In a sweeping new cybercrime law issued in the UAE yesterday, criticizing the country’s rulers or institutions online can now cost a resident three years in jail and/or deportation.
Those who use the internet to call for unlicensed demonstrations within the UAE, as well as those found guilty of broader crimes like trafficking firearms or soliciting prostitution, are also subject to jail time under the new law, which was issued by presidential decree.
The new legislation, which expands upon a 2006 cyber law, has been billed as the most comprehensive of its type in the region. It is also being trumpeted for its protection of privacy and personal information.
But the cyber-law also undoubtedly puts a chilling effect on free speech in the UAE, not just for journalists but anyone who uses social media.
The National reports:
“The law includes penalties for insults to religion and inciting conspiracy which are some of the most relevant issues at this time.” (said Dr Ali Al Jarman, managing partner at the Dubai law firm Prestige Advocates)…
“If a person publishes something on Facebook that is illegal, Facebook might be held liable according to this law,” (said Rashid Tahlak from Rashid Tahlak Advocates and Legal Consultants).
Media freedom questions
Social media has been used in all of the revolutions taking place across the Middle East over the last two years.
The UAE has taken an aggressive stance against criticism in its country, expelling Gallup Abu Dhabi, US-based National Democracy Institute and German think tank Konrad Adenauer Foundation this year alone.
It was also condemned by Amnesty International in March when it arrested some 50 people, who were branded as Islamists seeking to destabilize the country.
Media freedom questions were most recently raised two months ago with the sudden dismissal of American journalism professor Matt J Duffy, who cited his lack of self-censorship in the course of his professional work as a possible reason for his ousting.
Qatar has also been in the spotlight lately over free speech concerns following the one-year anniversary of the detention of a local poet who allegedly criticized the Emir and its new pending media law, which human rights organizations called “a commitment to censorship.”
Here is the full text of the UAE’s law, released by the state’s official news agency and published in Gulf News.
Credit: Screenshot by Santosh Aryal