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    In some Persian Gulf States, people can be jailed as terrorists and even executed for peacefully expressing their views in social media , Ahmed Benchemsi of Human Rights Watch told Sputnik

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    In some Persian Gulf States, people can be jailed as terrorists and even executed for peacefully expressing their views in social media , Ahmed Benchemsi, the Advocacy and Communications Director for Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division, told Sputnik.

    In an interview with Sputnik, Ahmed Benchemsi, the Advocacy and Communications Director for Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division, said that the simple act of peacefully expressing an opinion in social media can put you at risk of being incarcerated and even sentenced to death in the oil-rich countries of the Persian Gulf.

    The interview came after a Human Rights Watch report said that hundreds of people have been jailed for their use of social media in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

    "Social media are tremendously popular in the Gulf states, more than elsewhere in the Arab world. We are talking of tens of millions of users there," Ahmed Benchemsi said.

    He recalled that the during the 2011 Arab Spring, the social media became a particularly popular tool for activists, human rights agitators, journalists and all those who "participated in the popular uprising."

    When asked about what goals Human Rights Watch hopes to achieve by releasing the report, called "140 Characters," Benchemsi said that the purpose is to expose the relevant facts and make them known to the wider public. This will hopefully pressure the governments and all the responsible parties to amend their policies and implement reforms.

    "On the long run, we ask those governments to amend their countries' legislation. For example, in some countries of the Gulf, peaceful activists who just use social media to express their views peacefully can even be deemed terrorists. In the United Arab Emirates, for instance, they can be convicted to death for that," he said.

    In the first quarter of 2014, more than 17 million people in the Middle East opened up new Facebook accounts; the use of Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube, and other platforms are also on the rise there.

    Human Rights Watch also discovered that a number of the Gulf nations have purchased sophisticated equipment to spy on their citizens. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have software that hacks mobile phones, giving those countries access to mobile subscribers' microphones and cameras.

    "In the United Arab Emirates, DarkMatter — a cybersecurity company — has been working to hire an army of hackers to build surveillance capabilities for the Gulf nation, though the company still denies its involvement," according to the website theintercept.com.

    It quoted Sarah Lee Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, as saying that "Gulf States are intimidating, surveilling, imprisoning, and silencing activists as part of their all-out assault on peaceful criticism, but they are seriously mistaken if they think they can indefinitely block Gulf citizens from using social and other media to push for positive reforms."


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