UAE Social Media Users Face Heavy Jail Terms for Qatar Sympathy
UAE social media users that voice sympathy for Qatar amidst the ongoing diplomatic crisis face up to 15 years in jail and a fine of up to 500,000 dirhams ($136,000), according to the UAE news media outlet Gulf News. This comes after the United Arab Emirates, along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and other Arab nations severed ties with Qatar and have cut off land, sea and air access. They accuse the energy-rich Gulf nation of supporting terror groups, charges denied by Qatar.
The UAE Attorney-General, Dr Hamad Saif Al Shamsi issued a statement to Arabic media on Wednesday morning in which he declared that sympathy with Qatar is now a crime punishable by law.
Gulf News quoted Al-Shamsi as saying “strict and firm action will be taken against anyone who shows sympathy or any form of bias towards Qatar, or against anyone who objects to the position of the United Arab Emirates, whether it be through the means of social media, or any type of written, visual or verbal form”.
According to the Emirati news outlet, the attorney-general's statement was reiterated by an announcement made by the Federal Public Prosecution that according to the Federal Penal Code and Federal Law decree on Combatting Information Technology Crimes, anyone who threatens the interests, national unity and stability of the UAE will face a jail term from three to 15 years, and fine of 500,000 Dirhams ($136,000). The UAE has tough cybercrime and slander laws under which people can be arrested, imprisoned and deported for taking photographs without the consent of those shown or being insulting.
In recent years, the UAE authorities have rapidly stepped up monitoring and surveillance techniques concerning the online activities of internet users within its borders. In 2012, the UAE government instituted the vague 'cybercrime law' which allowed the authorities to more effectively control and sanction online activity around social media sites.
Critics have long maintained that the cybercrime law heavily contravenes rights around freedom of expression and assembly in the UAE, and that it is merely a technique used by authorities to silence dissenting voices in the country. In 2016 alone, around 300 people were detained for voicing opinions on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Only last month, Journalist, Tayseer al-najjar, and prominent UAE academic, Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith were sentenced by Emirati courts to three, and ten years respectively for comments made of social media that the authorities deemed 'damaged the reputation of the UAE state'.
International rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have long voiced concern over the increasing crackdown on freedom of speech and assembly within the Emirati state. Critics of the UAE authorities will no doubt claim that this latest statement of intent by the regime fits firmly into a wider climate of repression in the United Arab Emirates
1. For the Gulf News article concerning the announcement please see http://gulfnews.com/news/uae/government/qatari-sympathisers-to-face-fine-jail-1.2039631
2. For Al-Jazeera English's report on the issue, please see http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/06/uae-social-media-users-face-jail-qatar-sympathy-170607053416087.html?src=ilaw
3. For criticisms of the UAE's cybercrime law, please see https://www.hrw.org/news/2012/11/28/uae-cybercrimes-decree-attacks-free-speech