MENA Governments Limiting Internet Freedoms
Across the Middle East and North Africa, countries that escaped the sweeping revolutions of the Arab Spring are becoming increasingly sensitive to speech on social media sites and have been limiting other internet mediums. Iran has begun blocking access to Gmail and other sites in an attempt to increase its control of the internet. Previously, Iranian bloggers were able to circumvent the firewalls, but that has recently changed as Iran moves toward a ‘national internet’. “Basically, they are already shutting off access to all interesting Web sites,” said Iranian blogger Maysam – who spoke on condition of anonymity - “It seems that the authorities are increasingly getting the upper hand online.” The network took $1 billion to develop and will provide ordinary Iranians a more censored internet. Iran’s police chief, Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam, told Iranian news that the internet needs to be free from “immoral” content and “our connection should be made to secure places to avoid subversive action.”
In related news, the local Saudi media reported that King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud issued a warrant for Hamza Kashgari, regarding his three tweets of a fictional conversation with the Prophet Muhammed. Saudi Information Minister Abdul-Aziz Khoja gave “instructions to ban [Kashgari] from writing for any Saudi newspaper or magazine, and there will be legal measures to guarantee that.” Kashgari attempted to enter New Zealand through Kuala Lumpur after receiving several death threats, but was detained at the airport. Home Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said the charges are a “matter for the Saudi Arabian authorities,” as Kashgari returned to Saudi Arabia. “We are concerned that he would not face a fair trial back home and that he could face the death penalty if he is charged with apostasy,” stated Kashgari’s attorney, Muhammad Afiq Mohamad Nor.
Update: Reporters Without Borders released a report that they are “extremely concerned” about Kashgari, who is facing a possible death sentence. “Saudi Arabia has again demonstrated its implacable intolerance of freedom of expression,” said Reporters Without Border, and accused the Malaysian authorities of complicity by extraditing Kashgari. Writing for the Washington Post, Richard Cohen believes the Kashgari affair is a test to Saudi Arabia’s future. Transferring into a knowledge-based economy, Saudi Arabia needs to attract first-class talent, seem open to investment opportunities, and “cannot remain under the thumb of an extremely reactionary religious establishment that in some sense is as powerful as the royal family,” said Cohen