Revisions to UAE Cybercrime Law Stifle Free Expression
Recent revisions to the United Arab Emirates’ cybercrime law will not only restrict internet freedom but are in violation of citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and should be immediately repealed. These revisions come amidst a broader crackdown on human rights defenders both online and offline in the UAE. Freedom House renews its calls for authorities to cease efforts to silence opposition through extralegal harassment and intimidation.
Under revisions to the 2006 “Cybercrime Law” ordered by UAE president Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, users could face imprisonment if they post content online that “threatens state security,” criticizes the country and its leaders, and insults Islam or other religions. Organizing ‘unauthorized’ public demonstrations using the internet could also be grounds for punishment under the law. Each of these criteria is loosely defined and open to broad interpretation leaving open the possibility for abuse by authorities.
The United Arab Emirates is not an electoral democracy, rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2012 and Freedom of the Press 2012. While the UAE’s constitution includes some protections for free expression, the government in practice has severely restricted this right. Laws exist to punish citizens for writing defamatory or ‘negative’ materials about “presidents, friendly countries, and religious issues.” In recent months, law enforcement has intensified its assault on civil society through deportations, travel bans and unexplained detentions. In March 2012, authorities raided and shut the Dubai offices of several civil society organizations, including the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the German-based Konrad Adenauer Foundation. A number of cyberactivists, including blogger Ahmed Abd al-Khaleq, have also been arrested for their views.
Disturbingly, the UAE is one of a handful of countries with poor human rights records—including Venezuela, Pakistan, and Ethiopia— that were elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council earlier this week.