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, Mahsa Alimardani, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Mohamed ElGohary, Leila Nachawati, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.
Millions of Iranians turned out in Tehran on Jan. 10 for the funeral of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the founders of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The funeral for the moderate former president, who supported the now jailed leaders of the Green Movement, became an opportunity to voice dissent regarding the jailing of political prisoners, Iran’s relationship with Russia, and frustration at the notoriously biased state broadcaster, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.
IRIB, which holds a monopoly over television broadcasts, appeared to be avoiding coverage of the funeral, perhaps in an effort to avoid documenting public dissent. Some Iranians said they experienced jamming and slowing of the internet within the crowds and throughout Tehran. It is unclear whether this was tied to government efforts to quench dissent, or due to increased internet traffic.
Two current high-profile cases of political prisoners include those of Atena Daemi and Arash Sadeghi. Sadeghi went on hunger strike in November to protest the arrest of his wife, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee. Iraee was arrested and sentenced to six years in prison for “insulting the sacred” and “propaganda against the state” for her writing, including several Facebook posts and a story she wrote in a notebook that was confiscated when authorities raided her home.
Iraee was granted a furlough from prison after Sadeghi began his hunger strike, and the judiciary later revisited the case and agreed that her sentence was wrongfully issued. Earlier this week, however, the prosecutor gave notice that her furlough was overturned, and she was ordered to return to jail. She has so far refused. Shortly thereafter, Sadeghi was taken from Evin prison to the hospital, where he was treated for intestinal bleeding and organ failure after going for 71 days without food. He has since been returned to prison.
Jailed civil rights defender Atena Daemi is facing new charges, including resisting arrest and assaulting an arresting agent, after filing a complaint against the Revolutionary Guards for using excessive force. She was first arrested in 2014 for allegedly meeting the families of political prisoners and criticizing the Islamic Republic on Facebook. She and her father both filed claims against authorities for breaking and entering their home without showing a summons. Her mother says there is video evidence from the day of her arrest proving that the charges are unwarranted.
Apple boots New York Times from Chinese app store
Apple agreed to remove both the English and Chinese versions of the New York Times app from its App Store in China after receiving a request from government officials. Apple faces sharp criticism for its compliance with the demand, and particularly for doing so without offering any public explanation or showing any evidence of a court order. The New York Times website has been blocked in China since 2012, after it published an expose about the wealth of politicians’ families.
Lebanese switch to airplane mode to protest soaring mobile costs
On Jan. 8, users of Lebanon’s only two mobile operators, Alfa and touch, which are both state-owned, switched their mobile phones to flight mode to protest high costs of international and domestic calls. Mobile subscribers in Lebanon pay the highest fees for prepaid services among 16 Arab countries surveyed, including wealthy Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to research by the Jordan-based Arab Advisors Group.
Iran installs state bots on popular Telegram channels
Iran has intensified enforcement of its policy requiring permits for Telegram messaging app administrators operating channels with more than 5,000 followers. Officials say they can target popular channels using algorithms to identify and prosecute those administrators. Seven hundred channels have registered so far. Channel owners must register and add a bot called “iransamandehibot” as a temporary co-administrator on their account until the ministry verifies them. These bots can enable surveillance abilities by searching the channels for specific users and monitoring their online activity.
Russia’s New Year’s resolutions include “Google tax”
Several new laws came into effect in Russia on Jan. 1 that will impact netizens’ rights in the country. Among them is a “Google tax” issued on some foreign internet retail companies, plus rules that will require news aggregators whose daily traffic exceeds one million views to be regulated as media outlets. See Global Voices’ roundup of these and other laws for more.
Bangladesh blocks some porn
Bangladeshi authorities blocked 560 pornography websites, most of which are locally hosted. It was part of the first foray against objectionable content, which falls under a 2012 anti-pornography law that provides prison sentences and hefty fines for “carrying, exchanging, using, selling, marketing, distributing, preserving, [and] filming” pornography in the country.
Kazakhstan jails Facebooker for insulting Putin
Kazakh Facebook user and businessman Sanat Dosov was sentenced to jail for insulting Russian President Vladimir Putin on Facebook. The sentence could be an attempt to bring online political discourse in line with the government’s thinking. The government has also recently arrested social media users for posting about ethnic Kazakh concerns.
Kuwaiti man sentenced to 42 years in prison over tweets
A former Kuwaiti lawmaker is facing more than 42 years in prison for tweets deemed insulting to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Abdulhameed Dashti—a critic of Saudi Arabia for its war in Yemen and military intervention in Bahrain—has been convicted in absentia of insulting Saudi Arabia. He is currently in the U.K. for medical reasons.
Digital activists go missing in Pakistan
Reports are emerging from families and civil rights organizations that as many as nine Pakistani activists and bloggers went missing within the first week of 2017. Four of them are known for their secular and left-leaning views. The most publicly vocal of the group is social media activist and poet Salman Haider, a lecturer at Fatima Jinnah University and editor of independent magazine Tanqeed who is known for his critiques of the military and writings about enforced disappearances in Balochistan province, which has suffered from decades of armed conflict between Baloch nationalist militants and the Pakistani military. Haider's profile rose in 2014, when his poem “Main bhi Kafir” (“I Am an Infidel”) went viral. The poem reflected on the multiple attacks on Shia-Hazaras of Balochistan.
UAE man has spent more than a year in pre-trial detention over Facebook posts
More than a year after he was arrested in the UAE, Jordanian journalist Tayseer Najjar remains in detention without trial or access to a lawyer. According to rights groups, Najjar was detained in relation to Facebook posts he published before moving to the UAE in April 2015 to work as a culture reporter for a local newspaper. Published in 2014 and 2012, the posts were reportedly critical of Gulf countries, Egyptian President Abdelfattah Sisi, and Israel’s war on Gaza.
“Shrinking Spaces: Online Freedom of Assembly and of Association in Pakistan”—Association for Progressive Communications
“Online Privacy Through a Gendered Lens in Bangladesh”—Farhana Akter for GenderIT