Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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LGBTQ people targeted online in Middle East, North Africa

According to a new report, LGBTQ people suffer arbitrary arrests, and sometimes torture from authorities, after online surveillance and illegal phone searches.

According to Human Rights Watch, authorities across the Middle East and North Africa are monitoring LGBT people online and based on their activity on social media, targeting them.

Government security forces have entrapped LGBTQ people on social media and dating applications, subjected them to online extortion, online harassment, and outing, according to the report. Primarily using doxxing to support prosecution, including profile photos, texts, and chats, forces have been violating the privacy of LGBTQ individuals as well as other human rights.

“‘All This Terror Because of a Photo’: Digital Targeting and Its Offline Consequences for LGBT People in the Middle East and North Africa,” examines how digital technology is being used against LGBTQ people, sometimes eventuating in detention and torture. The 135-page report focuses on five countries: EgyptIraqJordanLebanon, and Tunisia.

READ THE REPORT NOW: “All This Terror Because of a Photo”

“The authorities in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia have integrated technology into their policing of LGBT people,” said Rasha Younes, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “While digital platforms have enabled LGBT people to express themselves and amplify their voices, they have also become tools for state-sponsored repression.”

Tunisia | Photo: Pexels/Sergio Gomez

HRW interviewed 90 LGBTQ people affected by digital targeting; 30 experts including lawyers and digital rights professionals; and reviewed online evidence of targeting against LGBT people, including videos, images, and digital threats. HRW also documented 45 cases of arbitrary arrest involving 40 LGBT people targeted online in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia. In each case, security forces searched people’s phones, by force or under threat of violence, to collect – or plant – personal digital information to enable their prosecution.

In 23 cases of LGBT people prosecuted based on digital evidence under laws criminalizing same-sex or sexual conduct, and cybercrime laws in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia, Human Rights Watch found that while most cases were acquitted upon appeal, in five cases, people were convicted and sentenced to one to three years in prison. Twenty-two people were held in pretrial detention, in one case for 52 days at a police station in Lebanon.

LGBT people who were detained reported abuses such as being denied access to a lawyer or being forced to sign confessions. Others reported being denied food and water, medical attention; some said they were verbally, physically, and sexually assaulted. Some were placed in solitary confinement. Transgender women detainees were routinely held in men’s cells, where they faced sexual assault and other ill-treatment. In one case, a transgender woman held in a police station in Egypt said she experienced repeated sexual assault for 13 months.

Human Rights Watch documented 20 cases of online entrapment on Grindr and Facebook by security forces, who created fake profiles to impersonate LGBT people, in Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan; and 17 cases of online extortion by private individuals on Grindr, Instagram, and Facebook in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon, including by organized gangs in Egypt and armed groups in Iraq. The six people who reported the extortion to the authorities were themselves arrested.

The targeting of LGBT people online is enabled by their precarious legal status, Human Rights Watch said.

Under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, social media companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, including the rights to nondiscrimination, privacy, and freedom of expression.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has issued communications to social media platforms about how their medium is being used by overseas nations and statehoods to persecute LGBTQ people through digital targeting that has online and offline consequences for queer people in the Middle East and North Africa.

“Online abuses against LGBT people have offline consequences that reverberate throughout their lives and can be detrimental to their livelihood, mental health, and safety,” Younes said. “Authorities across the MENA region should stop targeting LGBT people, online and offline, and social media companies should mitigate the adverse impacts of digital targeting by better protecting LGBT people online.”

Queer Forty Staff

Queer Forty writing staff work hard to bring you all the latest articles to help inspire and inform.

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