The United Arab Emirates (UAE) President, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, issued a new law for electronic crimes that will punish anyone who tries to overthrow the government, hold illegal demonstrations, or affect the dignity of the state by making fun of or taunting the rulers of the emirates.
This law amended the previous law, which was issued in 2006. The former law for electronic crimes stated that anyone who promotes pornography or exposure of the heavenly religions is sentenced to prison.
The new law states that any person who uses the internet to harm the reputation, prestige any of its institutions or its chairman or his deputy or rulers or guardians’ royal family or deputy governors or flag or national anthem or symbols, will be punished. The punishment will be by imprisonment, according to the new law.
Also, the new law states it is illegal for any person who establish, manage or supervise a site on the Internet to call to the overthrowing or change of the regime or government, capture or to disable the provisions of the constitution or laws of the country.
The law also calls for imprisonment for those who use the Internet in the “planning, organization, promotion, or calling for demonstrations or marches without a license from the authorities.”
The UAE, which is one of the richest countries in the world, has not seen any massive protests during the uproar of the Arab Spring. The authorities have arrested, since the beginning of the year, about 60 locals accused of threatening the security of the country according to UAE official resources.
The UAE authorities announced in mid-July that it planned to dismantle a group that claimed to be plotting against security and opposed the constitutions of the Gulf states. On November 4, they group went to trial, a process which is still ongoing.
The Dubai Chief of Police, Dahi Khalfan, accused The Muslim Brotherhood party of attempting to overthrow the Arabian Gulf governments; the cell members who were arrested were charged with conspiring against state security and declaring their allegiance to the party. Most of them were using social media websites such as twitter and Facebook to call for public demonstration in the country.
This law might affect the social media coverage of the events in UAE; channels which played a very important role during the Tunisian, Egyptian, Libyan and Yemeni revolutions. Most of the demonstrations in these countries were mainly organized by Facebook and Twitter activists. It will definitely affect the right to self-expression in the country because the written thought of people could be considered anti-government by law, thus forcing everything to think twice before saying anything.