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Imogen Lambert

Saudi critic of UAE faces prosecution under anti-discrimination law

Dhahi Khalfan accused Saudi writer of inciting hatred against the UAE [AFP]

Date of publication: 29 July, 2015

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Saudi writer Mohammed al-Hadif, a critic of the UAE is being prosecuted under new anti-discrimination law, fuelling concerns that the legislation will be used to curtail free speech.

Controversial former police chief of Dubai, Dhahi Khalfan, has used a new anti-discrimination law in the UAE to start proceedings against a Saudi writer.

This is the first case filed under the new law, passed last week in order to outlaw discrimination based on someone's religion or race.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum tweeted that the law "guarantees freedom of individuals against religious intolerance and hate crimes and underpins UAE’s policy of inclusiveness."

However, human rights workers warned that in the UAE repressive context, the law might be be used to silence critics.

Nicholas McGeehan, of Human Rights Watch, said that the context of the new is "the UAE's full-on assault on freedom of expression, which has more or less killed off free speech and precludes the formation of a healthy and active civil society."

The latest news would appear to suggest that human rights workers' predictions are correct.

The Saudi writer, Mohammed al-Hadif, who has over half a million twitter followers, was critical of the UAE's support of Saudi-lead air strikes in Yemen

Al-Hadif was previously banned by the Saudi authorities from using Twitter for his support of the Muslim Brotherhood and calling for Mohammed Morsi, former president of Egypt, to be reinstated.

"This Saudi tweeter has been publishing remarks that instigate hatred against the UAE by spreading baseless rumors and lies," Khalfan said to Emarat Al Youm daily.

"Despite his location, he will be pursued," he said. Dubai police have issued an international arrest warrant for al-Hadif, who is thought to travel between the UAE and Saudi.

Khalfan has himself made controversial statements about Yemen, describing Ali Abdullah Saleh – who's Houthi allies are the targets of UAE-backed airstrikes – as a "friend" and "the manliest man in Yemen". 

His statements earned him a public rebuke on twitter from the UAE's foreign minister.

Meanwhile, rights groups fear that the case against al-Hadif will not be the last attempt to inhibit free speech in the UAE.

"As the crackdown in the UAE continues, this new law suggests that the climate is worsening and any form of dissent could face even harsher repercussions", according to a press statement by the International campaign for freedom in the UAE.

"There is a real concern about the use of laws creating a climate of fear in the country", said Shazia Arshad, press officer for ICFUAE, adding that such laws are often "vague in nature."

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