Iyad El-Baghdadi Exposes the Dark Side of Emirati Modernity at Tech Conference in Berlin
Human rights activist and writer, Iyad El-Baghdadi raised the issue of human rights violations in the UAE, and the arbitrary detention of Ahmed Mansoor at the 2017 re:publica conference in Berlin, a three day event exploring the culture, politics and transformations of the digital world. The prominent human rights activist used his platform to issue a call to action, urging participants of the conference to speak out in favour of freedom of speech in the United Arab Emirates.
In a talk entitled “The human story behind the last big scoop in tech news: Ahmed Mansoor”, El-Baghdadi shone light upon the contradictory nature of modernity in the UAE by exploring the ways in which the authorities utilise technological advancements in order to quell dissenting voices and shut down freedom of speech.
The title of this presentation refers to the well known story that broke in 2016 concerning the UAE authorities' phone hacking of the prominent human rights activist, Ahmed Mansoor, which allowed security officials to track the movements and tap both the phone and video conversations of the outspoken critic of the state. The UAE authorities reportedly paid an Israeli security company a billion dollars for the hacking software, which subsequently led journalists to dub Mansoor, “The million dollar dissenter”. Fast forward a year and Ahmed Mansoor is currently being detained in the UAE for tweets that the authorities deem to damage the reputation of the state. El-Baghdadi used this opportunity to reiterate the calls of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in calling for Mansoor's release.
Throughout the talk, El-Baghdadi shone light upon the ways in which the “UAE government uses technology to spread fear by showing it is everywhere and it sees everything”, by discussing how the authorities have rapidly stepped up monitoring and surveillance techniques concerning the online activities of internet users within its borders. El-Baghdadi stated that although the “UAE is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the Arab world, there is no freedom of expression”. An example of this is the UAE's vague 'cybercrime law' that allows the government to more effectively control and sanction online activity around social media sites. Critics have long maintained that the cybercrime law heavily contravenes rights around freedom of expression and assembly in the UAE, and that it is merely a technique used by authorities to silence dissenting voices in the country. In 2016 alone, around 300 people were detained for voicing opinions on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
El-Baghdadi ended his speech by issuing a call to action, urging the audience to “help highlight the human rights abuses in the UAE”. He asked attendees to sign Amnesty Internationals' petition calling for the immediate, and unconditional release of Ahmed Mansoor, who Bagdhadi hailed as “one of the very in the UAE who dares to speak up in the face of punishment”.
- Sign this petition here.