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Saudi Arabia Blocks Twitterers It Doesn’t Like

I’m still moving at just-back-from-vacation speed instead of blog speed, so Evgeny Morozov over at Foreign Policy is way ahead of me on this story about the Saudis blocking the Twitter accounts of two human rights activists who were saying things the Kingdom didn’t appreciate about its rights record. He cites Reporters Without Borders for the background:

Nasser, who keeps a blog called Mashi Sah (“That’s not true”) said his Twitter messages included references to the human rights situation and governance in Saudi Arabia and links to human rights sites. Abdelkhair, a human rights lawyer and head of a Saudi human rights organisation, had also referred to human rights violations in his “tweets,” the short text messages that are Twitter’s speciality. Ahmed Al-Omran, a blogger who first drew attention to the situation, said it was the first time the authorities had moved against Twitter users in Saudi Arabia

According to the OpenNet Initative’s Saudi profile in their recent report on filtering in the Middle East region, Saudi Arabia blocks political content pervasively, has one of the most restrictive media environments in the region and according to the Committee to Protect Journalists is one of the ten worst places to be a blogger. ONI concludes:

Saudi Arabia publicly acknowledges censoring morally inappropriate and religiously sensitive material, but the authorities also filter oppositional political sites and sites focused on human rights issues. In addition, the state has introduced new surveillance measures at Internet cafés and has announced plans to start a system that will require local sites to register with the authorities.

Saudi citizens have started to use the Internet for online activism, but the authorities have arrested several online writers and blocked their content. A local human rights group expressed interest in legally challenging the government’s censorship of human rights sites.

Evgeny holds Berkman’s Jonathan Zittrain’s feet to the fire on the supposed resiliency of Twitter to blocking, and although he concedes that you can still access the two blocked Twitter accounts here in the US, he’s right that that won’t matter so much to someone trying to read them in Riyad. [Still, it might be possible to access these accounts in the Kingdom using other Twitter aggregating tools, similar to how one might easily get around filtering of blogs or news sites by using an aggregator–Correction and update: This approach wouldn’t actually circumvent Twitter blocking in Riyad because it would still have to retrieve the data from Twitter, as Evgeny notes in his comment below]. In any case, I imagine that the more the media (and, ahem, bloggers) keep talking about Twitter’s use in highly censored media environments, the more it will become a target of filtering by the censors.

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4 Responses to “Saudi Arabia Blocks Twitterers It Doesn’t Like”

  1. Evgeny Says:

    Hi Bruce – it might be a naive question, but doesn’t reading their Twitter accounts though aggregators also involve sending requests to the blocked parts of Similarly, RSS feeds also regularly get blocked. So I am not really sure that aggregators are the solution here.

  2. Bruce Says:

    Hi Evgeny — Yup, you are totally right, my mistake. Thanks for the correction and your original post!

  3. Kiran Says:

    Good Article.

    Thanks for posting

  4. Intellectual Property Expert Group (ipeg) » Blog Archive Says:

    […] In lawyer’s paradise you sue rather than take the pen, if one feels libeled.  Or was it because accusations were made, however rude and unfounded, against  Mr. Lawyer Esquire? If it comes to arguing he thought he could get his revenge in a venue he knows best: a Court.  Sounds more like countries who dislike any form of criticism. China Requires Use of ‘Blue Dam’ Surveillance Software, Saudi Arabia Blocks Twitterers It Doesn’t Like. […]