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In recent years an increasing number of human rights defenders, activists and civil rights organisations have been targeted for their exercise of digital rights and activism in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), particularly in the Gulf region. Oppressive governments are focusing on cyberspace to target activists by using sophisticated surveillance equipment that is imported from the West.

Governments in the region are tightening control over the Internet and restricting its use to promote human rights and social justice. Thousands of human rights websites are blocked, including GCHR’s website which is inaccessible without circumvention tools in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In countries where human rights groups documented serious human rights violations, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar, governments have invested millions of dollars in surveillance, espionage and hacking tools to target human rights defenders, including online activists and bloggers.

On December 16 at 15:00 CET  Access Now, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD) will hold the session addressing all these issues and assessing the best plan of action to enhance the protection of online activists.

The online session’s key objectives:

  • To send a united call to end the sale of surveillance technology to authoritarian governments in the MENA region;
  • To raise awareness among the international community about the need to properly address the sale of surveillance technology to governments that abuse human rights on a daily basis;
  • To send a united call to all governments in the West to stop putting the lives of activists at risk by ensuring that firms in democracies won’t sell surveillance equipment that will be used to put restrictions on freedom of expression on the Internet in any part of the world;
  • To consider the need to set up a coalition to take practical steps to protect activists from surveillance tech that is designed to monitor their human rights work on the Internet.

The list of participants includes: Bill Marczak, Citizen Lab; Scott Campbell, Office of the High Commission for Human Rights; Maya Wang, Human Rights Watch; Merel Koning, Amnesty International; and Safaa Al-Ahmed, ALQST for Human Rights.

Full conference agenda and registration are available here.