General: Who Will be Left to Defend Human Rights? Persecution of Online Expression in the Gulf and Neighbouring Countries


Human Right Defenders (HRDs) in the Gulf region and neighbouring countries face an increasingly hostile environment for exercising freedom of expression online. This report by the International Human Rights Law Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) documents 225 incidents between May 2018 and October 2020, evidencing how governments in the region have enacted anti-cybercrime legislation that restricts and criminalises protected online expression. In addition, governments used against HRDs criminal defamation and insult laws, as well as vague and overbroad criminal prohibitions of expression that officials consider threatening to public order, national security, or other similar interests. 

Equipped with this broad legal arsenal, governments arrested, prosecuted, and imposed stiff sentences, including the death penalty, on defenders engaged in the legitimate and valuable activity of promoting human rights through online expression. There is a clear pattern throughout the region of governments seeking to strictly control and limit expression of which they disapprove. 

The States included in this study are Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates. For each, this report analyses their domestic anti-cybercrime and other relevant laws against international human rights law and standards and identifies the trends of violating online freedom of expression among the reported incidents.

To read the full report in English language follow the link: 

The event is being launched on 9 November with Keynote Speaker Clément Voule, Special Rapporteur on Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association. The findings are presented by Laurel E. Fletcher, Chancellor’s Clinical Professor of Law, IHRLC Co-Director, 

Astha Sharma Pokharel, IHRLC Clinical Teaching Fellow, two IHRLC Student researchers who must remain anonymous, and GCHR’s Digital Rights Officer. Discussing the report findings is Khouloud Al-Khatib, Assoc. Professor of Law, Faculty of Law and Political Science, Lebanese University, and President of the Lebanese Organization for Defending Equality and Rights (LOUDER). The Moderator is Michael Khambatta, GCHR’s Geneva Representative.

Watch the video of the event livestreamed on GCHR’s YouTube at: