Human Rights Watch: "The new cybercrime law is a major blow to freedom of expression"
Adam Coogle, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch, criticized the rights in the region, saying: “the human rights situation is witnessing a significant deterioration throughout the region, especially with regard to human rights.” civil and political, as well as economic, social and cultural rights.
Coogle noted that "Jordan's recent approval of the new cybercrime law is a major blow to freedom of expression and privacy rights in Jordan."
The full interview with coogle:
After the opening of a regional office for Human Rights Watch in Jordan, will there be more focus on the enforcement of human rights?
Human Rights Watch received approval to open a regional office in Jordan in late 2022. We hope to use our new office to deepen our reporting and advocacy on human rights issues throughout the region, especially neighboring countries like Iraq and Syria. We will continue to monitor the human rights situation in Jordan through our local office which has been operating since 2014.
In your opinion which Arab countries are the biggest violators of human rights?
Every country is different and faces unique challenges and human rights issues, so Human Rights Watch never compares different contexts. What is concerning is that the human rights situation is in major decline throughout the region, especially in terms of civil and political rights but also economic, social, and cultural rights. The decline in respect for fundamental human rights is a major cause for concern for the future of the region – governments do not tend to improve their performance when no one is allowed to provide critical feedback.
In light of the adoption of restrictive legislation such as cybercrime and the issuance of sentences against political activists and journalists how do you rate the state of human rights in Jordan?
Jordan’s recent passage of the new cybercrime law is a major blow to free expression and privacy rights in Jordan. The vague langauge will inevitably lead to prosecutions of Jordanians and residents merely for peacefully expressing themselves online, and the punishments are harsh. It’s difficult to understand how an average Jordanian could ever pay a 40,000 JD penalty for “defamation.” The way in which the authorities rammed the bill through parliament in record time was obviously designed to prevent public discussion or criticism. The goal appears to be to terrify Jordanians into silence.
King Abdullah II says that Jordan is not an oppressive country! Do you classify Jordan as a democratic country?
Human Rights Watch has been raising the alarm for several years now that fundamental rights in Jordan are in decline, and the cybercrime law is the latest example of this. In September 2022, HRW issued a report documenting how authorities limit civil space by using vague and abusive laws that criminalize speech, association, and assembly. We also noted instances in which the authorities have detained, interrogated, and harassed journalists, political activists, and members of political parties and independent trade unions, and their family members, and restricted their access to basic rights, such as work and travel, to quash political dissent.
The anniversary of the Rabaa massacre in Egypt has passed with impunity for the perpetrators. What is your organization's position on what happened?
Egyptian authorities have failed for a decade to hold anyone accountable for the largest mass killing in Egypt’s modern history. The Rab’a massacre, a likely crime against humanity, took place in Cairo on August 14, 2013, and kick-started a mass repression campaign targeting government critics, precipitating one of Egypt’s worst human rights crises in many decades. The failure to hold security forces or senior officials accountable for the massacre has led to heinous abuses over the past 10 years by security forces including systematic and widespread torture and extrajudicial killings. Security forces act with impunity and know they will almost always away with it.
The Palestinian people are subjected to daily occupation and killings. Do you follow the Palestinian file and Israeli violations? What is your assessment of the reality of Palestinian human rights under occupation?
HRW found in 2021 that Israeli authorities are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution. The finding was based on an overarching Israeli government policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians and grave abuses committed against Palestinians living in the occupied territory, including East Jerusalem. Israeli authorities have also sought to restrict independent Palestinian civil society groups in the occupied West Bank, raiding the offices of and issuing closure orders against seven prominent Palestinian organizations in 2022. All had previously been outlawed on spurious grounds. Finally, the spike in killings of Palestinians by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank in recent months can in large part be attributed to Israeli forces’ use of unlawful lethal force.
What is your assessment of the human rights situation in Tunisia (political rights, expulsion of immigrants, public freedoms)
Since President Saied’s power grab 2021, his government has largely undermined the independence of the judiciary in an effort to subjugate judges and prosecutors to the executive branch. The authorities have escalated their crackdown on political opponents and perceived critics for their peaceful activism or public criticism of the president, the security forces, or other officials. They have stepped-up arbitrary arrests, travel bans, and prosecutions, sometimes in military courts. Police occasionally used excessive force against demonstrators. Black African foreigners faced increased violence and arbitrary arrests after Saied fanned the flames of anti-immigrant violence in February 2023.
What is your assessment of the reality of human rights in Lebanon, Iraq? (Corruption, the economy, hate speech, sectarianism).
Human Rights Watch has worked to expose how corrupt and incompetent Lebanese authorities have plunged the country into one of the worst economic crises in modern times. Nearly 80 percent of Lebanon’s population lives under the poverty line, and the government has repeatedly delayed promised reforms and social protection plans. Hospitals are struggling to provide life-saving care amid the economic crisis, and electricity blackouts last up to 22 hours per day. No one has been held accountable for the catastrophic explosion in Beirut’s port on August 4, 2020.
Iraq’s history of authoritarianism, foreign intervention, civil war, and political gridlock greatly influences the government’s actions around ongoing human rights violations. State security agencies continue to carry out arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, torture of detainees, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings. Social and economic rights violations also threaten millions of Iraqis, including from environmental devastation. With a political economy dependent largely on oil, Iraq is on the frontlines of worsening consequences of global warming. Troubling governmental responses to growing crises and to popular efforts to address them—including violence against protesters demanding a better future—have only increased violations while failing to address the adverse conditions Iraqis live through every day.
There are detainees in Gulf countries such as the Saudi Emirates who are far from fair trials. What is the position of Human Rights Watch?
Human Rights Watch has documented numerous unfair trials of human rights activists in political dissidents in the Gulf for many years, particularly in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. Punishments for unsanctioned political, social, or religious activism have only increased over the past decade, whereby now merely posting critical social media posts about Saudi authorities can land someone in prison for decades. There are hundreds of dissidents languishing in Gulf prisons merely for trying to assert their right to free expression and political participation.
The Yemeni file, who is responsible for human rights violations there?
In Yemen, both the Saudi/UAE-led coalition and Houthi forces have committed countless violations of international humanitarian law and human rights that have resulted in widespread civilian harm, and despite a six-month truce in 2022, these violations have continued. The coalition has conducted unlawfully indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes against civilians and civilian structures. Houthi forces have used banned landmines and fired artillery indiscriminately into populated areas. Parties have attacked and mined food and water infrastructure, as well as medical facilities, and have blocked access to humanitarian aid, leaving over 70 percent of the population in need of humanitarian assistance.
The Syrian file: There are attempts to reintegrate the Bashar al-Assad regime in the region. In your opinion, is this regime capable of reintegration in light of the massacres committed?
In recent years several Arab countries have moved to normalize ties with the government of President Bashar al-Assad, but they are doing so without pressing for accountability for the crimes that the Syrian authorities have committed or the critical reforms necessary for durable peace and a prosperous postwar Syria. States seeking to normalize relationships should recognize that the Syrian government in power today is the same one that has forcibly disappeared tens of thousands of people and other serious human rights violations against its citizens even before the uprisings began. During 12 years of war, it has committed countless crimes against humanity and forced millions into displacement. Syrian government forces dropped banned cluster munitions on camps for the internally displaced in northwest Syria. If countries push to normalize without real reforms, they risk endorsing and supporting the Assad government’s widespread abuses.
What are the main obstacles facing Arab women in general?
Women living in many Arab countries continue to face significant discrimination, including a prohibition on passing their nationality to their children on par with men as well as unequal personal status laws. Some countries in the region still prevent women from moving freely in their own country or traveling abroad without the permission of a male guardian.