Session Summaries | Internet Shutdowns and Silencing Arab Dissidents in the Gulf | #RightsCon

29-31 March 2017...

29-31 March 2017, Brussels - Bahrain Watch hosted one session and participated in two others at RightsCon Brussels last week discussing a wide range of topics including internet shutdowns, government surveillance on citizens in the Gulf and the struggle to defend the safety and security of online activists.

Human Rights Next Frontier: How to Fight Criminalisation of Online Activism

On 29 March, Bahrain Watch member Ali Abdulemam participated in a panel organised by the European Centre for Demogracy and Human Rights and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights titled Human Rights Next Frontier: How to Fight Criminalisation of Online Activism. Ali spoke about facing reprisals for launching the first independent online platform in Bahrain which included going into hiding for two years. He outlined some of the reprisals currently faced by digital activists in the Gulf for sharing information online and presented various methods of surveillance used by Gulf governments.

Watch a snippet of the talk

At What Cost? Telecoms and Internet Companies Discuss Internet Shutdowns

On 30 March, Bahrain Watch Co-Founder Alaa Shehabi participated in a panel organised by Access Now titled “At What Cost? Telecoms and Internet Companies Discuss Internet Shutdowns” focusing on the economic cost of global internet shutdowns. The panel consisted of Chinmayi Arun (National Law Centre of New Delhi) Bennett Freeman (Global Network Initiative), Yves Nissim (Orange) and Alex Warofka (Facebook).

Alaa focused on the the internet shutdown in Bahrain which has been ongoing for over 270 days. She explained the government reasoning behind the shutdown and identified the economic impact it has had on residents and customers. She also presented the findings of the Bahrain Watch investigative report on the shutdown and explained the economic cost calculations that found that the shutdown has costs residents over $600000. Customers have struggled to end their subscription despite interrupted services and have been forced to pay extortionate fees to do so. The shutdown has affected students during exams, small local business who depend on digital transactions and the elderly who rely on the internet for care.

Technology, Oil and Dissent: Responding to Technology-Based Silencing of Dissidents in the Arab Gulf

On 30 March, Bahrain Watch hosted a session focusing on government suveillance and hacking in the Gulf. The panel consisted of Dr. Alaa Shehabi the Co-Founder of Bahrain Watch, Maryam Al Khawaja the Special Advisor to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Dr. Ronald Deibert the Director of The Citizen Lab, Dr. Marc Owen Jones the Research Director at Bahrain Watch and Ali Abdulemam the head of AmanaTech at Bahrain Watch.

Alaa Shehabi, who moderated the panel, kicked off the event by identifying the different types and forms of control that governments practice in the Gulf including spying and censorship tools. Dr. Ron Deibert highlighted the case of Emirati activist Ahmed Mansour and presented Citizen Lab investigations including identified the malicious link that was sent to attack the activist in an attempt to spy on him. Abdulemam discussed digital security tips and presented our newly launched website Amanatech.

Marc presented breakthrough first hand research on Twitter bots, used by Gulf governments to promote sectarianism and hate speech in the Gulf. The project is in its initial stages and promises to provide previously unidentified mass government interference in social media.