United Arab Emirates is a 'dangerous place' to use social media, human rights groups warn
It is marketed as a luxury, modern tourism and business destination, but an errant Tweet or Facebook post in the United Arab Emirates is enough to land a person in jail.
Australian expat Jodi Magi, who was arrested in Abu Dhabi last month and is reportedly still being held in jail, is only the latest person to be arrested under the Gulf nation's repressive laws governing online commentary, which human rights groups warn amount to a serious attack on freedom of expression.
Ms Magi, an Australian artist, was reportedly arrested after she posted an image on Facebook of a car in her apartment complex carpark that was parked across disabled parking spaces. She told the ABC she was arrested for "writing bad words on social media about a person" and did not understand what she had done wrong.
New laws targeting so-called 'Cyber Crimes' were enacted in 2012 in the UAE, making it an offence to use the internet or any information technology to criticise the state, its rulers, or in many cases, other citizens.
The laws have ensnared both political dissidents and expats making seemingly innocuous comments alike.
Ryan Pate, an American engineer who worked in the UAE, was arrested in February over a Facebook post about his employers that he wrote while on holiday in the US.
Mr Pate had complained about his employer Global Aerospace Logistics on the social media site over a dispute about sick leave, referring to the company as "backstabbers", and had also made derogatory remarks about Arab people.
When he arrived back in Abu Dhabi from holiday, he was arrested on charges of "cyberslander", according to CNN. The case received widespread coverage in the United States and the charges were eventually dropped. Mr Pate returned to the US in March.
Another American, Shezanne Cassim, spent nine months in jail after posting a video online that satirised hip-hop culture in Dubai, before also being released this year.
Nicholas McGeehan, a UAE researcher with Human Rights Watch, said the Gulf nation was a more repressive place than many people realised, and a dangerous place to use Facebook and Twitter.
"The image that people have of Dubai and Abu Dhabi is at odds with the reality, I think of the situation there," he said.
"These are highly repressive, increasingly repressive states."
"You now have a cybercrime decree, which acts in conjunction with strong defamation laws, where basically anyone who says anything online, makes any comment online about another person, could fall foul of those laws, if someone complains about them, particularly if someone has any connection to the authorities," he said.
"There is a draconian attitude to freedom of expression, and a notable lack of common sense or even sense of humour."
In 2013, Dubai police arrested a man who filmed a policeman beating a driver and then posted the footage to You Tube.
Amnesty International also condemned a recent case where three sisters, Emirati nationals, were "disappeared" for three months after Tweeting about their brother, who is a prisoner of conscience.
Drewery Dyke, from Amnesty, said foreign governments like Britain and Australia needed to better make their own citizens more aware of the UAE's restrictive laws regarding free expression.
"Be careful where you point your camera, be careful what you take a picture of," he said.
"With the trends that have been set in motion since 2011, the space for expression, the space for fair procedures with the administration of justice, have narrowed. The restrictions have grown."
"There's no sign that it will change, there's no internal demand in the UAE for it to change. It's not as if there is an opposition party, there is no such thing, there's no civil society to call them to account."
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade currently urges travellers to the UAE to "be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you" and that "it is illegal to make derogatory remarks, including on social media, about the royal families or the local government."
Neither Amnesty nor Human Rights Watch is permitted to operate in the UAE