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Saudi Snitch App Turns Citizens into Social Media Police – Middle East Monitor

A Saudi app that allows ordinary people to “play the role of a police officer” may have alerted authorities to a tweet by a student whose 34-year prison sentence has been internationally condemned.

Just weeks after the sentencing of UK’s University of Leeds PhD candidate Salma Al-Shehab, a human rights group said another woman had been sentenced to 45 years in prison for her social media posts. , highlighting crackdowns targeting women online.

Nourah bint Saeed Al-Qahtani was convicted of “using the internet to undermine the (Saudi) social fabric”. breaking dawna Washington-based human rights organization.

It’s not clear how Qahtani’s posts were detected, but human rights groups used Kollona Amn, a government app that allows citizens to alert authorities to routine incidents such as traffic accidents and suspicious behavior. We believe that Shehab has been reported by citizens.

“I checked your account and it was pathetic and full of garbage. Corona Amun‘, one user posted below Shehab’s comment. Thomson Reuters Foundation Indicated.

Corona Amunmeans “we are all safe” in Arabic and has been downloaded over 1 million times from the Google Play store.

Despite billing itself as a utility app to speed up “rescue efforts,” rights activists have warned authorities against activists and dissidents seen as a threat to the Saudi government. It is claimed to be useful in casting nets.

“The problem with Saudi Arabia is that their understanding of crime is much broader than is permitted under international law,” said Rosna Begum, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW). rice field.

“It’s very broad and vague. Anything can be a crime.”

The Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information could not be reached for comment, but officials previously said there were no political prisoners in the country.

“Saudi Arabia has prisoners who have committed crimes, been tried by courts and convicted,” said Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir. Reuters in July.

read: Saudi Arabia’s power and global influence is wasted on one man

digital vigilante

Government-hired Twitter trolls scour social media to raise dissent and harass anyone who appears to deviate from official lines, according to human rights groups.

But without this kind of oversight, Corona Amun Rights activists say it would have been difficult for the government to detect Shehab’s Twitter presence.

Available to Twitter users Corona Amun Flag other users’ tweets by tagging their app accounts, or National Security Agency handles.

Lina Al-Hathloul, head of surveillance and communications for rights group ALQST, said it recorded at least eight other instances of online account tagging. Corona Amun Accounts under activist tweets.

“They really want civil society to be invisible, they don’t want people to exist, even online,” she added.

Around the world, similar apps are sparking a wave of digital vigilantes. This can range from tools that allow people to call the police, to speeding drivers, to violating COVID-19 rules.

They are often controversial.

In South Africa, WhatsApp chat groups that double as neighborhood watch have been criticized for being racist. Meanwhile, in India, so-called cyber volunteers recruited by the government pursue online content deemed illegal or anti-state.

fear and duty

It’s not the first time in Saudi Arabia that a government-distributed app has been criticized by human rights groups, who officially claim the tool is simply meant to make everyday tasks easier and safer.

of Tawakaluna App – which means “God in which we trust” in Arabic – was born as a COVID-19 tracking tool in Saudi Arabia.

Human rights activists said it now includes a reporting feature that allows citizens to file complaints about suspected construction violations and more.

another app, Valorinvites people to report corrupt officials and commercial violations, but is also sometimes used to settle personal revenge, they added.

of Abshar The app is used by Saudis who sponsor foreign workers to allow their employees to leave the country, but critics say it restricts the free movement of workers living in the kingdom. It is said that it is often useful for

Employers can do this by issuing exit and entry visas on specific dates or by controlling exit visas, according to a 2019 HRW report.

The app was launched in 2015 to allow men to easily control the movements of their female relatives at a time when women needed male guardian approval to travel.

Persuading ordinary Saudis to spy on and inform each other is often seen as a state duty, said Taha Alhajj, a legal consultant at the European-Saudi Human Rights Organization.

“Another way is fear. If someone knows of a violation and does not report it, he or she is party to that violation. Anyone covering up a crime is considered an accomplice.”

read: Who will stand up for women against the Saudi regime?

“Follow everywhere”

The rulings against Shehab and Qahtani have rocked Saudi Arabia’s activist community and sent chills across the country’s digital space, activists said.

Since Shehab was sentenced, social media users have gone through her personal and family accounts, digging up old posts in an attempt to discredit her.

One user shared a comment posted by his parents and tagged the following Twitter accounts: Corona Amun and according to a screenshot seen by the National Security Agency (PSS), Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“I hope @pss_ar and @kamnapp see the above information and hold her mother and father accountable,” one user typed below the post by Shehab’s father.

Khalid Ibrahim, executive director of the Lebanon-based Gulf Human Rights Center, said the verdict against the mother of two was widely seen as a warning to human rights defenders in the kingdom.

“They feel like they are being followed everywhere they go, even in exile,” he said.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20220902-saudi-snitching-app-turns-citizens-into-social-media-police/ Saudi Snitch App Turns Citizens into Social Media Police – Middle East Monitor

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