UAE has one of the worst levels of press freedom in the world, according to a new report
The 2018 World Press Freedom Index's ranking put the United Arab of Emirates (UAE) among the countries with the worst levels of press freedom out of the 180 evaluated.
Published annually by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) since 2002, the World Press Freedom Index is an important advocacy tool based on the principle of emulation between states. Because it is now so well known, its influence over the media, governments and international organizations is growing.
In this year’s index, the UAE has dropped from rank 119 to 128. This reflects an increasingly repressive climate in the country whereby over the last year government censorship and surveillance practices have become increasingly pervasive throughout society.
This has seen online news publications such as the Huffington post, the New Arab, Middle East Eye, and Arabian Business blocked by the authorities.
VoIP calling services have also suffered from a heavy government clampdown, with call features on WhatsApp, Facebook, Viber and Snapchat all now banned in the Emirates. Additionally, in a move late last year that drew much resentment, the government blocked the popular internet video calling service Skype.
As well as tightening their control on web-based providers, UAE authorities have also 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 has 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. In recent years, it has been used by the authorities to detain and convict government critics and dissident voices.
This carried on throughout 2017. Last year 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 on social media sites that the authorities deemed 'damaged the reputation of the UAE state'.
Moreover, the award-winning rights activist Ahmed Mansoor has been held in an unknown location since his arrest in March of last year after UAE authorities accused him of using his social media accounts to publish "false information" and "spread hatred and sectarianism".
ICFUAE condemns the crackdown on freedom of expression in the UAE - which includes the arbitrary detention of journalists, academics, and human rights defenders; censorship of the press and the monitoring and surveillance of online activity. In line with this, we urgently demand the release of all prisoners of conscience detained merely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of speech and assembly.