Digital rights defenders around the world are under attack

While the cases of Assange, Manning and Snowden are still in the limelight, judicial persecutions and indiscriminate arrests silently strike many other activists for privacy and freedom of expression. Here are some stories. Whoever fights in their defense

February 09, 2020

Paladins of digital rights are under attack. At any latitude. As cases of prosecution of privacy defenders and cybersecurity researchers increase, dozens of NGOs, activists, academics and experts raise the alarm. There is a long list of threats and attacks in recent months, both judicial and IT. Now the associations say enough about the long trials against Ola Bini in Ecuador, the investigations and arbitrary measures taken against Javier Smaldone in Argentina, to cases such as that of Alaa Abd El-Fattah in Egypt, Ahmed Mansoor in the United Arab Emirates and many other digital activists, which are dangerously growing. Not to mention famous cases such as those of whistleblowers Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and Jeremy Hammond who have already paid a high price for their complaints. The same special rapporteurs on the right to freedom of opinion and expression of the organization of American states and the United Nations, including David Kaye, have expressed concern about the detention and prosecution of digital rights defenders until the most recent case, that of Ola Bini.

Who are the persecuted activists

Ola Bini

Ola Bini, considered close to Assange, was arrested on the same day that the WikiLeaks founder lost the political refugee status granted to him by Ecuador, and has not yet had a trial. First accused of tax evasion, then of unauthorized computer intrusion, but without evidence, the hearing, set for February 17, 2020, has been postponed to March 7 because, explains to the Republic his lawyer, Carlos Soria, “the court says he has lost the file concerning him “. But his real fault according to Amnesty International is to be a human rights defender committed to protecting the privacy of citizens.

Javier Smaldone

Javier Smaldone, information security specialist and spokesperson for the # NoAlVotoElectrónico campaign, was investigated for a dataleak relating to Argentine security forces in August 2019, a case related to a previous one in 2017, the result of “phishing” and known as “La Gorra Leaks 2.0 “. Smaldone is listed as one of the “possible culprits” of the data leak. Suspected as an expert on cybersecurity but also for having expressed himself critically on the story on social media, he was subjected to geolocation by his telephone providers, intercepted, spied on by surveillance cameras placed around the house, and he suffered the seizure of his personal devices and work tools. There is no evidence against him.

Alaa Abd El-Fattah

The Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El-Fattah, an icon of the Arab Spring of 2011, arrested, tortured and released only after five years, has also disappeared again. It would be in the hands of the Egyptian secret services from September 29 on charges of spreading fake news. Transferred to the Egyptian maximum security prison Tora 2, they would have been blindfolded, stripped, beaten and kicked repeatedly and subjected to threats and verbal abuse.

Ahmed Mansoor

Same fate for Ahmed Mansoor, arbitrarily detained in Al Sadir prison for daring to tweet about the human rights violation of the United Arab Emirates government. Member of the Human Rights Watch advisory board, arrested on March 20, 2017, he is still being held without being able to speak with his lawyers.

Whay are they attacking privacy advocates?

The work done by these digital rights defenders in defense of privacy and freedom of information is fundamental for the protection of human rights. The reason is easy to understand: today information travels digitally from one end of the world to another and the security of data and information depends both on the computer systems that treat them and on the activists who sensitize people about the existence of vulnerabilities in the systems.

Socially useful action: those who report unsafe apps, sites and social networks allow both governments and private companies to find solutions that improve the security of infrastructure and software for the benefit of all. This is why the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Access Now, APC, Human Rights Watch, and thirty other organizations, in a joint statement last December at the Internet Governance Forum in Berlin in Berlin wanted to emphasize that the work of journalist security consultants , like that of programmers and digital activists, must also be considered of vital importance for the safety of journalists and other human rights defenders.

They officially asked for their work to be recognized at legal, social and political level: “Digital rights defenders should also be recognized as human rights defenders. Their work and rights must be protected to ensure secure, transparent, democratic development. and secure the Internet and digital technologies everywhere in the world. “ Without fear of judicial harassment or any form of harm from states or governments. And again: “The work of digital rights defenders is a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression and, as such, must be protected. Together we reject any persecution of digital rights defenders”.

Assange, sick and about to be extradited to America, can only agree. Massimo Moratti, deputy director of Amnesty International for Europe had declared that “British authorities must take into consideration the concrete risk that Assange, once extradited, could suffer serious violations of his human rights and respect the commitment already made not to transfer Assange in a country where he could be subjected to mistreatment and torture. “

The article was originally publiched in Italian for La Repubblica:




Teacher, journalist, hacktivist. Privacy advocate, copyright critic, free software fan, cybersecurity curious.

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Arturo Di Corinto

Arturo Di Corinto

Teacher, journalist, hacktivist. Privacy advocate, copyright critic, free software fan, cybersecurity curious.

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