The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) criticises the UK’s draft Online Safety Bill, as it imposes several threats to press freedom. The proposed legislation could censor news coverage on immigration issues and undermine private communication. Although the bill does not prohibit encryption, public and private messages are subject to its content restrictions.
According to the Global Partners Digital group, the online safety bill continues to delegate decisions about illegal content to private platforms, effectively privatising the function of law enforcement and encouraging excessive censorship of appropriate information.
CPJ issues a warning that the law may allow for the global, as well as domestic, surveillance of journalists and their private conversations with sources.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have urged Twitter to revise its policies in order to protect the right to information and uphold press freedom. The organisations sent a joint letter to Twitter’s management team expressing their concern about recent developments regarding the company’s policies and actions, noting that these ‘contribute to a hostile environment for journalists and threaten media freedom more broadly’.
The letter also outlines steps Twitter can take to ‘regain integrity and uphold the basic human right to information’. For instance, the company is invited to implement transparent corporate policies aligned with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, to preserve and update its annual transparency report, and to reinstate the Trust and Safety Council.
A Turkish court ordered the release of a journalist who was detained under the country’s new disinformation law. Sinan Aygul became the first journalist to be jailed pending trial under the new law approved by the Turkish parliament in October 2022. Aygul, a journalist in the Bitlis province, wrote on Twitter that a 14-year-old girl had allegedly been sexually abused by the police and soldiers, but then apologised and retracted the posts because the story was not confirmed with the authorities. Nevertheless, he was prosecuted and put under arrest.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) raised concerns over two old draft laws resubmitted to the Iraqi parliament, one dealing with cybercrime and the other with freedom of expression and the right to protest peacefully. According to RSF, the two bills were first submitted to the parliament in 2011, and then resubmitted in their original form every time a new parliament took office, ignoring previous debates and amendments.
The cybercrime draft law is seen as containing threats to journalists and freedom of the press. For instance, it imposes penalties ranging from a minimum fine of 10 million Iraqi dinars (more than €6,500) to prison terms of seven to ten years for anyone who uses the internet ‘with the intention to undermine religious, family or social values and principles’. The second draft law is criticised for containing ‘vague and ambiguous language that is open to interpretation and therefore to manipulation by the authorities’.
In the Philippines, a Quezon City court found Frank Cimatu, a writer for the independent Philippine news site Rappler, guilty of cyber libel, in relation to a Facebook post the journalist made in 2017 concerning alleged corruption by the then Agriculture Secretary Manny Pinol. The court determined that the post was originally posted in a public environment, despite Cimatu’s claims that it was private and only visible to his Facebook friends.
Amnesty International argues that Tunisian authorities have strengthened restrictions on freedom of expression by passing a new decree-law on cybercrime (in September 2022) and using it to open criminal investigations against at least four people.
According to the organisation, the law does not clearly define the parameters and requirements for approving surveillance and data-gathering methods in a way that ensures that human rights are not violated. It mandates harsh prison sentences based on ambiguous concepts like ‘fake news,’ and gives the government broad authority to track people’s online activities and gather personal information with the argument that doing so might help in revealing the truth or is necessary for the investigation of a suspected crime.
The number of Mauritian journalists who have been subjected to cyber-harassment since the beginning of November is growing, and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the country’s authorities to take action against those responsible for the offences.
Most of the online attacks, which accuse the four journalists of having ties to drug traffickers, originate from three Facebook profiles that often post pro-government information. Noorbux also claims to be the target of various internet threats and harassment, particularly from well-known government officials.
The Pakistani investigative site ‘Fact Focus’ was completely unreachable for more than 20 hours on 21 November after publishing its ‘Bajwa Leaks’ story detailing the immense fortune accumulated by Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa’s family since he became the Chief of Army Staff. According to Fact Focus editors, the site was blocked by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, a governmental entity, on the directives of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Information and Broadcasting. It became partially available again when the RSF (Reporters Without Borders) and other civil society representatives reported continuous suppression.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have urged Greek authorities to launch an immediate independent investigation into arbitrary surveillance and called on European institutions to impose a moratorium on the use of spyware. The calls were made in the context of allegations that 13 Greek journalists have been targeted by the Predator spyware, reportedly acquired by Greek intelligence services.
On 3 October 2022, Secretary of State George Gerapetridis pledged to present a draft law amending the rules on surveillance within two weeks. According to RSF, the draft law, made public on 15 November, appears to allow a person previously under surveillance to be notified only three years later.