Netizen Reporter: Tech Writers Arrested in Iran

A cybercafe in Tehran

Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

The Netizen Report originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Richard Teverson, Hae-in Lim, Lisa Ferguson, Ellery Biddle, Bojan Perkov, Alex Laverty, and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy’s Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week’s report begins in Singapore, where blogger and gay rights advocate Alex Au, who has written extensively about judicial corruption on his blog, Yawning Bread, will soon have a public hearing regarding his coverage. The city-state’s Attorney General’s Chambers recently issued a statement suggesting that Au may be held in contempt of court over one particularly “injurious” post.

Au’s post, which has been removed from the site, reportedly suggested that in an effort to control the outcome, the Supreme Court manipulated dates for hearings challenging the constitutionality of Singapore’s ban on homosexual sex. About 170 Singaporean academics, civil servants, citizens and activists have signed a statement in support of Au.

Meanwhile, a court denied bail to James Raj, who was extradited from Malaysia last month and charged with hacking the website of Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. This was one in a series of government-website attacks, which may be an attempt to protest new Internet licensing rules in Singapore. Observers fear that the new rules could have harmful implications for free expression.

Thuggery: Tech writers arrested in Iran.
Several writers and staff of Iranian tech news website were arrested last week. Hours later, site administrators posted a list of those who were arrested, but it was quickly removed from the site. Mehr News (link in Farsi) and other sources report that the writers have been accused of harming national security.

Charges of lèse-majesté—the criminal act of harming the majesty—continue to threaten Thailand’s online community. A new Reporters Without Borders assessment describes how the government’s new “cyber scout” unit has used the country’s penal code, which prohibits insulting the king, against bloggers. The sentence of Chiranuch “Jiew” Premchaiporn, the editor of the online newspaper Prachatai, was recently upheld. Jiew was convicted of lèse-majesté in May 2012 for failing to remove anti-monarchy comments from the Prachatai website quickly enough.

Free Expression: Will “extremist” sites get the axe in the U.K.?
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron vowed at an October hearing to censor “extremist” websites as part of an effort to keep the country safe and “counter the extremist narrative” online. In recent weeks, critics have taken to Reddit to lambaste the leader.

National Policy: Ecuador gets choosy on digital rights.
A new state university initiative in Ecuador, known as the FLOK—“free, libre, open knowledge”—society, aims to encourage sharing and alternative approaches to intellectual property rights. This comes as a surprise to advocates who have criticized the Ecuadorian government’s use of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown system to remove politically controversial material from the Web. How much freedom does the government want Internet users to have? Between FLOK, Julian Assange, and the country’s new “media lynching” law, it’s hard to tell.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet signed the U.S.-Estonia Cyber Partnership Statement last week, in which they pledge to cooperate closely on Internet issues like cybersecurity and Internet freedom. Estonia has worked closely with the FBI since 2007 to develop expertise in fighting online crime.

Surveillance: Spies like Shazaam?
German law enforcement may develop a Shazaam-like app that could identify neo-Nazi music playing in public and online. A similar tool developed by the Oakland police, Shotspotter, is now undergoing trials in schools. Established in 2006, the system uses sensors around the city to “hear” gun shots.

Police chiefs in India and the United States apparently agree that by spreading “destructively innaccurate information,” social media users are making police work more difficult than in times past. At a recent joint conference, Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami urged the U.S. government to cooperate with Indian law enforcement requests to monitor communications made via U.S. service providers.

Copyright: Chinese video companies take profit over piracy.
China’s largest online video companies, including Youku Tudou and Baidu Inc., were once known for selling pirated content—but the companies have changed their tune since discovering that legal content can generate greater profits than pirated films and programs. Youku Tudou is now cooperating with government efforts to combat piracy in order to improve relations with foreign media companies. China’s online video market is expected to reach annual revenues of about $2 billion this year.

Security: Get your own Merkelphone!
Deutsche Telekom’s SimKo project is selling what it claims are secure mobile phones for about $2,300. SimKo’s phones use Android Knox, a cryptocard by Cergate, software by NCP, and a microkernel made by Berlin-based Trust2Core, to encrypt voice and data traffic. Privacy ain’t cheap.

Uncool Things
The global digital divide is contributing to the extinction of human languages: Less than 5 percent of the 7,000 human languages in existence have “digitally ascended”—that is, are used online.

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