Twitter users on trial while Turkey hosts key UN Internet summit Numerous abusers of free expression online attending Internet Governance Forum
The Turkish government’s prosecution of Twitter critics is a deeply hypocritical stance for the host of the Internet Governance Forum, Amnesty International said today. The organization called on future hosts to set a better example while highlighting violations of Internet freedom by the US, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and Viet Nam.
The event, which takes place in Istanbul between 2 and 5 September, brings together governments and civil society to share best practice on Internet regulation, security and human rights.
Twenty-nine Twitter users are being tried in Izmir, Turkey, and face up to three years in jail for posting tweets during last year’s protests that the authorities claim “incite the public to break the law”. None of the tweets contained any incitement to violence.
“It’s astounding to see Turkish authorities plough on with the prosecution of Twitter critics, even as they host a discussion on Internet governance where human rights are a key theme,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Deputy Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International.
“Such double standards on freedom of expression online are a particularly bitter irony for the dozens of Turkish Twitter users facing trial for tweeting about last year’s protests.”
Three users have been additionally charged with ‘insulting’ the Prime Minister. The 29 are the latest in a long line of government critics prosecuted or convicted for their social media posts.
Turkey is not the only country whose heavy-handedness in policing the internet Amnesty International is exposing around the Forum. Activists attending the event will highlight four other countries which have targeted people for exercising their right to free expression online or for bringing to light violations of the right to privacy online.
In Ethiopia, seven bloggers face the death penalty for sharing information about online security, in Viet Nam two are serving 10 and 12 year prison sentences for writing about human rights abuses - with a further 32 detained; and in Saudi Arabia a website founder has been sentenced to 10 years, 1,000 lashes and a fine of US $266,630 for “insulting Islam”.
“Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and Viet Nam have handed down some of the harshest sentences to those using the Internet to impart and receive information,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali.
“These sentences must be quashed and each country needs to drastically improve its tolerance for online criticism.”
The Internet has proved invaluable to the development of human rights – revolutionizing access to information and improving transparency and accountability.
However, states have been quick to abuse it, using Internet technology to crack down on freedom of expression, censor information on human rights violations and carry out indiscriminate surveillance of its users in the name of security, often in collaboration with corporations.
Those who expose such abuses are themselves being targeted. In the USA, Edward Snowden, currently in exile in Russia, faces 30 years behind bars if extradited to the country for exposing indiscriminate global surveillance by the US government.
“Instead of hunting down Edward Snowden, the US government should focus on reforming its surveillance programmes to end the unjustified violation of Internet users’ privacy he brought to light,” Sherif Elsayed-Ali said.
“Although the Internet has allowed free expression to flourish in many places where it had been tightly suppressed, it also provides new ways for governments to spy on, censor and silence their critics.
“States attending the Internet Governance Forum must seize this opportunity to pledge to end the intimidation and prosecution of those who exercise their freedom of expression online. They need to end unwarranted censorship, reverse the trend for indiscriminate and unlawful surveillance and protect whistleblowers.”
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