Online Speech Under Threat Throughout Arab World: Report

ICFP Fellow Wafa Ben Hassine Tracks Legal Threats to Free Speech in Four Countries
Thu, 2016-04-28 23:55

Free speech and open expression online are stifled by draconian laws and government intimidation throughout the Arab world, a new Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) report finds.

The report, authored by OTF Information Controls fellow Wafa Ben Hassine, analyzes government attacks on online speech, specifically through the misapplication of counterterrorism and cyber-security laws, in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia.

“The Crime of Speech: How Arab Governments Use the Law to Silence Expression Online” finds that throughout these four countries, Internet users are regularly arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned for exercising their human right to free speech online.

Though repression was a constant in all of the countries surveyed, each government relies upon “unique mechanisms” to enforce control over activists, journalists, and other human rights defenders.

“[D]ue to the diversity of legal and political contexts, the region is far from monolithic,” Hassine wrote. “Each country has its own legal methods for stifling expression.”

In Saudi Arabia, for example, government critics are silenced through ostensible ‘counterterrorism’ laws, while the Egyptian government relies heavily upon a November 2013 anti-protest law to curb activist activities.

Though their preferred means may differ, both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, along with Jordan and Tunisia, have demonstrated a clear intolerance for dissent online, and the willingness to silence it through their legal systems: “In each of the countries studied, politically motivated arrests of online activists are on the rise.”


ICFP fellow Wafa Ben Hassine is working with the Electronic Frontier Foundation researching counterrorism and cyber-security laws in the Arab world that limit various rights online. She is also analyzing effects on local rights advocates through the control of information flows and the disregard of due process.

To learn more about the Information Controls Fellowship Program, click here.

For a look at the accomplishments of some of our past ICFP fellows, click here.