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Nada Ramadan

Man on trial for allegedly 'mocking' UAE on Whatsapp

The UAE passed the controversial law to tighten its grip on online content [Getty]

Date of publication: 26 January, 2016

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A man is facing jail in Abu Dhabi for allegedly 'mocking' the UAE and 'its martyrs' online, amid growing concerns over the use of cybercrime laws to curtail personal freedoms.

A man is on trial at the Abu Dhabi-based Federal Supreme Court for allegedly sharing a poem on WhatsApp that ridiculed the UAE and its martyrs, Emirati website The National reported on Monday.

According to the Attorney General, the defendant broadcast information online with the intent of mocking the country, its leadership and its martyrs in Yemen by calling them traitors and cowards.

The 29 year-old Omani man allegedly posted an audio clip of a poem that contained the slanderous content in September last year.

He is currently being tried under the UAE's 2012 cybercrime law, which criminalises all forms of "electronic abuse".

According to the law, anyone found guilty of a cybercrime could face up to life imprisonment and/or a fine varying between 50,000 Dirhams ($13,600) and three million Dirhams ($816,800).

The law can also punish people who use "foul language" on the WhatsApp messaging service with fines of up to $68,000 - and expatriates can expect to be deported.

This is not the first case of its kind. The UAE has been resorting to the controversial law to tighten its grip on online content.

Last week, Emirati police was ordered to arrest two men after a video of them dancing "suggestively" while wearing UAE military uniforms was shared widely on social media.

Earlier this month, a Palestinian man was sentenced to three years in prison and fined 50,000 Dirhams ($13,600) after allegedly "insulting the UAE" on social media.

The 38-year-old was found guilty of creating a Facebook page that "damaged the reputation of the country".

On New Year’s Eve, two men were detained after taking "selfies" outside a Dubai hotel while it was on fire.

However, the city's public prosecution decided to release them after a thorough investigation found no evidence of criminal intent.

If convicted, the young men would also have faced three years in jail and a fine of no less than 30,000 Dirhams ($8,000).

Cybercrime in the Gulf

Other Gulf countries have also passed similar laws and measures to combat cybercrime and electronic abuse.

On Monday, Qatar's interior ministry opened a new security monitoring and counter-cybercrime headquarters to "investigate what appears to be a growing number of digital offenses in the country", according to Doha News.

"The center carries out investigation and evidence-gathering tasks in cybercrimes besides checking electronic devices, preparing technical reports based on orders of the Public Prosecution and relevant courts, and working together with the Ministry of Interior's Public Relations Department to raise community awareness of the perils of cybercrimes and how to avoid them," the ministry said in a statement.

In June 2015, Kuwait's parliament voted in favour of a cybercrimes law in its first session of the voting.

However, Kuwaitis condemned the law for having blurred lines between genuine cyber protection and abuses of personal freedoms by the state.

In a press conference held after the voting session, one of the parliament members, Rakan al-Nisf, released a statement to Kuwait News saying that "cybercrimes should be perceived as a matter for the greater good of the nation, yet there should no breaching of personal freedoms".

Kuwaiti MP Jamal al-Omar objected to the law, saying: "If the law is passed, three quarters of the Kuwaiti people will go to jail". 

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