General: The Future of Freedom of Expression in the Mediterranean

18.09.20

On 08 September 2020, Executive Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) Khalid Ibrahim participated in a Skyline inaugural online roundtable entitled, “The Future of Freedom of Expression in the Mediterranean”. He was a speaker along with Radha Stirling, Director of Detained in Dubai, and Antonio Rodriguez-Magarinos, lawyer of the administration of justice. The event was moderated by Daniel F. Rivera, Director of Skyline International.

Rivera started the event by giving an introduction about the work of Skyline International which is focused on defending the rights to freedom of opinion and of expression on all social media in the Arab world.

Ibrahim then talked about the current situation of freedom of expression in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, which he described as “the worst in our modern history.” He also mentioned that most of his colleagues who were free in 2000 are now behind bars due to their legitimate and peaceful human rights activities.

Ibrahim also said, “The traditional media is controlled by oppressive governments and when people including activists went to the social media networks to express their views, cyber-crime laws were introduced which are designed to imprison online activists.”

Ibrahim called for an end to the exportation of surveillance equipment from Western democracies to MENA countries as it is used to monitor online activism or block human rights websites such as GCHR’s website, which is blocked in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.

Ibrahim added that in 2004 the European Union adopted Guidelines for protecting human rights defenders “but they were never implemented in our region.” He said that human rights defenders need visibility so diplomatic missions must show them their support, but in the long term we need to have a strategy to make sure that human rights will be in the heart of any diplomatic partnership with oppressive governments in the MENA region.

Finally, Ibrahim said he is optimistic about the future and that a peaceful change is possible, but it will take time.

Radha Stirling highlighted that the situation has become far more complicated than we imagine. Countries in the MENA region are enacting cyber-crime laws that are not only affecting people who criticise the government or make comments online in their country but are additionally affecting people who made comments online a long time ago in another country. 

Rodriguez-Magarinos stated that he believes there is little awareness about these problems at the EU level. In the EU, people are more aware of global warming and data protection than the Mediterranean's current human rights situation. 

To see the full event, follow the link below: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEokv0ThN3s