciting hatred against the government, encouraging illegal rallies and distributing false news.
Well, the interminable cartoon wars have now hit Malaysia. On Feb. 10, the Malaysian Federal Court upheld a "sodomy" conviction and five-year prison term of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, a decision clearly as politicized as it is reactionary. That same day, cartoonist Zulkiflee Awar Ulhaque, popularly known as Zunar, was arrested at his home—charged under the country's draconian "sedition" law for tweeting a cartoon critical of the ruling, and portraying the judge in the case as Prime Minister Najib Razak. (BBC News, The Malaysian Online, Jurist) Said Shawn Crispin of the Committee to Protect Journalists: "We call on authorities to release Zunar immediately, drop all charges against him, and get to work reforming the sedition law that Prime Minister Najib Razak once acknowledged has no place in Malaysian society." Not all voices have been so forthright, however...
UN rights experts on Jan. 30 urged the Omani government to release Said Ali Said Jadad, a human rights activist. Jadad, who promoted democratic reforms, was arrested last week with no warrant and charged with undermining the prestige of the state, inciting demonstrations, steering up sectarian strife and offending state officials. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai believe Jadad's detention may be retaliation for communicating with international organizations, noting that Jadad has been arrested several times after visits from representatives of the UN. The Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) has also denounced the arrest. Jadad has reportedly been harassed by the government for several months; he was placed under travel ban last October, and also detained last December when police raided his home.
Egypt's Court of Cassation upheld convictions and three-year prison sentences of three activists Jan. 26 for violating the country's protest laws. Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohammed Adel were arrested under a law that bans political gatherings of more than 10 people without prior government permission. As the Court of Cassation is Egypt's highest, the convicted men have no further legal redress. Human Rights Watch has criticized the law since its drafting, claiming that it goes "well beyond the limitations permitted under international law" for the right to peacefully assemble. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also condemned the law, its spokesperson stating that "no one should be criminalized or subjected to any threats or acts of violence, harassment or persecution for addressing human rights issues through peaceful protests." Thousands have been arrested under this law, including many supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.