Tuesday, April 03, 2012

UAE cracks down on social media


The United Arab Emirates continues to crack down on bloggers and social media users. In the past weeks there have more arrests and attacks on social media users who have criticised the State or called for reform.

Victims of State bullying from February 2012 include:

- Mohamed Ismael Akhbar, who has been detained since 19 February on a charge of insulting an official for criticizing Dubai police chief, Dhahi Khalfan, on social networks. Mohamed Akhbar has had restricted access to his lawyer and spent time in solitary confinement.

- Blogger, Juma Al-Felasi, was pulled from his car and beaten in Dubai. His assailants accused him of tainting the reputation of the UAE’s leaders.

- Saleh Al-Dhufairi was arrested on the 9th of March and held released on bail on the 20th. He had voice his support of pro democracy group ‘UAE 7’.

Despite the constraints on media freedom, the UAE has a high percentage of social media users and an active blogging community. But as more and more UAE citizens have access to the internet the government has taken more steps to censor content so that now more than 40% of internet content remains censored. Sites like YouTube and Facebook are partially restricted, while Skype and Flickr are blocked. Speaking in August of last year, Colonel Abdul Rahim bin Shafi, director of the Interior Ministry’s organised crime department, told Reuters:

“All media are being monitored, including social media. People can express their opinion without violating [social] norms...Twitter and Facebook were invented to make the world easier but if they were used adversely, the perpetrators will be punished by law...whoever spreads false or malicious news or statements or spreading propaganda which could upset public security could spend between one month to three years in jail.”

The UAE, like most of the Gulf States, has an unspoken tradition of censorship that is present throughout society and news outlets. Foreign issues, like news stories from the West, will be discussed in a balanced way but issues closer to home, namely religion and local politics are to be discussed in a noncritical manner. It is frowned upon to discredit or damage the perception of the State, region, Arab people or Islam.

Critics of the UAE government are often harshly treated. Members of ‘UAE 7’; Mohammed Abdul Razzaq Al-Siddiq, Ahmed Ghaith Al Suwaidi, and Ahmed Yousef Buatabh Zaabi where arrested in March. Last year five activists, known as the ‘UAE 5’ were given jail sentences for calling for democratic reforms.

-Tom Callingham

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