Iran is far from alone in locking up bloggers. Governments across the Middle East are increasingly twitchy about their citizens’ online activities. As internet use in the region has soared—up 19-fold since 2000, compared with a fivefold rise in the rest of the world, according to Internet World Stats, which monitors global internet usage—so the number jailed for what they do on the web has shot up too.At the same time, these governments are no above using the internet for their own purposes. Last year, the Internet was one of the tools the Iranian regime used to combat the protesters--they posted their pictures online and asked the public to identify them. And this past May, Revolutionary Guard commander Ebrhim Jabari confirmed the establishment of a 'cyber-army', whose purpose was to crack down on what it termed 'destructive' networks. This unit is suspected of being responsible for arresting hundreds of Iranians.
According to Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based watchdog, at least 17 “netizens” are in jail across the Middle East: eight in Iran and the rest in Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. China may be the biggest online represser, but the Middle East is not far behind.
Earlier this month, Syrian officials confirmed that in December 2009 Tal al-Mallohi, a 19-year-old student, was arrested, accused of spying. She has been held without charge for nine months. Many believe her blog is to blame. Earlier this year a Lebanese blogger, Khodor Salameh, was interrogated after writing a post lampooning Michel Suleiman, the country’s president.
Egypt is little better. Two of its policemen are accused of beating to death a young man, Muhammad Khaled Said, outside an internet café in Alexandria in June after he posted an online video incriminating the police in a drug deal. The incident provoked angry protests online and in the streets. Another Egyptian blogger, Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman, was arrested in November 2006 for blog posts criticising senior clerics and the government. He has been in detention ever since. Bahrain is getting edgy too. Ali Abdulemam, the monarchy’s best-known blogger, was jailed last month, accused of disseminating false information on his internet forum.
Just what we need, Muslim despots entering the Internet Age.
Technorati Tag: Internet.