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Netizen Report: Tanzania’s crackdown on free speech targets media advocates from CPJ

A newsstand advertising The Citizen, an independent newspaper in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Photo by Adam Jones via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This report covers news and events from November 1-15, 2018.

Two media freedom advocates from the Committee to Protect Journalists were detained and interrogated by plainclothes officers in Tanzania, while they were visiting the country as part of a fact-finding mission.

CPJ staffers Angela Quintal and Muthoki Mumo were coerced to leave their hotel and were detained for several hours at a private home by plainclothes officers. The officers also seized and attempted to search their electronic devices.

In a written account of the experience for South Africa’s The Daily Maverick, Quintal described how the officers treated both her and Mumo, who is Kenyan.

We were alone at the mercy of a posse of men, some of whom were very abusive and hostile….An intelligence agent was particularly abusive towards Muthoki. He even slapped and shoved her. I tried to intervene and was told to back off. I was terrified that Muthoki would be sexually assaulted and I would be powerless to stop them.

Quintal and Mumo were in Tanzania to meet with journalists and media freedom advocates who have seen a rise in repression of media workers in recent years, under the administration of President John Magufuli.

Alongside extralegal threats against media workers, measures like the country’s 2016 Cybercrime Law and the 2018 “blogger tax” licensing scheme have created new ways for authorities to target free expression and silence their critics. The Cybercrime Law has been used to arrest multiple individuals for non-violent political opinions expressed on Facebook and in WhatsApp groups. Authorities have also used it in their case against Maxence Melo, the prominent founder and owner of Jamii Forums, which has been dubbed both the “Tanzanian Reddit” and “Swahili Wikileaks”. Melo was prosecuted after refusing to disclose user data to state authorities.

Saudi human rights activist tortured to death in prison

Human rights defender Turki Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Jasser was once a prominent voice in Saudi Arabia, where he used an anonymous Twitter account to report human rights abuses in the kingdom and helped lead ALQST (Advocating for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia), one of few local human rights groups. But this came to an end in March 2018 when he was abducted by authorities who traced the anonymous Twitter account back to Al-Jasser. This week, Al-Jasser died after being tortured in a Saudi prison.

Multiple media sources including The New York Times have speculated that Saudi government agents could have obtained this information from inside Twitter, through an informant employed at the company’s UAE office, where the company handles issues related to Saudi users. But this has not been confirmed. Although it remains unclear precisely how Al-Jasser’s identity was determined, some of his supporters are holding Twitter responsible.

Patrolling for fake news, rumors and ‘inappropriate words’ in China

An investigation by Hong Kong Free Press showed that the names of some Chinese state leaders and activists have been deemed “inappropriate words” and censored from the latest versions of a device-engraving service offered for the iPad, iPod Touch and Apple Pencil. If a customer types “Xi Jinping” (the name of China's president) in Chinese characters, the following warning appears: “Inappropriate words are not allowed.” References to political dissidents, Hong Kong and Taiwan independence, and the Falun Gong generate similar results.

China’s social media platform Weibo (similar to but larger than Twitter) is giving Chinese government actors and select media outlets the power to flag Weibo posts as “rumors”, as part of an effort to identify fake news online. In China, any information that comes into conflict with official narratives and party politics can be considered a rumor.

Ugandan scholar arrested for insulting the president’s mother on Facebook

Scholar and feminist activist Stella Nyanzi was arrested at Makerere University on November 2 and charged under the 2011 Computer Misuse Act for using “electronic communication to disturb or attempts to disturb the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person with no purpose of legitimate communication.” Nyanzi was arrested on similar charges in 2017, after she compared president Museveni to a “pair of buttocks” on her Facebook page.

Algerian journalists arrested for defamation

Abdou Semmar, the editor-in-chief of Algérie Part and a former Global Voices contributor, and fellow journalist Merouane Boudiab were released from detention on November 8, after spending more than two weeks behind bars. They were arrested in response to defamation complaints filed by Anis Rahmani, the director of the privately-owned Ennahar TV, and the governor of Algiers, Abdelkader Zoukh.

Algérie Part has done extensive coverage of allegations of corruption against Zoukh. They have also been critical of Rahmani and his media group, reporting that Ennahar TV has been spreading lies and rumours. Neither of the plaintiffs have said publicly what they find defamatory in Algérie Part's reporting. The journalists are now awaiting trial.

Western Sahara media activist is still alive after 45-day hunger strike

Bashir Khadda, a 32-year-old media activist from Western Sahara who has been in jail since 2010, suspended a 45-day hunger strike at the urging of his family members. Khadda worked primarily with Equipe Media documenting human rights abuses and protests in the disputed north African territory before he was arrested in 2010 and convicted of “complicity in violence” against security forces in 2013, after being forced to sign a pre-written confession while blindfolded.

Despite his medically fragile state — he is now unable to walk or talk — he remains in solitary confinement in Morocco's Talfit prison.

 

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