Posts Tagged ‘MEA laureate 2015’

BBC investigation on Arab States and import of cyber-surveillance tools

June 16, 2017

On 15 June 2017 the BBC came out with a special report on “How BAE sold cyber-surveillance tools to Arab states’A dancer tucks his Apple iPhone next to his traditional Omani dagger during a welcome ceremony in Muscat, Oman (5 November 2016).

A year-long investigation by BBC Arabic and a Danish newspaper [Dagbladet Information] has uncovered evidence that the UK defence giant BAE Systems has made large-scale sales across the Middle East of sophisticated surveillance technology, including to many repressive governments. These sales have also included decryption software which could be used against the UK and its allies. While the sales are legal, human rights campaigners and cyber-security experts have expressed serious concerns these powerful tools could be used to spy on millions of people and thwart any signs of dissent. The investigation began in the small Danish town of Norresundby, home to ETI, a company specialising in high-tech surveillance equipment. ETI developed a system called Evident, which enabled governments to conduct mass surveillance of their citizens’ communications. A former employee, speaking to the BBC anonymously, described how Evident worked. “You’d be able to intercept any internet traffic,” he said. “If you wanted to do a whole country, you could. You could pin-point people’s location based on cellular data. You could follow people around. They were quite far ahead with voice recognition. They were capable of decrypting stuff as well.”

 

Image copyright GETTY IMAGES

A video clip accompanying the article is to be found on the website of the BBC (see link below) and it features Ahmed Mansoor, the 2015 Laureate of the Martin Ennals Award.[https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/21/ahmed-mansoor-mea-laureate-2015-arrested-in-middle-of-the-night-raid-in-emirates/]

One early customer of the new system was the Tunisian government. The BBC tracked down a former Tunisian intelligence official who operated Evident for the country’s veteran leader, President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. “ETI installed it and engineers came for training sessions,” he explained. “[It] works with keywords. You put in an opponent’s name and you will see all the sites, blogs, social networks related to that user.” The source says President Ben Ali used the system to crack down on opponents until his overthrow in January 2011, in the first popular uprising of the Arab Spring. As protests spread across the Arab world, social media became a key tool for organisers. Governments began shopping around for more sophisticated cyber-surveillance systems – opening up a lucrative new market for companies like BAE Systems. In 2011, BAE bought ETI and the company became part of BAE Systems Applied Intelligence. Over the next five years, BAE used its Danish subsidiary to supply Evident systems to many Middle Eastern countries with questionable human rights records (such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Morocco and Algeria).

 

“I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said more than 90% of the most active campaigners in 2011 have now vanished,” says Yahya Assiri, a former Saudi air force officer who fled the country after posting pro-democracy statements online.  “It used to be that ‘the walls have ears’, but now it’s ‘smartphones have ears,‘” says Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi women’s rights activist who also now lives abroad. “No country monitors its own people the way they do in the Gulf countries. They have the money, so they can buy advanced surveillance software.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/12/13/five-women-human-rights-defenders-from-the-middle-east/]

Manal al-Sharif
Manal al-Sharif says Gulf states have the money to buy advanced surveillance equipment‘Responsible trading’

….The BBC has obtained a 2015 email exchange between the British and Danish export authorities in which the British side clearly expresses concern about this capability with reference to an Evident sale to the United Arab Emirates. “We would refuse a licence to export this cryptanalysis software from the UK because of Criteria 5 concerns,” says the email. [“Criteria 5” refers to the national security of the UK and its allies.]…Despite British objections, the Danish authorities approved the Evident export…..

…….Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake is one of the few European politicians prepared to discuss concerns about surveillance technology exports. She says European countries will ultimately pay a price for the compromises now being made. “Each and every case where someone is silenced or ends up in prison with the help of EU-made technologies I think is unacceptable,” she told the BBC. “I think the fact that these companies are commercial players, developing these highly sophisticated technologies that could have a deep impact on our national security, on people’s lives, requires us to look again at what kind of restrictions maybe be needed, what kind of transparency and accountability is needed in this market before it turns against our own interest and our own principles.

Source: How BAE sold cyber-surveillance tools to Arab states – BBC News

https://twitter.com/hashtag/freeahmed

Ahmed Mansoor under arrest – Emirates under pressure

March 28, 2017

The importance of Ahmed Mansoor – MEA Laureate 2015 – as human rights defender and as the most important source of information on human rights in the Emirates (UAE) has been demonstrated by the international response to his sudden arrest [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/21/ahmed-mansoor-mea-laureate-2015-arrested-in-middle-of-the-night-raid-in-emirates/ ]. In addition to many newspaper and social media, there have been two important statements this morning:

The UN Special Procedures have called for Ahmed Mansoor’s release:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21449&LangID=E,

And so has the Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights of the EU Parliament  http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/20170328IPR68805/droi-chair-calls-on-uae-to-unconditionally-release-ahmed-mansoor 

In view of the link between Manchester and UAE airlines (Emirates and Ethiad) it is specially interesting to note that AI Manchester has joined the campaign to free Ahmed Mansoor:

Ahmed Mansoor, MEA Laureate 2015, arrested in middle-of-the-night raid in Emirates

March 21, 2017

Ahmed Mansoor’s whereabouts are unknown © Martin Ennals Foundation

On 20 March, 2017, around midnight, Mr. Ahmed Mansoor was arrested at his home in Ajman, UAE, by a large team of the Emirates’ security forces. The Government has finally confirmed that it is holding him, but until today we don’t know where. The reasons for his arrest remain unknown but might be linked to a series of tweets he posted on Twitter in recent days, calling for the release of UAE human rights defender Osama Al-Najjar or to a letter that he signed, along with other activists in the region, calling for the release of all prisoners of conscience in the Middle East ahead of an Arab League Summit scheduled to be held in Jordan on 29 March 2017.

Following a massive crackdown on human rights defenders in the UAE in recent years, Ahmed Mansoor is today widely respected as the only independent voice still speaking out through his blog and Twitter account against human rights violations from inside the country. He was the Laureate of the Martin Ennals Award 2015. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/10/07/the-link-to-the-full-mea-2015-ceremony-of-6-october/]. Mr. Mansoor has faced repeated intimidation, harassment, and death threats from the UAE authorities or their supporters, including arrest and imprisonment in 2011 following an unfair trial. Although pardoned and released later that year, the UAE authorities have arbitrarily imposed a travel ban on him. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/09/15/fly-emirates-if-the-emirs-let-you/]

In August 2016 Ahmed Mansoor was at the centre of a hacking scandal involving Apple’s iOS operating system [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/08/29/apple-tackles-iphone-one-tap-spyware-flaws-after-mea-laureate-discovers-hacking-attempt/]

Sources:

UAE: alarm at middle-of-the-night arrest of leading human rights activist | Amnesty International UK

http://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/urgent-interventions/united-arab-emirates/2017/03/d24255/

Emirates response to UN High Commissioner’s could do more than calling for more dialogue

September 16, 2016

The UN High Commissioner’s opening speech at the 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-states-may-shut-my-office-out-but-they-will-not-shut-us-up/] continues to makes waves and has led to interesting reactions. Here the one from the Emirates as reported by ArabianBusiness.com on 15 September 2016 under the heading: “UAE calls for open, transparent dialogue on human rights

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in his statement at the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council, said he was “concerned by harassment and arrests of human rights defenders and political activists, and legislation which enables revocation of citizenship without due process” in Bahrain. The UAE’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Obaid Salem Al Zaabi said that the emirates shares the high commissioner’s concerns about several human rights issues in different parts of the world. He even gave careful endorsement of the HC’s statement on interference by saying: “The current experience shows that there is still a misunderstanding in the areas related to enhancing human rights at the national levels, which led the nations to deem them as interference in their respective internal affairs and a violation of their sovereignty,” Al Zaabi said, according to news agency WAM.

But then he had to add that he regretted that the High Commissioner ignored in his update the efforts made by Bahrain to provide a rapprochement ground for all parties to overcome this difficult stage. “Concentrating only on the negative aspects can create a wrong impression that others may exploit to further complicate the situation in Bahrain,” Al Zaabi said. He said the only way to resolve the situation in Bahrain is through objective and constructive dialogue, not confrontational and tense language.

Al Zaabi also renewed the UAE’s readiness to co-operate with the High Commissioner, through its continuous contributions to the relevant UN funds. This is fine of course but, more convincing would be if the Emirates would lift the travel ban on their most prominent human rights defender: Ahmed Mansoor: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/10/06/ahmed-mansoor-leading-human-rights-defender-in-the-emirates-is-2015-laureate-mea/ and https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/09/15/fly-emirates-if-the-emirs-let-you/

Source: UAE calls for open, transparent dialogue on human rights – ArabianBusiness.com

Apple tackles iPhone one-tap spyware flaws after MEA Laureate discovers hacking attempt

August 29, 2016

Ahmed Mansoor, the Laureate of the Martin Ennals Award 2015, was the target of a major hacking attempt. Fortunately it received global coverage on 26 and 27 August 2016 and Apple has immediately issued a security update to address the vulnerabilities. [For those with Iphones/Ipads, you may want to update your IOS software to 9.3.5!]


Ahmed MansoorImage copyrightAP – human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor

The flaws in Apple’s iOS operating system were discovered by Mansoor who alerted security researchers to unsolicited text messages he had received on 10 and 11 August. They discovered three previously unknown flaws within Apple’s code that meant spyware could be installed with a single tap. Apple has since released a software update that addresses the problem. The two security firms involved, Citizen Lab and Lookout, said they had held back details of the discovery until the fix had been issued.

The texts promised to reveal “secrets” about people allegedly being tortured in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)’s jails if he tapped the links. Had he done so, Citizen Lab says, his iPhone 6 would have been “jailbroken”, meaning unauthorised software could have been installed. “Once infected, Mansoor’s phone would have become a digital spy in his pocket, capable of employing his iPhone’s camera and microphone to snoop on activity in the vicinity of the device, recording his WhatsApp and Viber calls, logging messages sent in mobile chat apps, and tracking his movements,” said Citizen Lab. The researchers say they believe the spyware involved was created by NSO Group, an Israeli “cyber-war” company.

Text message
The spyware would have been installed if Mansoor had tapped on the links. Image copyright CITIZENLAB

For more on Mansoor: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/ahmed-mansoor/

Sources:

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-37185544

https://citizenlab.org/2016/08/million-dollar-dissident-iphone-zero-day-nso-group-uae/  (from the researchers who identified the vulnerabilities. Good summary followed by full technical analysis)

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3758671/Apple-boosts-iPhone-security-Mideast-spyware-discovery.html

The link to the full MEA 2015 ceremony of 6 October

October 7, 2015

Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders

Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders

For those who missed this impressive ceremony of the 2015 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders last night, here is the link to the full 1h40 event, including the surprise appearance by Laureate Ahmed Mansoor via the internet. The films and streaming were provided by True Heroes Films.

Ahmed Mansoor, leading human rights defender in the Emirates, is 2015 Laureate MEA

October 6, 2015

BREAKING NEWS: Ahmed Mansoor was just announced during the ceremony in Geneva as the 2015 MEA Laureate [6 October 2015].  Since 2006, Ahmed Mansoor (United Arab Emirates) has focussed on initiatives concerning freedom of expression, civil and political rights. He successfully campaigned in 2006-2007 to support two people jailed for critical social comments, who were released and the charges dropped. Shortly after, the Prime Minister of UAE issued an order not to jail journalists in relation to their work. Mr Mansoor is one of the few voices within the United Arab Emirates who provides a credible independent assessment of human rights developments. He regularly raises concerns on arbitrary detention, torture, international standards for fair trials, non-independence of the judiciary, and domestic laws that violate international law.

He has faced repeated intimidation and harassment, including imprisonment in 2011 after being convicted of “insulting officials” and sentenced to three years’ in prison, although he was released after eight months. Since being jailed in 2011, he has been denied a passport and banned from travelling. The Martin Ennals Jury has in vain urged the government of the UAE to lift this travel ban and allow him to travel. Martin Ennals Foundation Chair Micheline Calmy-Rey stated “ Ahmed Mansoor continues to pay the price for speaking out on human rights issues in his country, we urge his government to lift the travel ban.” [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/09/15/fly-emirates-if-the-emirs-let-you/]

Ahmed Mansoor’s message (recorded on video before the ceremony): 

The Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA) is a unique collaboration among ten of the world’s leading human rights organizations to give protection to human rights defenders worldwide. The Jury is composed of the following NGOs:

Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders

Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders

–  Amnesty International,

–    FIDH,

–    Human Rights First,

–    HURIDOCS,

–    International Service for Human Rights,

–    EWDE Germany,

–    Front Line Defenders,

–  Human Rights Watch,

–  International Commission of Jurists,

–    World Organisation Against Torture.

The two other finalists received Martin Ennals Prizes:

Robert Sann Aung (Myanmar)

Since 1974, Robert Sann Aung has courageously fought against human rights abuses. He has been repeatedly imprisoned in harsh conditions, physically attacked as well as regularly threatened. He was disbarred from 1993 – 2012. Currently, he represents students detained for peaceful protests.

Asmaou Diallo (Guinea)

Her human rights work started following the events of 28 September 2009 when the Guinean military attacked peaceful demonstrators. She founded l’Association des Parents et Amis des Victimes du 28 septembre 2009 (APIVA), which assists those affected, and supports them to testify in court proceedings.

Electronic version of the press kit with Video: http://bit.ly/1DYqlFn

For further information, please contact: khambatta@martinennalsaward.org

 

 

Martin Ennals Award: ceremony 2015 and nominations for 2016

October 1, 2015

Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders

Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders

  • For those wanting to submit candidates for the 2016 MEA, please note that the nominations deadline is one month earlier than in the past, i.e. 9 November 2015. Nominations can be submitted electronically at  www.martinennalsaward.org

The Jury of the Award is composed of the following NGOs:

OMCT

ISHR

International Commission of Jurists

HURIDOCS

Human Rights Watch

Human Rights First

Front Line Defenders

FIDH

EWDE Germany

Amnesty International