By Justin Dorman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Never before has an amendment restricted internet freedom in the United Arab Emirates like the most recent federal decree has. Not only does the law forbid copyright infringement, pornography, and gambling, but it also punishes those who criticize the nation’s rulers online.
Anyone who publishes news, photographs, information, or caricatures that “pose threats to the security of the state and to its highest interests or violate its public order” may face sanctions such as deportation or a multi-year jail sentence. Such interests of the state include defending the Constitution, laws, rulers, and religion of Islam from criticism. Additionally, one who attempts to organize an unauthrotized demonstration online can also face jail time or deportation.
The minimum jail sentence for a crime under this law will be a three-year term. The jail sentences will be enforced against citizens of the United Arab Emirates. Those who are foreign nationals and are convicted under this law will be deported.
Such policies are not rare in the Middle East. Similar policies restricting and punishing those who exercise their international right to freedom of expression, by criticizing the government, exist in countries like Iran, Qatar, Bahrain, Tunisia, and many others.
While the United Arab Emirates do not normally experience the regular uprisings and protests that some of its neighbors do, it has nonetheless detained sixty advocates since March. These individuals are believed to be connected to al-Islah, an advocacy group dedicated to Islamic tenets that is made up of students and human rights lawyers.
One prominent human rights activist who has been punished by the Emirati government for his outspoken blogging has been Ahmed Mansoor. Mansoor managed a website uaehewar.net that criticized government officials, and was a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Advisory Committee.
Mansoor was sentenced to a three-year prison term but was pardoned after just seven months after engaging in a sixteen day hunger strike. Since being released, Mansoor claims he has been subject to physical attacks, defamation, death threats, and illegal government hacking of his computer and e-mail account. Mansoor’s passport was also confiscated so that he could not leave the country.
Middle East director at Human Rights Watch Sarah Leah Whitson finds it, “hard to dissociate the verbal and physical attacks against Mansoor from the government’s widespread campaign of intimidation, fear and arrests against all of the country’s reform activists.”
She added that, “[i]t’s becoming clear that anyone who exercises their right to free speech and criticizes the status quo faces an uncertain future in the UAE.”
Mansoor refuses to be affected by the new law. “The only limits that I put to myself are the ethical limits. . .I believe free speech is the prerequisite for any development to happen in any place and any country, and I’m driven totally by my passion and my love to this country,” said Mansoor.
For further information, please see:
International Business Times – United Arab Emirates Clamps Down on the Internet Freedom. . .Before it’s a Problem – 14 November 2012
BBC – UAE Places Restrictions on Online Dissent – 13 November 2012
Free Speech Debate – Ahmed Mansoor on Blogging his way into a UAE Prison – 18 October 2012
Human Rights Watch – UAE: Investigate Attacks on Rights Defender – 3 October 2012