#IMWeekly: July 11, 2014

by mayukh sen

Since June 2013, Jordan's Media Commission has blocked access to over 260 sites on the grounds that they violate a crucial licensing law. This week, it added nine more websites to this growing list, many of them news and information portals, under the justification that they do not have the required license to operate websites. Perhaps the most prominent of these sites is 7iber, a pro-free speech and media freedom site that was originally blocked a year ago. 7iber had changed its URL from .com to .org to circumvent this blockage, only to find itself restricted once again last week. The blocking takes after Jordan's Press and Publication Law, which was last amended in 2012. Article 49 of this law states that any news, investigations, and articles on political affairs in the Kingdom must obtain a license from the Press and Publication Department. 7iber's Editor-in-Chief, Lina Ejeilat, refused to apply for a license because of her belief that this requirement constitutes a form of government-mandated censorship. The eight other sites blocked along with 7iber, however, have applied for licenses, casting doubts on the Commission’s justifications for censorship. Ejeilat recently penned a long-form think piece for Global Voices Advocacy on the restrictions facing media advocacy groups like 7iber in the country.

Buddhists and Muslims clashed in Mandalay earlier this month, prompting the government to impose a curfew before it blocked Facebook – a tactic the government claimed would curb violence fueled by religious extremists. The riots began after a story of a Buddhist woman getting raped by her Muslim employers went viral on Facebook (the country is rife with tensions between majority Buddhists and minority Muslims). The platform then saw the proliferation of religious hate speech leveled by both sides against one another. Facebook, FirstPost reports, was offline in the country for two days. To Mong Palatino of Global Voices Advocacy, this curb on free speech signals a dangerous trend within Southeast Asia. Palatino questions whether these governments, as they move toward greater democratic reforms, may be compromising rights of free expression in the process.

On July 9, IFEX reported that a website in Mongolia was blocked after a journalist posted a picture critical of the Prime Minister. Mongolia's Communications Regulatory Commission (CRC) blocked amjilt.com on the grounds that the photo defamed the Prime Minister. Globe International Center suspects that the CRC, which usually has a more robust and drawn-out process for informing website owners of blockage before they move forward with blacklisting, violated its own terms of service when it failed to inform amjilt.com’s staff about these censorship plans.

Türk Telekom, Turkey's leading telecommunications service provider, announced this week that it has acquired technological equipment it can use to eavesdrop on Internet conversations. Particularly vulnerable applications are such messaging services as WhatsApp, Skype, and Google+. Ten Turkish civil society organizations banded together to protest this move, arguing that Türk Telekom's censorship and surveillance technologies would violate freedoms protected by the Turkish Constitution. The service provider has responded by saying that its moves were respectful of the law, failing to address whether it truly was spying on netizens. Türk Telekom's moves come months after Prime Minister Erdogan's March ban of Twitter due to the proliferation of speech that was critical of his ruling party.

United States
More details of the National Security Agency’s surveillance apparatus were revealed this week when The Washington Post reported that ordinary Americans – those who aren’t deemed threats to national security – often find themselves targets of the NSA’s interceptions. These reports came just days after it was leaked that the use of such privacy tools as Tor was enough to label one an “extremist” in the eyes of the NSA. U.S. officials defended these tactics by claiming that it routinely filters out the information it collects from these harmless citizens. That said, a report by The Intercept cast further doubt on these innocuous claims. The Intercept leaked details of the NSA’s spying on prominent Muslim-American rulers, renewing fears that even the most respected community leaders within America could be targeted for their religious or racial identities; on an example instructional form, the placeholder used for targeted Muslims was “Mohammed Raghead”.