New UAE cyber law places curbs on political dissent

The new law has strict provisions for imprisonment of political dissidents

A new cyberlaw issued by the President of the United Arab Emirates this week provides for the imprisonment of political dissidents, according to information on the law from the government-run Emirates News Agency, also known as WAM (Wakalat Anba'a al-Emarat).

The decree on combating cybercrimes provides for imprisonment of persons who use the Internet to "deride or to damage the reputation or the stature" of the state or any of its institutions, including officials of the government and the monarchy.

Issued by President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the decree also has provisions for the imprisonment of persons who set up a website or use the Internet to call for demonstrations, marches and similar activities without a license being obtained in advance from the authorities.

It also stipulates penalties of imprisonment for any person "publishing any information, news, caricatures or any other kind of pictures that would pose threats to the security of the state and to its highest interests or violate its public order."

The UAE has been criticized for its arrests of political dissidents and human rights violations, including by the European Parliament. Reporters Without Borders said earlier this year that the UAE government has taken advantage of the region's tense political climate to tighten its control over information and communications in the country.

Under the new law, people who "display contempt" for Islam or any other religion could also be jailed, as could those who publish online "any programmes or ideas which would promote disorder, hate, racism or sectarianism and damage national unity or social peace or damage public order and pubic decency."

It also provides for imprisonment of anyone who sets up or runs an electronic site to "send, transmit, publish or promote online" any pornographic material, gambling activities and any other indecent acts.

The decree also allows for the temporary or permanent closure of web sites, seizure of the devices, software, programmes and any other means used in committing any of the crimes, and the deportation of any foreigner convicted for any of the crimes upon the completion of their punishment.

A court may also order that persons convicted under the decree may be placed under surveillance or supervision, may be prevented from using networks or the information technology system, or may be lodged in a rehabilitation center or a treatment facility for a period considered by the court to be suitable.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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