Week in Review: December 12, 2017

by Dan Bateyko

Yemen insurgent group causes Internet disruptions

The Yemen-based Houthi insurgent group - now in control of Yemen’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology - have taken measures to disrupt national Internet access, according to Agence France-Presse reporting. Disruptions include limiting access to social media and an Internet shutdown last Thursday, rendering the Internet unavailable for around 30 minutes.

Thursday’s shutdown comes on the heels of a series of Internet disruptions in Yemen; in a report for Social Media Exchange (SMEX), a Beirut-based media advocacy organization, former Internet Monitor intern Grant Baker distills the run-up to the shutdown:

“Prior to the shutdown, internet users were unable to reach the social media platforms and communication tools they rely on to access information and connect to each other after YemenNet blocked Facebook, Telegram, Twitter, and WhatsApp. Though the disruptions on Saturday and Thursday mark the most targeted attacks against social media, the Houthis had previously blocked Telegram and used a bandwidth control filter on Facebook, preventing multimedia content from loading. Regarding the timing of the disruptions, al-Saqaf said the decision to limit access on Thursday could be related to the mass dissemination of videos depicting atrocities committed by Houthi forces. The first restriction to the internet took place on December 2, three days after violent clashes erupted in Sana’a between the Houthis and forces loyal to Saleh, a former Houthi ally-turned-foe killed by the Houthis on December 4.”

An EFF article from 2015 describes a worrying trend of Internet disruptions in Yemen, including an outage on a submarine cable likely due to power failures and a decrease in Internet traffic coinciding with oil shortages.

For more details about Yemen’s recent Internet disruptions, see SMEX’s report here.

NGO Free Expression Myanmar releases report on online free speech legislation

The NGO Free Expression Myanmar released a report today on Article 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Law which punishes those “extorting, defaming, disturbing, or threatening a person using a telecommunication network.” The report addresses the need for evidence of how Article 66(d) is used - a gap discovered after an attempt by a civil society coalition to repeal the Article earlier this year.

The study looks at all cases of the application of Article 66(d) since its adoption, finding that “the majority of cases under 66(d) are powerful people complaining about those who criticise them” and that “convictions are made on the admission of minimal, untested, and unreliable evidence.”

Yin Yadanar Thein, programme manager of Free Expression Myanmar, writes in Mizzma, a Myanmar news organization, that “there should be more tolerance of criticism, as the government receives our taxes, and should be controlled by the people.”

Free Expression Myanmar makes several recommendations to lawmakers, government officials, and members of civil society, and calls for the repeal of Article 66(d) along with amendments to other laws regulating online expression. A number of amendments to the law passed this August, including reduced prison sentences and increasing the likelihood of receiving bail.

The full report can be found on Free Expression Myanmar’s website here.

Cambodian military files lawsuit against former opposition leader's over Facebook post

Former Cambodian Opposition Leader Sam Rainsy is facing a lawsuit for “inciting the armed force to cause insecurity to the state,” following a Facebook post in which he called on soldiers not to “shoot and kill innocent people” even if ordered, reports the Phnom Penh Post. The charges come a day after Prime Minister Hun Sen called on Rainsy to be charged with treason over the same post. According to Reuters, the post included a video of Rainsy speaking to supporters in Paris and featured statements regarding Prime Minister Hun Sen; “Around the world, at any time, armed forces don’t obey orders given by dictators to kill people and we say that Hun Sen is not immortal, we must not protect Hun Sen.”

In a separate case in 2016, Kong Raya, a University student, became the first individual in the country to be convicted for a social media post; Raya was jailed for 18 months following a Facebook post calling for a ‘color revolution” in Cambodia.