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Internet celebrities now need a license in the UAE Open in fullscreen

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Internet celebrities now need a license in the UAE

Influencers often use their social media popularity to sell products [Getty]

Date of publication: 6 March, 2018

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The United Arab Emirates says it will now require anyone conducting 'commercial activities' through social media to register for a government-issued license.
The United Arab Emirates says it will now require anyone conducting "commercial activities" through social media to register for a government-issued license.

The new rules announced on Tuesday target so-called "social media influencers", who parlay their internet fame into advertising products.

Officials said the new rules would help ensure "that media material respects the religious, cultural and social values of the UAE" a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula that is home to Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Those affected need to register by the end of June or face 5,000-dirham ($1,360) fines.

The UAE has strict laws governing expression.

Journalists working in the country require government-issued press cards. People have also been jailed for their online comments.

Last year, the UAE and other Gulf nations waded into thought-crime territory, making 'sympathy' with regional rival Qatar an offence punishable by years in prison and a fine.

On 5 June, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt cut all ties with Doha, closing its only land border, banning planes from their airspace and barring Qatari nationals from passing through their airports.

Days later, the UAE's general prosecutor announced that anyone who expressed sympathy with Qatar could face 15 years in jail, citing flawed existing legislation.

Those found guilty could also face fines of 500,000 dirhams ($136,000).

State-controlled Saudi media stated that expressions of sympathy could be considered a cybercrime offence. 

Bahrain also declared that any show of "sympathy or favouritism" with Qatar on social media - or objection to Bahrain's actions - could lead to five years in jail and a fine.

Rights groups say that hundreds of political activists, lawyers, human rights defenders, journalists, and bloggers have been imprisoned in the Gulf for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

"Gulf states are reaching a new level of Orwellian reality when they throw citizens in jail for both criticizing other gulf nations and voicing public support for them," Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said at the time in a report on online activism in the Gulf.

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