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34C3 - Catch me if you can: Internet Activism in Saudi Arabia

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    34c3 intro
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    Herald: All right, so the next talk is
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    "Catch me if you can: Internet Activism in
    Saudi Arabia." Now I have one question for
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    you. Who has ever been in Saudi Arabia?
    Like, actually in the country. And no,
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    Dubai is not Saudi Arabia. I see a couple
    of hands, like three or something. That's
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    actually more than I thought. I'm
    surprised, because you cannot just get a
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    tourist visa for Saudi Arabia, even if you
    would like to go there. But our next
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    speaker, she has been in Saudi Arabia and
    actually lived and worked there for two
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    years. So Miriam, also known to you maybe
    as Noujoum, has quite some knowledge about
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    the culture, people, and politics of this
    country that seems quite foreign to us
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    all. So we're all excited to hear Miriam
    now. Give her a nice applause, thanks.
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    applause
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    Noujoum: Thank you very much for the kind
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    introduction, and welcome everyone. I'm
    super excited to talk to you today about
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    internet activism in Saudi Arabia. It's
    one of my favorite subjects. I could go on
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    and on for hours, but we just have half an
    hour. So let's dive right into it. First I
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    want to show you what
    I want to tell you today about. First I
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    want to give you some basic information
    about Saudi Arabia. Then we are going to
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    look at Saudi Arabia's cybercrime law and
    see how it has affected activists in
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    recent years, and then I want to talk
    about internet censorship and how we can
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    actually measure it by running an OONI
    probe. And then finally, because I don't
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    want to leave you depressed I also want to
    spend some minutes on talking about
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    positive things. The modern state of Saudi
    Arabia was founded in 1932 by the Al Saud
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    family, who is still ruling to this very
    day and it's an absolute monarchy and the
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    culture is dominated by an
    ultraconservative branch of Islam that is
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    called Wahhabism and due to its riches
    from the oil industry, the country is
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    actually quite modern when it comes to
    commodities and technology. And I'm going
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    to throw some statistics at you. The total
    population of Saudi Arabia is around 33
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    million people and 75% of them are younger
    than the age of 30. And you can see here
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    the population pyramids of Saudi Arabia
    compared with the population pyramid of
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    Germany, and you get a very good idea what
    a country with a younger population looks
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    like versus a country with an older
    population. And the young population of
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    Saudi Arabia is one of the factors why so
    many Saudis are active on social media
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    compared to other countries. Around 75% of
    the population are owning a smartphone and
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    35% are really active on social media, and
    active in this case means that they log in
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    to their social media accounts at least
    once every month. 25% of the population
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    are active users on Facebook and 20% of
    the population are active on Twitter, and
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    Saudi Twitter users account for 40% of all
    Twitter users and the whole Arab world,
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    and that's a lot of people. And if you
    can't remember any of these statistics
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    right now, never mind. The important thing
    to take away from this is the population
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    of Saudi Arabia is
    very young and most of them are active on
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    social media and on the Internet. And now
    that we are all excited about the
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    widespread use of social media in Saudi
    Arabia, let's have a look at Saudi
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    Arabia's cybercrime law. Saudi Arabia
    cybercrime law was instated in 2007 and
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    the law specifies what is seen as a
    cybercrime and which crimes are met with
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    which punishments. And most of the
    articles are just what you would expect
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    from the cybercrime law, but have a look
    at article 6 at paragraph 1 that you can
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    see here. It says there at the end that a
    cyber crime is, like... actions on the
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    Internet are considered a cyber crime if
    they are a threat to public order,
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    religious values, public morals, or
    privacy, and then article 7 focuses on
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    cyber crimes in relation to terrorism, or
    being active on the Internet in regards to
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    terrorism. And as you can probably
    imagine, the problem here is that these
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    are super vague terms that are not really
    defined, which means that any judge can
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    give his own interpretation of what he
    thinks qualifies as a cyber crime, what he
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    thinks is a threat to public safety or to
    public morals. In 2011 the cybercrime law
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    was overhauled and the Saudi government
    introduced
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    new rules and regulations, so that now
    internet newspapers and also bloggers had
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    to obtain a license from the Ministry of
    Culture and Information. And in 2014 the
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    cybercrime law was overhauled once again,
    so that now the Saudi authorities could
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    also take legal action against social
    networking sites like Twitter, because
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    they would allow accounts to be active
    that would supposedly promote adultery,
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    homosexuality, and atheism. And Saudi
    authorities are also trying to regulate
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    the content of YouTube channels. And now
    you would think that something that is
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    called cybercrime law is used to actually
    chase and catch and convict the bad guys,
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    and the cybercrime law actually does that.
    In July this year a Saudi man was
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    sentenced to seven years in prison and a
    ten years travel ban because he was
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    supporting the terror organization Daesh,
    also called ISIS, and he had tried to
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    travel to Syria and also support the
    fighting there. But he was also convicted
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    of other charges. He was also convicted
    of charges saying that he was preparing,
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    storing, and sending material that would
    harm the public through his tweets. And
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    also his tweets were supposedly insulting
    the Saudi rulers. His cell phone was
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    confiscated, his Twitter account was
    closed, and he is forbidden to tweet for
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    up to five years after his release from
    prison. Now this is just one case, but up
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    until 2014 the Saudi religious police
    claimed that they had closed over 10,000
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    Twitter accounts and they had arrested
    plenty of users because of religious and
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    ethical violations. But some of the people
    who are prosecuted under the Saudi
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    cybercrime law are actually just liberal
    activists. They are young people who try
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    to form a movement. They want to be
    outspoken on the Internet. They want to
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    campaign and push for change. And now
    we're going to meet some of them. First up
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    is Ashraf Fayadh. He is an artist and a
    poet and he was arrested and sentenced
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    because of apostasy, because of things
    that he supposedly said on Twitter and in
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    one of his books. And when police failed
    to bring proof of his apostasy or atheism
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    they said that he was arrested because he
    was smoking and wearing long hair. And it
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    is actually suspected that he was arrested
    because previously he had made a video of
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    Saudi religious police lashing a young man
    in public, in his home town Abha, and he
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    had then posted that video online. And a
    lot of people think that this is the real
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    reason why he was arrested. And his
    sentence has changed many times in
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    different appeal courts, from four years
    in prison and eight hundred lashes, to a
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    death sentence because of the supposed
    apostasy, and then back to eight years in
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    prison and eight hundred lashes. And
    Amnesty International classifies Fayadh as
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    a prisoner of conscience. As far as I
    know, he is still in prison today. Hamza
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    Kashgari is also young poet and a writer.
    He was arrested because of three tweets
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    that he had written about a fictive
    meeting with the
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    Prophet Mohammed. He was accused of
    blasphemy or apostasy as well, to which
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    the penalty is usually death under sharia
    law. He tried to leave the country and
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    claim asylum in New Zealand, but he was
    caught at Kuala Lumpur Airport and he was
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    brought back to Saudi Arabia and arrested,
    and he was held in prison for two years
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    without trial. And similar to the case of
    Ashraf Fayadh, the accusation of apostasy
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    is actually highly suspicious to be an
    excuse, because Kashkari was very publicly
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    outspoken on the internet and social
    media. He had supported the Arab Spring.
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    He was supporting pro-democracy movements
    in Saudi Arabia. He had criticized
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    authorities about mishandling the Jeddah
    flat disaster and other issues. And he was
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    released in October 2013. Mariam Al Otaibi
    is a young Saudi woman who was arrested
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    because she was very active in the
    movement against the male guardianship
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    system. And she was very active in the
    movement to abolish the system. As you
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    see, in Saudi Arabia,
    every woman has to have a male guardian.
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    And even when they are a grown ups, when
    they are adults. And why is that a
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    problem? Without the permission, or the
    consent, of their male legal guardians,
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    women cannot go to university, they cannot
    take up jobs, they can't go see the
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    doctor, they can't leave the country and a
    lot of other things. And the Guardian can
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    be their father, husband, uncle, brother,
    or even their son. And activist in Saudi
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    Arabia have fought for a very long time to
    abolish this male guardianship system. And
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    here you can see the Twitter account of
    Mariam Al Otaibi. You can see that she has
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    almost 50,000 followers. And here, in her
    Twitter bio, you see one of the core
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    hashtags of the movement in which she is
    active, and it's an Arabic hashtag and it
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    translates to "Saudi women want the
    abolishment of the guardianship system."
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    Mariam actually herself tried to flee her
    abusive brothers and her father, and she
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    moved to a different city to live her own
    life. And then
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    she was arrested at her workplace because
    her father had filed a runaway report. But
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    very soon, the charges against her changed
    from being a runaway to disruption of
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    public order because of her activism on
    Twitter. And her house was searched and
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    her cellphone and her laptop were
    confiscated. And after 104 days in
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    detention without trial, she was released
    in July this year. And her release was
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    actually deemed a very big success and a
    victory by Saudi feminists because she was
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    released from prison without the presence
    or the permission of a male guardian,
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    because usually how it works is if a woman
    is released from prison, her male guardian
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    has to pick her up. If he doesn't do that
    she just stays in detention. But she was
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    released just like that. And here you can
    see two designs of the Saudi artist
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    MsSaffaa. On the left you see a poster
    that she designed to support the release
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    of Mariam Al Otaibi from prison.
    The hashtag says "We are all Miriam Al
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    Otaibi." And on the right you see another
    design that she did, that is very famous
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    for the movement to
    abolish the mayor guardianship system,
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    and this hashtag says "I am my own
    guardian." Loujain AlHathloul is another
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    young Saudi woman who was arrested in
    December 2014 when she was trying to drive
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    her car over the border from the United
    Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia. Shortly
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    before, she had tweeted "follow me on
    Twitter to find out what will happen at
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    the border." And she had for a very long
    time been active in the woman to drive
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    movement. That means that she had already
    posted videos of herself driving in Saudi
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    Arabia online, showing how she was defying
    the ban on women driving. She live-tweeted
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    this whole experience of being detained at
    the border. Her passport was confiscated.
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    Her friend and lawyer, who came to her
    support, was also arrested, and ultimately
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    she was released after 73 days without
    trial. Raif Badawi is probably the
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    activists that most of you have heard of,
    because Amnesty International did a huge
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    campaign to support his release, and also
    his wife is very active, publicly, to
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    work for his release. He is a writer and
    an activist, and he was arrested in 2012.
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    He was charged of insulting Islam through
    electronic channels and he was brought to
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    court on several charges, including
    apostasy, and as you already know by now,
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    the death penalty is included when you are
    charged of apostasy. And similar to Ashraf
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    Fayadh, his sentence was changed multiple
    times in different appeal courts and
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    eventually
    he was sentenced to 10 years in prison
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    and a fine and thousand lashes, of which
    only the first 50 were administered,
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    probably because of international
    attention and outrage. And what got Raif
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    Badawi in trouble in the first place was
    setting up a website that was called Free
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    Saudi Liberals. In court he was accused of
    setting up a website that undermines
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    general security, ridiculing Islamic
    religious figures, and going beyond the
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    realm of obedience. And he was told that
    his website would violate Islamic values
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    and propagates liberal thought. And the
    court ordered his website to be closed and
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    he is still in prison today.
    The last activist that
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    we are going to look at is Muhammad Salih
    Al Bajadi. He was, prior to his arrest,
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    also very politically active. In 2009, for
    example, he managed a website that was
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    called "monitor of human rights in Saudi
    Arabia." And he is also the co-founder of
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    a Saudi Arabian human rights organization
    called "the Saudi Civil and Political
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    Rights Association." He was also arrested.
    His office was searched. And Amnesty
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    International labeled him a prisoner of
    conscience as well. And they said that he
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    was held solely for the peaceful exercise
    of his rights to freedom of expression,
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    assembly, and association. But in court,
    however, he was charged with insurrection
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    against the ruler, instigating
    demonstrations, and speaking with foreign
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    media channels. And
    he was sentenced to four years in prison
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    and a five-year ban on foreign travels.
    Now, even if you don't see yourself as an
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    activist, if you are active on social
    media in Saudi Arabia you can find
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    yourself the center of unwanted attention
    in just a second. There are some
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    conservatives who would flat-out think
    that being on Twitter is a sin in and of
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    itself, as you can see here. And just
    three month ago, actually, Saudi
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    authorities urged citizens to monitor each
    other and to report posts on social media
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    that would harm the state's reputation. So
    as you can imagine, that leads to a huge
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    level of self-censorship. When I was
    living and working in Saudi Arabia, I once
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    talked to a work contact and I asked him
    why he wasn't more active on Twitter, and
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    he said the first day that he had signed
    up on Twitter, he had received a direct
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    message by a person he didn't know, and
    the message just said "welcome. We are
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    watching you." And when you live in Saudi
    Arabia and you don't use a VPN or TOR all
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    the time you inevitably run across a
    website that is blocked at some point. For
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    me, for example, that was the search
    engine StartPage. When I was trying to
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    access that page, I would land on a site
    that would look like this. And Saudi
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    authorities are hosting
    a firewall which blocks access to
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    thousands of websites. Actually the Saudi
    authorities, they openly acknowledge that
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    widespread filtering takes place, and they
    would say that it targets pornographic,
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    Islam related, human rights, and political
    sites. And as you can imagine, criticism
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    of the royal family and of Islamic
    teachings is generally not tolerated. Now,
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    rewind three years. Three years ago at
    Congress I ran into a guy named Arturo,
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    and he told me how he and his friends were
    working on this OONI project, and they
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    were running probes all over the world to
    measure the extent of filtering and
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    Internet censorship in different
    countries. And so we teamed up and we did
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    some measuring in Saudi Arabia. And OONI
    stands for Open Observatory of Network
  • 16:30 - 16:35
    Interference. And I would very much like
    Arturo to come on stage for a few minutes
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    and to tell you himself what OONI is all
    about, and how running that probe in Saudi
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    Arabia worked.
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    Arturo: Thank you Miriam
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    applause
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    Arturo: So, yeah. As
    ??? three years ago we met and
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    I was already working at the time on this
    project ??????????? for the Open
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    Observatory of Network Interference. What
    we do is we're a community mass project
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    I guess that does network
    measurements with
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    ??? of what we
    call "network interference" or "network
  • 17:09 - 17:13
    ?????????." That can be a sign of internet
    censorship or surveillance
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    And we do this for a variety of different
    ????????? look into the blocking of
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    websites such as the one we saw in the
    previous slide in Saudi Arabia. But also
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    whether or not circumvention tools like
    tor, VPNs work or do not work or whether
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    or not and how instant messaging apps are
    blocked or not blocked around the world
  • 17:35 - 17:40
    and we do this through some apps that can
    be installed either on your mobile phone
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    or on your computer and these are run by
    tens of thousands of volunteers around the
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    world to gather evidence of internet
    censorship around the world.
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    I guess I will not go too much into what
    OONI does because we actually have an
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    assembly on the third floor where you--
    called the OONIverse and you are welcome
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    to come by and we can tell you all about
    it but also we have a longer presentation
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    on the third day at 2:30 in borg room and
    there I can go more into what OONI is
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    about and how we have been working with
    people like Miriam to collect sort of
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    undeniable evidence that internet
    censorship is happening but also how.
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    Miriam: Perfect thank you very much. I
    would very much suggest that you go and
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    see that talk as well.
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    applause
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    So apart from the
    websites that you would expect to be
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    blocked in Saudi Arabia like porn and
    gambling websites or the website of the
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    Israeli Secret Service there are plenty of
    other websites that are blocked and OONI
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    has compiled a very huge and comprehensive
    list of different websites that are
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    blocked in Saudi Arabia that you can find
    on their website and I brought you three
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    short examples just to show you what kind
    of websites could be blocked.
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    On the left you always see the information
    that is provided on the OONI web page and
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    on the right side you see a screenshot of
    the actual web site that is blocked in
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    Saudi Arabia. So first up we have Al-
    Manar, Al-Manar is a news media web site
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    with ties to Hezbollah. Second we have
    bahai.org, the Bahai are a religious
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    group, they are a religious minority and
    they are oppressed in pretty much all of
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    the Arab countries. You can see that
    actually their website is also blocked in
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    the United Kingdom and in Italy for
    whatever reason. And thirdly we have
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    proxify.com, it's just one of many
    examples of different websites that offer
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    services of anonymity and of
    circumvention. And now because I don't
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    want to leave you too depressed when you
    leave this talk I also want to look at
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    some positive things that have happened as
    well because despite all this persecution
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    that I have talked about up until now
    activists in Saudi Arabia have been able to
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    secure some very important victories in
    the past years and if you have followed
  • 20:04 - 20:08
    the news lately a little bit then maybe
    you have noticed that a lot of things are
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    happening in Saudi Arabia, a lot of laws
    and traditions are changing and because of
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    time restraints I'm only focusing on two
    issues here right now that I personally
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    find especially important.
    So the first example are the Saudi
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    municipal elections in 2015 these were the
    very first elections when women in Saudi
  • 20:29 - 20:34
    Arabia were allowed to actively and
    passively participate in the elections and
  • 20:34 - 20:40
    in the end 20 women were elected to
    municipal councils out of 2,000 seats that
  • 20:40 - 20:45
    were open in these elections and women had
    to overcome incredible hurdles to
  • 20:45 - 20:51
    participate or to be candidates. For
    example, organizations that were set up to
  • 20:51 - 20:56
    educate women about the elections to help
    them to run as candidates and to tell them
  • 20:56 - 21:01
    how to register these organizations were
    forbidden. Female candidates weren't
  • 21:01 - 21:07
    allowed to hold public rallies, they were
    not allowed to give speeches online, in
  • 21:07 - 21:10
    TV, in public.
    They were not allowed to post pictures of
  • 21:10 - 21:16
    their faces put them on posters or post
    them anywhere really. So women were
  • 21:16 - 21:22
    basically confined to campaigning online
    really and especially registering as
  • 21:22 - 21:27
    candidates but also as voters was super
    hard some women were flat-out denied being
  • 21:27 - 21:32
    registered without being given any reason
    but one problem that also the men actually
  • 21:32 - 21:38
    had one problem was that voters in order
    to be registered they had to bring proof
  • 21:38 - 21:42
    of their residency and they would usually
    prove that by showing a rental contract.
  • 21:42 - 21:46
    Now the problem is that women cannot
    produce a rental contract because their
  • 21:46 - 21:50
    names are not on these contracts but the
    names of their fathers or their husbands.
  • 21:50 - 21:55
    That's just one of the many problems they
    had and this is one example from YouTube
  • 21:55 - 21:59
    because up until now I have talked a lot
    about Twitter but there's also a huge and
  • 21:59 - 22:04
    thriving and very important YouTube scene
    in Saudi Arabia and the following video is
  • 22:04 - 22:08
    by a famous Saudi YouTube group and they
    are called Telfaz11 and they have a
  • 22:08 - 22:13
    regular show that is called ??? and
    this clip is actually part from one of
  • 22:13 - 22:19
    their shows and they produced this video
    mocking how women were organizing and how
  • 22:19 - 22:24
    women had to work so hard to just
    participate in these elections while men
  • 22:24 - 22:29
    were just lazy and enjoying their
    privileges and now let's see if this
  • 22:29 - 22:30
    works.
  • 23:55 - 24:04
    So that's just one example. I like them
    very much because they have a very fine
  • 24:04 - 24:09
    sense of where the red lines are and how
    much fun they can actually make of the
  • 24:09 - 24:15
    government and of actual problems that
    persevere in Saudi Arabia. And then we
  • 24:15 - 24:21
    have another example, three months ago the
    Saudi King announced that he would lift
  • 24:21 - 24:26
    the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia
    and starting from May next year women
  • 24:26 - 24:30
    would be for the first time ever be-- oh
    not for first time ever, for the first
  • 24:30 - 24:34
    time in a long time they would be allowed
    to drive cars in Saudi Arabia, and
  • 24:34 - 24:39
    activists had campaigned for this change
    they had campaigned for the lift of the
  • 24:39 - 24:44
    ban on women driving for a long time for
    many years that's a long story I don't
  • 24:44 - 24:49
    have that much time as I want to to talk
    to you about it but we have one example
  • 24:49 - 24:56
    here one out of many and this is a music
    video from 2013 and this went viral in
  • 24:56 - 25:01
    Saudi Arabia and they were supporting the
    campaign by the women to drive movement
  • 25:01 - 25:08
    who were trying to get the ban lifted and
    in their music video they are making fun
  • 25:08 - 25:12
    of the baseless arguments that were used
    to justify the driving ban, why women were
  • 25:12 - 25:19
    not allowed to drive cars and the context
    for the fall of 2013 is that at this time,
  • 25:19 - 25:23
    a lot of women were defying the ban on
    women driving, they were driving around,
  • 25:23 - 25:27
    they were filming themselves while doing
    it, they were posting all these videos
  • 25:27 - 25:32
    online a lot of women were arrested yet
    more women were driving around and yeah
  • 25:32 - 25:37
    that was just one of the videos that came
    out at that time, I also want to show it
  • 25:37 - 25:38
    to you.
  • 26:39 - 26:44
    All right just wanted to show you this short
    short part but the whole video is really
  • 26:44 - 26:54
    ridiculous you have to look it up you're
    gonna find it on YouTube. And so you know
  • 26:54 - 26:58
    the story eventually after many years of
    activism the ban on women driving was
  • 26:58 - 27:04
    lifted just now. The work, the really hard
    work of all the activists is just one of
  • 27:04 - 27:08
    many aspects why it was lifted but we have
    to appreciate this and here you see some
  • 27:08 - 27:14
    of the reactions of women in Saudi Arabia
    being super happy about this development.
  • 27:14 - 27:22
    And so final thoughts, what can we learn
    from all of this? I would say one thing
  • 27:22 - 27:25
    that we can learn from it is the
    government is not your friend. Whatever
  • 27:25 - 27:31
    technology is at their disposal they will
    use and they will not only use it to catch
  • 27:31 - 27:35
    terrorists and put them in prison but they
    will also use that technology or these
  • 27:35 - 27:41
    laws to also persecute activists for
    example or anybody whom they label as
  • 27:41 - 27:46
    terrorists because of this really vague
    terms and the cybercrime law. And that is
  • 27:46 - 27:50
    also why it's really important
    that we don't let the government put
  • 27:50 - 27:54
    backdoors in our safety-- like in our
    software anywhere because the wisdom the
  • 27:54 - 27:58
    government is not your friend applies to
    pretty much every government really if you
  • 27:58 - 27:59
    think about it.
  • 27:59 - 28:05
    applause
  • 28:05 - 28:09
    And also you have heard
    how the Saudi government changes laws and
  • 28:09 - 28:13
    seemingly becomes more modern and more
    liberal and tries to appease the young
  • 28:13 - 28:19
    population but you have to keep in mind
    that they are still super autocratic, it's
  • 28:19 - 28:22
    still an absolute monarchy and I don't
    think that this will change anytime soon
  • 28:22 - 28:28
    no matter how many news we get next year
    about like women-- the first woman becomes
  • 28:28 - 28:33
    Minister of Foreign Affairs or Saudi Crown
    Prince gives a speech about the importance
  • 28:33 - 28:37
    of freedom of religion for the economy or
    something like this. But still, the
  • 28:37 - 28:41
    government is trying to appease the
    younger generation and the younger folks
  • 28:41 - 28:45
    and that is at least something and I think
    one of the important aspects here is, how
  • 28:45 - 28:49
    do they know with what they can appease
    the young generation? Well they know it
  • 28:49 - 28:54
    because the young people keep telling them
    on social media all the time and they go
  • 28:54 - 28:59
    to jail over and over for speaking their
    minds for pushing for change and we have
  • 28:59 - 29:04
    to acknowledge this as the victory and the
    sacrifice that it is and it also shows us
  • 29:04 - 29:09
    that it makes sense to keep speaking up
    and to tell the government what it is that
  • 29:09 - 29:13
    they want and what it is that they want to
    change and to keep up the pressure because
  • 29:13 - 29:18
    the rule of the royal family rests on a
    rather unstable religious legitimation so
  • 29:18 - 29:22
    they have to make an effort to stay in the
    good graces of the population because they
  • 29:22 - 29:26
    certainly don't want to see another Arab
    Spring in their country.
  • 29:26 - 29:30
    And now I'm hoping that you can take away
    something from this talk and that it has
  • 29:30 - 29:34
    helped to-- helped you to see the Saudis
    in a different light so that next time
  • 29:34 - 29:38
    when someone talks to you about Saudi
    Arabia and how they are all rich beheading
  • 29:38 - 29:44
    bigots you can tell them well, not all
    Saudis and then you think of the activists
  • 29:44 - 29:48
    and that you appreciate the hard work that
    Saudi activists are doing on the ground
  • 29:48 - 29:53
    all the time. There's a lot more I would
    like to tell you but time is up. If you
  • 29:53 - 29:58
    are interested in this kind of subject
    check out some of these talks I saw the
  • 29:58 - 30:02
    talk "Tightening the net in Iran", it was
    superb, go and watch it online, see the
  • 30:02 - 30:07
    video, go and see the OONI talk also and
    lastly I would say thank you very much for
  • 30:07 - 30:08
    your time and your attention.
  • 30:08 - 30:12
    applause
  • 30:12 - 30:17
    34c3 outro
  • 30:17 - 30:34
    subtitles created by c3subtitles.de
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Title:
34C3 - Catch me if you can: Internet Activism in Saudi Arabia
Description:

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Video Language:
English
Duration:
30:34

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