Cyber Crackdown: United Arab Emirates Arrests Suspected Online Dissidents

 @MayaErgas
on December 18 2012 11:23 AM
Abu Dhabi, UAE
The UAE government passed a new law in November that prescribes a three-year jail sentence for anyone running anti-government websites. Reuters

One month after the United Arab Emirates announced they would be adopting tougher Internet laws, including stricter monitoring of anti-government speech, at least three online activists in the UAE were arrested over the weekend, the U.K.-based Emirates Centre for Human Rights said

For the three men -- Saeed Majed Alshamsi, Naji Alunaimi, and Said Alshehhi -- their arrests are possibly in connection with an Arabic-language twitter account, @weldbudhabi, that is very critical of the government. Authorities have not disclosed the reasons for the arrests.

"This Twitter account has over 11,000 followers and has provided a consistent headache to the security services with its covering of the crackdown," Emirates Centre said in a statement. "The account has supported freedom and democracy in the UAE… It has been reported that the @weldbudhabi account has been hacked by Emirati security services and are the ones posting messages currently."

The new cyber law in the UAE, which went into effect on November 13, outlaws any "information, news, caricatures or any other kind of pictures" that could threaten "public order," Al-Jazeera reported at the time. Anyone convicted of running such a website or posting such content faces a minimum three year jail sentence. 

The European Union has previously denounced what they deem as harassment of pro-democracy activists in the UAE, and says that there are at least 64 "prisoners of conscience" in UAE jails, a fact the UAE government denies. 

As of September, the activist site CyberDissidents.org said that there were at least 57 bloggers in UAE jails.

Amnesty International has long condemned the UAE for committing human rights abuses, including arbitrary detentions and torture of prisoners.

“Political parties do not exist in the UAE; political dissent is not tolerated and there are severe restrictions on freedom of expression. Websites have been targeted for closure and their owners prosecuted for defamation” the campaign group stated.

“The use of torture of political detainees has been widely reported. Methods have included sleep deprivation, suspension by the wrists or ankles followed by severe beatings to the soles of the feet and even the use of electric shocks to various parts of the body.”

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