The Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in internet rights around the world. It originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Afef Abrougui, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Mohamed El-Gohary, L. Finch, Weiping Li, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.
On Jan. 16, the Bahraini government banned the online edition of independent newspaper Al-Wasat from “using electronic media tools.” The ministry’s order implies that the paper has been banned from publishing on its website and social media channels alike. The paper has about 229,000 followers on Twitter and more than 354,000 on Facebook.
The Ministry of Information tweeted that it banned the daily from publishing online for “repeatedly publishing and broadcasting material that causes a rift in society and a spirit of division that harms national unity and public order.”
It is not clear what material is the ministry referring to, but activists suspect it may have been in response to the paper’s online coverage of the Jan. 15 execution of three men convicted of murdering three policemen, following what rights groups have described as an unfair trial. Al-Wasat is not new to government harassment. In 2010, it was banned from broadcasting audio reports and interviews on its website. It was forced to close its video section for part of 2016. In April 2011, the paper’s co-founder Karim Al-Fakhrawi died, while in the custody of Bahraini security officials, after he was subjected to torture.
Israeli lawmakers give nod to “Facebook Bill”
Israel is considering new legislation that would allow Israeli administrative courts to demand that social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter remove online content that Israeli officials consider incitement to violence. Informally known as the “Facebook Bill,” the law was approved by a ministerial committee in late December.
Both Palestinians and Israelis have expressed concerns about the new bill’s implications for free expression, in light of its vague language and the fact that Facebook already removes content that incites violence. Dozens of Palestinians have been previously arrested by Israeli authorities for “incitement through social media” after voicing their opposition to the occupation.
Global Voices contributor Marwa Fatfata writes: “Many Palestinians have turned to social media as a non-violent means of expressing criticism and anger over human rights violations, and as a way to simply show the everyday realities of occupation. If passed, the bill could be used to silence this type of speech and thus extend the occupation into the online world.”
Kenyan Twitter users fear an election day social media shutdown
Kenyans have started expressing fears of a possible shutdown of social media by the government in the run up to the August 2017 presidential elections. On Twitter, there have been rumors of a bill that would seek to regulate the use of social media in Kenya. There is precedent for such a shutdown—in mid-December, security personnel shut down the internet and telecommunication equipment around Kenya’s Parliament building as opposition and pro-government MPs clashed over the amendment of the laws regarding the upcoming elections.
Online speech cases suspended in Oman
Two courts in Oman have suspended the prison sentences of activist Hassan Al-Basham and writer Hammood Al-Shukaily, the Gulf Center for Human Rights reports. Al-Basham was sentenced to jail in June 2016 for “using of the Internet in what might be prejudicial to religious values” and was also convicted of “insulting the Sultan.” On Jan. 17, the Supreme Court revoked a three-year jail sentence against Al-Basham and referred it back to a primary court on the grounds that his defense team’s request for a medical examination was ignored. The next day, a court of appeal in the capital Muscat suspended the three-and-a-half–year prison sentence of Hammood Al-Shukaily, who was convicted of “incitement to protest” in connection with a poem that he wrote and posted on Facebook.
Spanish student faces criminal charges over tweets
A 21-year-old student in Spain could face up to two-and-a-half years in prison over 13 tweets she published that federal prosecutors say derided victims of terrorism. The tweets contained jokes about Luis Carrero Blanco, a prime minister during dictator Francisco Franco’s rule, who was killed in 1973 in a bombing carried out by Basque separatist group ETA.
One of the tweets in question read: “Kissinger gave Carrero Blanco a piece of the moon, ETA paid for him to take a trip there.” Insult or humiliation of victims of terrorism is a crime under Spain’s penal code. Prosecutors are also seeking three years of probation and eight and a half years of what’s known as full disqualification, which would bar the student—an aspiring teacher—from civil service employment, including working in a public school.
Philippines slaps porn sites with censorship
The Philippine government started blocking multiple major adult websites, including PornHub and Xvideos, under laws intended to eliminate child pornography. The restrictions appear to vary by internet service provider, according to the International Business Times, making it difficult to assess the full extent of the block. The Philippines ranks highest for average time spent on PornHub, according to the site’s Year in Review statistics for 2016.
“How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, Not Engaged Argument“—Gary King, Jennifer Pan, and Margaret E. Roberts
“The Internet Health Report: What’s helping (and what’s hurting) our largest global resource“—Mozilla