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Netizen Report: Arrest and Web Censorship Spark Online Protests in Palestine

The Problem with Censorship is XXXXXXXXX, Budapest, Hungary. Photo by Cory Doctorow via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Censorship has been on the rise in Palestine in recent weeks. On June 12, officials from the Palestinian Authority demanded that ISPs in the West Bank block a reported 22 websites, most of which are affiliated with the opposition Islamist party Hamas or are otherwise critical of President Mahmoud Abbas. The websites appear to be blocked only in the West Bank.

An official from the Attorney General’s office, who wished to remain anonymous, said the sites were blocked for violating “rules of publication” but did not offer further specification. The 1995 Press and Publication Law includes several vague restrictions on freedom of expression, including a rule that forbids the press from “contradict[ing] the principles of….national responsibility” or publishing material that is “inconsistent with morals.”

The Haifa-based Arab Center for Social Media Advancement (7amleh) denounced the order, saying “[We] find that this move fully contradicts all international treaties and conventions, and marks a significant violation of the digital rights of segments of Palestinian society.”

Online, Palestinians have expressed frustration over the blocking and lack of transparency around the PA’s order. They have launched a campaign under the Arabic hashtag #لا_للحجب (“no to blocking”) demanding that the Attorney General explain the decision in a public statement.

This spate of online censorship comes on the heels of the June 8 arrest of Nassar Jaradat, a young Palestinian Facebook user. The PA charged Jaradat with “insulting and defaming public officials” in a Facebook post critical Jibril Al Rajoub, a prominent figure among PA leadership. In a recent interview with Israeli news program “Meet the Press,” Al Rajoub said that the Western Wall in occupied East Jerusalem should “remain under Israeli sovereignty”, a statement denounced by many Palestinians.

In his Facebook post, Jaradat said of Al Rajoub’s statement:

To give what you don’t personally own to those who do not deserve it. This is the essence of deception and the terror of concession.

Jaradat could risk anything from three weeks to two years in jail, in accordance a provision on “defamation, insult and abasement” in the Jordanian Penal Code of 1960, which is still applicable in the West Bank.

Activists expose Mexico’s multi-million dollar surveillance tech market

Mexican human rights lawyers, journalists and anti-corruption activists were targeted by spyware acquired by the government, according to research published this week by a group of NGOs in Mexico and Canada. The spyware was purchased by Mexican authorities from the Israeli company NSO group, under an explicit agreement that it be used only to investigate criminals and terrorists. Among those targeted were prominent journalists, lawyers investigating the mass disappearance of 43 students, and an American lawyer representing victims of sexual abuse by the police.

The government has denied engaging in surveillance and communications operations against human rights defenders without prior judicial authorization. However, research by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab suggests that the choice and targets and style of targeting “provide strong evidence the targeting was conducted without proper oversight and judicial accountability.”

Twitter censors Venezuelan government supporters

Venezuela’s Information Minister reported last week that at least 180 Twitter accounts belonging to government supporters and government-sponsored media channels have been suspended from the US-based platform. On June 17, President Nicolas Maduro made a public statement condemning the suspensions as an “expression of fascism” and vowing to open thousands of new accounts. “The battle on social media is very important,” he said. Although Twitter’s guidelines prohibit violent threats, harassment and “hateful conduct”, the company’s implementation of these rules is known to be uneven and unpredictable.

Spy tech threatens Chinese jaywalkers

Chinese cities including Jiangbei, Jinan and Suqian, have implemented facial recognition software to shame and fine citizens for jaywalking. Once captured, their images appear on big screens at intersections and their information, including a headshot, name, age, home address, registration and ID number are uploaded to a police system.

Japan’s anti-conspiracy bill puts citizens under microscope

On June 15, Japan's parliament ratified a controversial “anti-conspiracy” bill into law. There are fears the vague nature of the new law, which covers nearly 300 crimes, will erode civil liberties in Japan by providing authorities with broad surveillance powers, leaving the question of who can be monitored open to interpretation. Joseph Cannataci, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, has criticized the bill and expressed concern that may “legitimize and facilitate government surveillance of NGOs perceived to be acting against government interest.”

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