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“Freedom of expression in some countries of the Middle East and North Africa is still under the grip of security at times, and the judiciary directed by political apparatus at other times,” according to experts polled by Al-Hurra. And in an era when the idea is no longer bounded by any barrier, the activity of security services has expanded to include content publishers also in some countries, according to human rights organizations.

And the latest concern for freedom of expression and publication is the Iraqi Ministry of Interior’s decision to “prosecute and hold accountable publishers of negative content, which has begun to threaten the security and culture of Iraq,” according to the ministry. This led to Iraqis fearing for their freedoms due to the lack of clarity of the term “low content”.

Within the framework, the Iraqi social researcher, Muhammad Shaker, said in a previous interview with Al-Hurra website that “descriptive content can include many types of content on communication sites,” adding, “Without a specific definition of the content that the Ministry of Interior is working to combat, it can only be We are concerned about this move.”

Publishers on social media, in several countries neighboring Iraq, such as Lebanon and Syria, suffer from restrictions and accountability for the contents they published for several considerations.

So what is “bearing content”? Is it permissible to “infringe” on freedoms under the pretext of raising the level of published content? And when can the state’s intervention against publishers be considered obligatory and legitimate?

“down”? ‘Problematic and dangerous’

The Executive Director of the Samir Kassir Foundation, Ayman Muhanna, said in an interview with Al-Hurra that “the word “low content” is not accurate, as there is dangerous or problematic content that is published on social media, and on news and media sites.”

Muhanna lists the types of “problematic or dangerous” content according to the following figure, describing it as a “red line”:

  • Hate Speech: It differs from statements criticizing or insulting a public figure. It is an incitement speech that calls for discrimination or ostracism of a group of society because of its color, language, religion, sexual orientation, or because it is a refugee.
  • Disinformation speech: The purpose of this discourse is to mislead public opinion by broadcasting lies related to a person, issue, country, or social reality, in order to influence people’s behavior and attitudes.
  • Violating people’s privacy: Disclosing details about individuals’ personal lives, or about their children and families in private matters that have nothing to do with their general location or public positions, and endangering the safety of these people.
  • Abuse: There is an afterthought when a person is abused and the latter decides to prosecute before an independent and impartial judiciary in a democratic country. This point is not very popular and accepted.
  • Pornographic content related to children: It is the content directed at children under the age, and it may feature pornographic scenes related to them, or to persons under the age.

While countries differ on holding the publishers of the first content accountable, they agree on rejecting and rejecting electronic pornographic content related to children.

Pursuing content publishers in Arab countries

Layal Behnam, Director of Programs at the Skills Foundation, states in an interview with Al-Hurra that “Anyone who is harmed by any content can resort to the judiciary. In the Arab world, every defamation and defamation is a criminal act, and it has criminal prosecutions and penalties that reach imprisonment.”

The Maharat Foundation refuses to criminalize everything related to expression, therefore Behnam affirms its refusal to “criminalize libel and defamation.”

However, it points out that it is permissible to prosecute the publisher of any content that incites hatred and violence. Because these actions are subject to other than a system of laws, and they may be among the penal laws and have penal penalties. A distinction must be made between freedom of expression and incitement to violence.

Organizations criticizing content censorship

Muhanna stresses that “he rejects prior censorship of any matter related to the expression of a particular artistic opinion, position, or urging, as these are unacceptable practices, because no party can claim to know everything, and evaluate everything that an individual expresses.”

Muhanna added, “No party can claim that its values ​​are optimal, in order to seek to impose it and its viewpoint on all members of society,” noting that “there is no justification for prior censorship except in exceptional cases, when the content calls for the commission of a specific crime in a specific way.” It is clear, and only in these cases measures are taken to prevent the occurrence of a crime, and any other justification is unacceptable.”

For her part, Behnam rejects “everything that is prior censorship, for human rights, and in any country, there should be no prior censorship, and all censorship is supposed to be subsequent.”

“Only the audience judges the content.”

“It is not permissible to ban (low) content that does not meet professional standards or that contradicts the prevailing culture. Public opinion is the one who evaluates the content and decides whether to read, listen to, or watch it, or to ignore it,” according to Behnam.

She points out that this is based on the extent of digital media awareness among the public, in order to be able to determine the content that he trusts, and the content that he will consider inferior. Here, it is up to each person to determine the content that he wants to see, and that which he does not want to follow and does not interest him.

Behnam considered that any action contrary to this is considered an infringement of freedom of expression, except for inflammatory content that incites hatred, committing crimes, and pedophilia, “these contents must be prohibited.”

Behnam explained that these matters are not carried out by security agencies, but rather by judicial intervention, based on subsequent oversight in democratic countries where the judiciary is independent.

The “acceptable” path to block content

For his part, Muhanna explains how electronic content can be banned, provided that it conforms to the five points he enumerated previously, explaining that “the judicial track must be independent and not subject to political, sectarian, or partisan pressure.”

He continues, “These contents can be banned, in cases where there is a fair legal ruling and a just judicial process. Where the judiciary is not truly independent from the political authority, freedoms of expression cannot be relied upon.”

Copyright in the countries of the region

Commenting on publishing freedoms in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, Muhanna says that several regimes in the region have adopted the principle of pursuing activists in cyberspace for years.

And “Under various names, such as fighting false news, some Arab governments pass their laws to justify repressive practices. This is what we are used to, and they are applying it today to cyberspace as they used to apply it in the past to books and films. The restrictions on publishers in cyberspace began a long time ago.” According to Muhanna.

He points out that “censorship of electronic content cannot be justified if the parliamentary path in passing the law is not democratic, and if the judicial path for applying the law is not independent of the political authority.”

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