Human Rights Watch has released a report that highlights how government officials across the Middle East and North Africa are targeting LGBT+ people based on their online activities, particularly on social media platforms. The report highlights that LGBT+ people have been entrapped, subjected to online extortion, online harassment, and outing. Security forces rely on illegitimately obtained digital photos, chats, and similar information in prosecutions, in violation of the right to privacy and other human rights. The report examined digital targeting by security forces and its offline consequences in five countries: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia.
Security Forces Use Digital Targeting to Gather Evidence for Prosecution
The findings of the report show how security forces use digital targeting to gather and create evidence to support prosecutions. Human Rights Watch interviewed 90 LGBT people affected by digital targeting and 30 experts, including lawyers and digital rights professionals. The research had support from members of the Coalition for Digital and LGBT Rights. The report documents 45 cases of arbitrary arrest involving 40 LGBT people targeted online in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia. In reviewing judicial files, Human Rights Watch found that most of those prosecuted were acquitted upon appeal. In five cases, people were convicted and sentenced to one to three years in prison.
Detainees Face Due Process Violations and Other Ill-Treatment
The report highlights that LGBT people who were detained reported facing numerous due process violations, including officials confiscating their phones, denying them access to a lawyer, and forcing them to sign coerced confessions. They reported being denied food and water, family and legal representation, and medical services as well as verbal, physical, and sexual assault. Transgender women detainees were routinely held in men’s cells, where they faced sexual assault and other ill-treatment. The report also documents cases of online entrapment, online extortion, and online harassment.
Urgent Need for Social Media Platforms to Protect Vulnerable Groups
This report demonstrates the urgent need for social media platforms to protect vulnerable groups, Human Rights Watch reiterates. 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. Digital platforms, such as Meta (Facebook, Instagram), and Grindr, are not doing enough to protect users vulnerable to digital targeting. The report highlights the need for content moderation, particularly in Arabic, by quickly removing abusive content, as well as content that could put users at risk. Platforms should conduct human rights due diligence that includes identifying, preventing, ceasing, mitigating, remediating, and accounting for potential and actual adverse impacts of digital targeting on human rights. The report also emphasizes the need for governments to respect and protect the rights of LGBT+ people and to introduce and enforce laws protecting them against discrimination.