MENA Netizen Report: Porn Edition

Most of this month’s report was researched, edited, and written by Rayna St, Nermeen Edrees, and Hisham Almiraat.

After a YouTube trailer named “The Innocence of Muslims” sparked a widespread wave of protests in the region earlier this year, various actions by MENA governments were undertaken to strictly regulate online content. Beyond the campaign of arrests against netizens over blasphemy charges, some governments of the region decided to extend the reach of their online censorship to include websites deemed “pornographic.”

Saudi Arabia, which already censors a number of such websites, wants to block domain names such as ‘.sex,’ ‘.gay,’ or ‘.porn’.

In Palestine, as we previously reported, the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, has undertaken measures to prohibit access to porn websites. Fears have grown since that Hamas may extend the porn ban to include political websites.

The region’s officials have made banning websites deemed “pornographic” their new hobby horse. Image by Ronai on Flickr (CC-BY 2.0), adapted by the MENA NR team

The region’s officials have made banning websites deemed “pornographic” their new hobby horse. Image by Ronai on Flickr (CC-BY 2.0), adapted by the MENA NR team

The “porno allergy” doesn't seem to be abating. Your Middle East recalls the attempts by Egyptian officials to “stop Internet users’ appetite for sex sites.” In Egypt, such websites are prohibited by law but not blocked. According to Google Trends the country ranked 5th worldwide in 2011 for search requests such as “sex.”

Dr. Salamouny, an Egyptian lawyer, does his best to enforce more coercive regulations: he has filed a lawsuit demanding pornographic websites to be entirely blocked in Egypt. It is not the first time Dr. Salamouny put a lot of effort in the direction of regulating “vulgar adverts, frequently using obscene language and sexually suggestive material.”

On November 7, the Egyptian Public Prosecutor announced porn sites will be blocked. Indeed, a court order was issued in 2009 allowing technical measures to be taken to block online content deemed “pornographic.” Many have raised concerns highlighting that banning any given online content is a route to generalized censorship. The Egyptian Telecommunication Regulatory Authority has, however, issued a much more nuanced statement which jeopardizes the Prosecutor’s move in favour of censorship.

Censorship

In Iran a new online censorship front seems to have been opened. About a month ago, the so-called Filtering Committee, the Islamic Republic’s dedicated army of online censors, opened a protocol that prevents audiovisual material hosted on servers outside Iran from entering the country.

Protests against an anti-Islam video, initially uploaded to YouTube in July 2012, continued in October as 10,000 Muslims demonstrated outside Google headquarters in London asking that the video be removed. A spokesperson for YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, while recognizing sensitivities, said the video “is clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube.”

In the wake of the violent protests sparked by an anti-Islam video clip posted on YouTube, Saudi Arabia wants the creation of a new international body to censor the internet. In a submission to the World Telecommunications Policy Forum, a UN body that oversees forthcoming international talks on internet governance, the Kingdom says it wanted “to address ‘freedom of expression’ which clearly disregards public order.”

Netizen Activism

During the 19-month Syrian revolution, internet has proved to be a useful battleground for anti-regime activists. Skype, in particular, is increasingly becoming an “operations center”, that is the “communications backbone” for the rebels who use it to plan, share information internally and publicize their views.

In Egypt, an online collaborative platform, dostoormasr.com [ar] (Egyptian Constitution), was launched. Using a Facebook interface, it hopes “to involve all members of the Egyptian society in drafting a new constitution,” by voting on different articles of it.

Thuggery

Bahraini Interior Ministry announced on its website that four people were arrested for “misuse of social media.” One of them was charged with “insulting the King” and sentenced to six months in jail on 1 November.

Tunisian independent media outlet Nawaat continues to undergo cyberattacks: a few messages on Twitter announced [fr] that Nawaat.org was sufferring a sustained denial-of-service (DDoS) attack on Oct 21. A message on the Blog Boukornine Facebook page [fr] attributes this cyberaggression to “a leak to be published” and defines it as “Ben Ali’s bully boy tactics.”

Akram Rslan, a Syrian cartoonist, was detained after publishing a cartoon criticizing embattled Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad.

Fazil Say, a famous Turkish pianist, was arrested for blasphemy after he posted a few messages on Twitter allegedly “insulting religious values.”

Voices Still Threatened

In Oman, on October 24, 11 bloggers appeared before a Court in Muscat, to appeal a one-year jail term they received in August, this year. They were charged of “insulting the Sultan.” All bloggers are out on bail. Some of the accused claimed they were framed after their Facebook accounts were “hacked and misused.”

Amnesty International has called on the Egyptian authorities to release Alber Saber Ayad, a young activist, who participated in the 2011 uprising that overthrew the former Egyptian regime. M. Ayad is accused of “defamation of religion” and risks up to six years in jail, after he allegedly posted videos critical of religions on the internet. His controversial trial resumed on Oct 16 but was postponed for November without a sentence being announced. Beshoy Kamil Kamel, a Coptic-Christian teacher, was meanwhile sentenced to six years in prison for allegedly posting blasphemous material on Facebook.

Cathy Casserly from Creative Commons reminds Syrian pro-democracy activist and Creative Commons contributor Bassel Khartabil is still detained.

Human Rights Watch is calling for the immediate release of the Saudi-American citizen Mohammad Salama, detained over tweets criticizing the Qu’ran.

Privacy

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nationals are soon-to-enjoy fast-track immigration clearances by using national ID cards as e-Gate cards at entry and exit points throughout the Gulf. It is still unclear how personal data collected by such system will be handled and by whom.

Cybersecurity

Ahmed Mansoor, 42, an Emirati electrical engineer and activist for citizens’ civil rights in his country, had his computer taken over by a sophisticated, government-grade spyware, capable of recording every keystroke or remotely operating the webcam. This is the latest in a series of similar attacks that have targeted activists across the MENA region.

Earlier in October, Google sent out tens of thousands of messages to Gmail accounts warning that state-sponsored attacks are on the rise targeting its email service users. Google officials say they think threats are particularly coming from the Middle East.

Sovereigns of Cyberspace

The Wikimedia Foundation and the Saudi Telecom Company (STC) have concluded a partnership aiming at offering “Wikipedia free of data charges on mobile devices to STC customers in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait.”

Internet Governance

In an attempt to establish a common platform for all stakeholders to discuss and debate issues of the internet usage, Kuwait Information Technology Society hosted The First Arab Internet Governance Forum from 9-11 October.

National Policy

Fears are growing that the embattled government in Syria may move to shut down the Internet. Observers are concerned that the regime having realized the full potential of using the Internet may cut it to deprive the opposition from a strategic lifeline.

The Tunisian government announced its intention to implement two media reform laws which were passed by the interim government in November 2011: Decree-Law 115 on media freedom, printing and publishing, and Decree-Law 116 on the creation of an Independent Broadcasting Authority. The announcement came late in the day on October 17, after a one-day strike by the vast majority of Tunisian state and privately-owned print, broadcast, and online media.

Iraqi blogger Bahar publishes [ar] a long study about the Cybercrime Law in his country. He wonders whether the law is meant to stifle the opposition rather than prevent online crimes. As we have previously reported, this bill constitutes a serious threat to free speech online.

Copyright

The IPKat, a blog specializing in intellectual property topics, discusses the Garcia vs. Nakoula, Google and YouTube case. More precisely, the case addresses the question, “Is an actor an author?” Nakoula is the author of the infamous trailer ‘The Innocence of Muslims’ which sparked outrage in many countries of the region and motivated censorship.

Cool Things

The 2012 Arab Journalism Awards are now accepting submissions.

After his recovery, Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat decided to relaunch his old satirical magazine Al-Domari from Cairo. The magazine was first launched in Syria in 2000 but then forcibly halted by the Syrian Regime in 2003.

Moroccan netizens launched an Open Government Morocco initiative through a dedicated Facebook group [ar, fr, en]. The netizens also held their first online meeting [fr] to discuss organizational issues.

The Palestinian Authority has also engaged into opening the data: French independent news outlet OWNI publishes [fr] an interview with Dr. Safa Nasser Eldin, the Authority’s Telecommunications Minister.

The Egyptian independent media collective Mosireen has successfully concluded their crowdfunding campaign: the activists collected USD 40,415 out of the USD 40,000 they were aiming at.

Worth Reading

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7 comments

  • [...] MENA Netizen Report: Porn EditionGlobal Voices OnlineIn the wake of the violent protests sparked by an anti-Islam video clip posted on YouTube, Saudi Arabia wants the creation of a new international body to censor the internet. In a submission to the World Telecommunications Policy Forum, a UN body that … [...]


  • [...] in 2009 which ordered a ban on porn sites in Egypt. Global Voices Advocacy’s Rayna St and the MENA Netizen Report detail the history of the porn site ban in Egypt and related [...]


  • [...] MENA Netizen Report: Porn Edition {Global Voices Online} [...]


  • [...] MENA Netizen Report: Porn Edition Beyond the campaign of arrests against netizens over blasphemy charges, some governments of the region decided to extend the reach of their online censorship to include websites deemed “pornographic.” Saudi Arabia … Protests against an anti-Islam … Read more on Global Voices Online [...]


  • [...] spyware, capable of recording every keystroke or remotely operating the webcam … Read more on Global Voices Online Bookmark To Category: Vlog Techniques  Tags: Freedom, Information, Police, released, [...]


  • [...] MENA Netizen Report: Porn Edition Ahmed Mansoor, 42, an Emirati electrical engineer and activist for citizens' civil rights in his country, had his computer taken over by a sophisticated, government-grade spyware, capable of recording every keystroke or remotely operating the webcam … Read more on Global Voices Online [...]


  • [...] 言论审查在会议举行期间,中国的网站也多半升高自我审查程度。部分网路论坛都暂时关闭。举例而言,进到论坛时,访问者通常只会见到两行字:「为迎接十八大的召开,本论坛暂时关闭。喜迎十八大,恭祝十八大圆满召开。」十一月初,热门的新浪微博也改变了 因关键字审查而无法 显示的呈现方式:不同于先前告知使用者「根据相关法律法规和政策,搜索结果未予显示」,现在网页上只是显示「没有找到相关结果」,而没有告知该关键字 被禁止的事实。而在11月9日起新浪微博才重新显示其审查通知,网页搜寻结果详如部落格Fei Chang Dao (非常道)所纪录。在世界的其他角落:埃及公共检察官于11月7日向传播及资讯技术部长、国家电信管制单位主管以及内政部长发出公开信,要求执行2009年通过的法院命令,依法禁止色情网站运作。全球之声倡议计画的Rayna St以及中东北非网民报导都详述了埃及禁制色情网站的历史发展以及相关争议。澳洲政府不再强制执行要求网路服务供应商必须阻断特定「应排斥类别」内容的网站过滤立法机制。取而代之的是,政府将要求网路服务供应商过滤特定的、列于国际刑事警察组织「最糟类别」名单上的虐童网站资讯。欧洲委员会辖下的一个团体正在进行「欧洲境况感知能力」研究案,其中包括控制以及描绘全球线上言论审查、侦察、以及其他近即时网路资讯安全、警示等与网路自由相关的议题。 [...]


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