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The New Arab

UAE blocks activist site Change.org after petition criticising Skype ban

Skype has been blocked again in the UAE [AFP]

Date of publication: 17 January, 2018

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Millions of expatriates in the UAE have been left frustrated by a Skype ban. An online petition calling for an end to the restrictions has been blocked by Emirati authorities.
The reinstatement of a ban on messaging services such as Skype in the UAE last month has left millions of expatriates feeling that bit more detached from friends, family and home.

Now an online activist site Change.org - which hosted a petition calling for an end to the ban - has been blocked by UAE telecoms providers. 

Change.org hosted the petition called "UAE: Stop Blocking VoIP Services" by a resident named "Mostafa Amr".  

In it, Amr called for UAE authorities to lift the restrictions on free messaging apps, which have allowed millions of expatriates and nationals to communicate with friends, loved ones and clients across the world.

"Discord, Skype, TeamSpeak, Viber, WhatsApp, everything has been blocked by Etisalat and DU in the UAE, however, they don't realise the families who suffer each day since they cannot contact their loved ones and play with their friends online games," the petition reads.

"This petition is to encourage Etisalat, DU [telecom providers] and the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority to release their ban on VOIP [Voice Over Internet Protocol] services such as Skype and make their guidelines more flexible."

The petition has receieved over 5,000 signatures but access to the site was blocked in the UAE earlier this month.


Amr said the ban made speaking with loved ones an unaffordable luxury hurting lower-income expatriates in the country the most.

"VoIP is crucial and needed for many families who are living in the [UAE] and need to contact their loved ones who are living outside... and an easy, and free way to contact them and keep in touch is via VoIP," the Mostafa pleads in the petition.

"I personally, used VoIP services ever since they were introduced. They have saved me millions of dirhams (AED) a year and I cannot stress how important it is to so many people that cannot afford extra charges."

UAE authorities have long maintained that such bans are in place for security reasons.

Residents, however, suspect telecom giants block the apps to force expatriates - who make up around 80 percent of the UAE population - to use their services and fork out on expensive international calls.

That appeared to be the case when days after the ban came into effect again on 28 December, Etisalat and Du announced their own VoIP services.

Costing around 1,260 dirhams ($343) a year, the internet calling plans are likely unaffordable for many labourers, house helpers and other low-paid workers whose families nearly always remain in their home countries due to high costs and visa restrictions in the UAE.

Change.org is an online petition site based in the US, used by more than 100 million people and with 10 million members worldwide.

The UAE and other Gulf states have blocked a number of other news and activist sites.

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