UAE: Up to 25 years in prison for terrorism related activity online
Earlier this week, WAM, UAE’s official news agency, announced that amendments had been made to the UAE’s Federal Decree-Law No. 05 of 2012 on Combatting Cybercrimes increasing fines and extending jail terms to up to 25 years for terrorism related activity online.
According to article 26, one of the amended provisions, such activity includes: “whoever establishes, manages or runs a website or publishes information on the computer network or information technology means for the interest of a terrorist group or any unauthorised group, association [or] organisation”.
The UAE’s efforts to regulate online activity have increased dramatically in recent years. The 2012 Cybercrime Law outlines fines and prison sentences for individuals who contravene the UAE’s political, social and religious values online, while also criminalising a range of subjective online activities such as damaging national unity or mocking or insulting the state and its leaders.
Those expressing their opinions online in the UAE can now be sent to jail for a period up to 25 years in addition to a fine up to 4 million Dirhams (£859,000).
The 2012 cybercrime law has been predominately used to eliminate challenges to the ruling Emirati regime. Numerous human rights defenders have been detained in the UAE for expressing their opinion on social media. In 2016 alone, around 300 people were arrested for voicing opinions on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Earlier this year prominent Emirati human rights defender, Ahmed Mansoor, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “defaming the UAE through social media channels.” He was also fined 1 million Dirhams (£204,000) for insulting the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols, including its leaders.
Freedom of speech is a crucial tool in the defence of human rights and a fundamental civil liberty that should be available to everyone. Civil society organisations have long maintained that UAE’s cybercrime legislation represents a serious attack on people’s freedom of expression and assembly, violating basic principles of democracy and numerous international human rights treaties, including articles 19 and 20 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.