Five Qatari nationals have been handed lengthy prison terms and ordered to pay large fines after a court in the UAE convicted them for posting insulting images of that country’s royal family on Twitter and Instagram, a UAE newspaper has reported.
The National said Hamad Al Hammadi, 33, was found guilty of attempting to ruin UAE government’s reputation by spreading insulting images of the country’s symbols.
He was ordered to spend 10 years in jail and pay a Dh1 million (QR990,880) fine. Four other Qatari individuals, which the newspaper did not name, were convicted in absentia and handed a life sentence as well as Dh1 million fines.
Several UAE residents reacted angrily after news of the verdict broke earlier today, saying the sentence was too lenient.
الحكم 10 سنوات وغرامة مليون درهم
على القطري حمد الحمادي
والسجن المؤبد غيابيا لأربعة آخرين
في قضية #بوعسكور التي تمثل
خسة و وقاحة الجار !
— أحمد خليفة (@_A_khalifa) May 18, 2015
(Translation: What they did represents the insolence of the (UAE’s) neighbors and how low they stoop)
— wwfahd (@wwfahd1) May 18, 2015
(Translation: The sentence was too lenient for those lowlives)
Others jumped into the conversation by defending the convicted man and disparaging Emirati citizens with a common Arabic insult.
— Aba (@flynthesky22) May 18, 2015
(Translation: The shoes of the youngest Qatari is bigger than your head and the heads of (UAE nationals))
After reading some of the online comments, one Qatar resident said he hoped the people of the two countries would put their differences aside in the aftermath of last year’s diplomatic dispute:
“The two countries are coming together and the political unrest is fortunately becoming a thing of the past,” said Zaid Qassim. “That means coming together on all fronts, political resolutions between the governments … and avoiding tensions between the people of these countries be it social media or any other platform.”
The individuals were convicted of posted the material under the Twitter and Instagram accounts @bo3skor101, @bo3skor2021, @northsniper, @9ip and @bo3skor1011. Much of the offending material is still online, and also includes doctored, derogatory images of Qatar’s royal family.
During the trial, the convicted individuals were referred to as “foreign agents” working for Qatar’s state security agency.
According to previous reports in The National, Al Hammadi’s lawyer conceded that his client had purchased the SIM cards for the phones on which the offending material was found. But he argued that Al Hammadi had bought the SIM cards on the direction of his manager and did not use them himself.
Additionally, the lawyer raised questions about who actually created the images. He said they had been circulated on a WhatsApp group chat and had been automatically downloaded to the phones that were eventually seized by investigators.
“There is no evidence that (Al Hammadi) was in fact the one using the number or devices in evidence, or the one behind the Twitter or Instagram accounts,” lawyer Hamdan Al Zeyoodi told the court, according to The National.
The prosecutor, meanwhile, argued that the defamation campaign was part of a “military mission” that involved the men pretending they were locals “to show that Emiratis had offended their own leaders,” The National reported in April.
The men were tried under the UAE’s cybercrime law, which was introduced in 2012 and has been condemned by human rights advocates. In a report last year, Amnesty International said authorities have used the law’s “broad and sweeping” provisions to prosecute activists for using Twitter and other social media platforms to criticize the UAE’s human rights record or to call for greater freedoms.
Qatar’s own cybercrime legislation was passed into law last September to comply with an agreement among Gulf states to criminalize online insults of the region’s royal families, Qatar’s former justice minister told Doha News last year.