Gulf, Egypt jail activists amid social media crackdown

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Courts in the Gulf and Egypt have upheld jail terms against leading activists in a crackdown on protesting through social media, marking a somber end to 2018 for rights campaigners.

In both Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, prominent campaigners lost their appeals on Monday against lengthy prison terms over their online posts.

Award-winning human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor saw his 10-year sentence upheld by the UAE’s Federal Supreme Court, Amnesty International said.

Elsewhere in the Gulf, Amnesty decried the “utterly outrageous” five-year jail term handed down to prominent Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab.

Mansoor was convicted in May of attempting to harm his country’s relations with its neighbours by spreading misinformation in Facebook and Twitter posts, according to local media.

The upper court also confirmed a fine of one million dirhams ($270,000) for Mansoor, 49, who will be kept under surveillance for three years after his release.

Amnesty said the final ruling “confirms there is no space for free expression in the United Arab Emirates.”

The UAE’s ruling families rarely tolerate opposition and during Mansoor’s trial all court proceedings were conducted in almost total secrecy.

– ‘A complete farce’ –

Rajab was also jailed for criticising his country’s rulers on social media, losing his appeal on Monday at Bahrain’s supreme court, a judicial source said.

A high-profile rights activist who is already serving a two-year term in another case, Rajab was first handed the sentence in February by a lower court and an appeals court confirmed it in June.

Amnesty International said the ruling “exposes Bahrain’s justice system as a complete farce.”

Rajab was found guilty of insulting the state by “deliberately disseminating”, false and malicious news on social media.

He was also convicted of criticising the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen and publicly offending a foreign country, a reference to Saudi Arabia.

Manama is part of the alliance spearheaded by Riyadh and Rajab was found guilty of endangering Bahrain’s military operation in Yemen.

The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy said the ruling had been carefully timed.

“By arranging the final verdict to fall during the holidays, a time when international attention will be minimal, the intentions of Bahrain’s rulers have been made clear. This appears to be a planned outcome, prepared well in advance,” it said in a statement.

Rajab played a key role in Shiite-led anti-government protests in 2011, since when dozens of high-profile activists have been jailed by authorities in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.

– Law against ‘fake news’ –

Social networking sites, notably Twitter, are a major platform for rights activists in Bahrain.

In March, authorities announced they would be taking “severe measures” to track down dissidents who use social media, as Bahrain tightens its grip on political opposition.

Egypt has also clamped down on online platforms this year, introducing legislation to monitor social media users in the country as part of a broader tightening of internet controls.

The law was ratified by the presidency in September and includes powers to suspend or block any personal account which publishes “fake news” or information inciting law-breaking, violence or hatred.

Even before the new legislation, Egyptian authorities were widely criticised by rights groups for their zero-tolerance approach to critics.

In May, rights activist Amal Fathi was arrested over a video she posted online in which she spoke out against sexual harassment in Egypt.

The 34-year-old was subsequently convicted of charges including “spreading false news”.

On Monday she lost her appeal and was handed a two-year prison term, as well as a fine of 10,000 Egyptian pounds ($560).


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