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. Ellery Roberts Biddle, Juan Arellano, Marianne Diaz, Sam Kellogg, Weiping Li, Rezwan, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.
A Brazilian judge ordered internet service providers to block access to WhatsApp in the country for 72 hours, citing the company’s alleged failure to comply with an order to assist police in a drug investigation. The block was lifted the next day. If you think this sounds familiar, you’re not wrong: A judge also ordered WhatsApp to be blocked in 2015 for a period of about 12 hours before the decision was overturned by an appeals court.
Ethiopians face dire consequences for participating in digital culture
The Ethiopian Federal High Court convicted Zelalem Workagenehu under the country’s Anti-Terror Proclamation and will issue his sentence May 10. Workagenehu was arrested along with Yonatan Wolde and Bahiru Degu for applying to attend a training session on digital communication, social media, and leadership, which the government has described as a “training operation to terrorize the country.” All three were arrested and spent more than 600 days in prison without facing trial. Degu reported experiencing extensive torture during his first few months in detention, including beatings and being forced to remove his clothes and drink his own urine. Wolde and Degu were acquitted of the charges and released from prison, but were re-arrested shortly afterward and forced to spend another night in prison before being released again and told they remain under observation. Their relatives say they were told by the state security officers that “they would be killed if they made any moves.”
Mexican NGO takes “stalker law” to Supreme Court
The Second Chamber of Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation ruled on May 4 that the controversial Telecom Law, nicknamed the “Ley Stalker” (“Stalker Law”) does not violate the nation’s constitution. The law requires telecommunications companies to retain records of users’ metadata for two years and provide unrestricted access to state authorities without any requirement for judicial oversight. The law, which came into effect in August 2014, has come under criticism from digital rights groups for being invasive of privacy. The Mexico City–based NGO Network for Defense of Digital Rights now plans to challenge the Supreme Court ruling before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Russian activists sound alarm on Telegram security flaws
Two Russian opposition activists reported their Telegram messenger accounts were remotely hacked through the app’s SMS login feature, suggesting the app is not as secure as the company claims. They believe the Russian government was involved in the hack. Security researcher Frederick Jacobs pointed to similar attacks on Iranian accounts earlier this year, critiquing the safety implications of text message logins.
Myanmar activists tackle online hate, work to educate
As Internet connectivity has increased in Myanmar over the past six years, social media users have seen a rising tide of anti-Muslim sentiment on social platforms. In response, activists in have launched a campaign to confront hate speech that aims to educate Internet users on how to identify and respond to hate speech, and how to engage in constructive debates online.
Iranian cartoonists released from prison
Two popular Iranian web cartoonists who were jailed for their artwork were released from prison since our last report. Hadi Heidari, who was arrested for a cartoon marking the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, was freed from prison on April 26. Cartoonist Atena Farghadani was also released on May 3, after her sentence was reduced from 12 years to 18 months.
• “The Right to Privacy in Venezuela”—Acceso Libre, the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, and Privacy International
• “Watchtower: Mapping the Indian Government’s Cybersecurity Institutions”—Internet Democracy Project