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GCC governments have responded to political challenges and peaceful online criticism with repression.Hundreds of dissidents, including political activists, human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, and bloggers, have been imprisoned across the region, many after unfair trials and allegations of torture in pretrial detention.
The 140 cases represent the most prominent individuals in the Arab Gulf states who have faced government retaliation for exercising their right to free expression, but dozens of other individuals not included in this report have faced similar harassment and repression.
Research conducted by Toronto-based research group Citizen Lab has found evidence that intrusion software from Italian firm Hacking Team has been used by governments in Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the UAE, while Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE may have purchased other intrusion software from Fin Fisher/Gamma International.4 Fin Fisher/Gamma International and Hacking Team suffered data breaches in 20 respectively, where internal emails and documents from each company were leaked online.5 These leaked documents corroborated many of Citizen Lab's findings and also identified additional customers, including the use of Hacking Team in Bahrain.6 Hacking Team and Fin Fisher/Gamma International sell intrusion software that allows a government to hack into laptops and mobile devices.
Once such software is installed on a device, it can enable a government to access emails, text messages, call histories, contact lists, files, and potentially passwords.
Tens of thousands of Saudi citizens, for example, have participated in online campaigns, such as a call to free Samar Badawi, a woman jailed for "parental disobedience" in 2010 according to a judge's interpretation of Islamic law, and online advocacy campaigns encouraging Saudi women to drive in defiance of the government ban on women driving.
Social media networks were a major factor in planning and organizing street protests in some GCC countries during the Arab uprisings of 2011.