General: GCHR report maps cybercrime laws and violations of digital rights in the Gulf and Neighbouring Countries

26.06.18

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) has released an extensive new report surveying the status of digital rights across the region. The report finds that national and regional repressive practices are used frequently to prosecute, criminalise and penalise the exercise of digital rights using the police, judiciary and cybercrime legislations.

The report, entitled “Mapping Cybercrime Laws and Violations of Digital Rights in the Gulf and neighbouring Countries”, is being released during GCHR’s advocacy at the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) this month. The surveyed countries in the report are the six countries of the Gulf, in addition to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

GCHR’s report highlights that violations of digital rights are reinforced and strengthened in the region, either directly through regional cooperation or indirectly as a result of adopting repressive measures that originate in one country, starting a trend. In general, across the region, cybercrimes legislation and charges against human rights defenders and netizens are very similar.

Moreover, an increasing number of defenders have been targeted for their exercise of digital rights and activism, and cyberspace has become the centre of governments’ attention for targeting and reprisals. Among the most prominent are GCHR’s Board member Ahmed Mansoor and Founding Director Nabeel Rajab who are imprisoned for tweeting in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain respectively. Across the region, some countries have excessively high fines that go along with the prison sentences, as well as travel bans.

Surveillance, state-sponsored malware and cyberespionage which are violations of netizens’ right to privacy are another highlight of this report. Governments have strengthened the restrictive legislative frameworks by importing surveillance technologies. These cyberattacks constitute intimidation and harassment of defenders and journalists active in unveiling corruption, violations of human rights and other injustices.

GCHR warns against the rise of prosecution carried out in the name of combating “fake news”, especially when legislating disinformation is still debatable. Yet, some accountability is needed both for those creating fake news to cause harm, and for other businesses engaged in profiting at the cost of human rights.

Khalid Ibrahim, GCHR’s Executive Director, asserts that: “We should be attentive to debates all over the world, such as setbacks to net neutrality in the United States, which, if adopted by repressive governments in the region, will adversely affect digital rights in our region.”

The report concludes with recommendations addressing European governments and European cybersecurity firms, governments in the Middle East, Internet Service Providers everywhere, the UN HRC and international human rights organisations.

The report’s release coincides with a side event GCHR is organising with other partner organisations during the UN HRC’s 38th Session, on the status of digital rights and crackdown on human rights defenders and civic activism in the region. The event takes place on 26 June 2018 at 13:00 - 14:00 in Room xxiv at the UNHRC in Geneva.

Download the full report in English here.

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The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is an independent, non-profit and non-governmental organisation that provides support and protection to human rights defenders in the Gulf region and neighbouring countries in order to promote human rights, including but not limited to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. GCHR is based in Lebanon and documents the environment for human rights defenders in the Gulf region and neighbouring countries, specifically Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.