The United Arab Emirates is enforcing a law that can slap a 10-year prison sentence on anyone it thinks is spreading rumors through social media outlets.
The Peninsula, an English-language newspaper in the nearby Persian Gulf country of Qatar, reports that social networking sites in the region are heating up with debates arguing if such a law is needed and if more Gulf countries should follow suit.
The U.A.E., which includes the glitzy city of Dubai, has banned the use of the Internet, Twitter and Facebook and as well as gadgets such as the BlackBerry for spreading rumors and propaganda. The U.A.E. put five bloggers on trial because they called for democratic reforms there during the Arab Spring uprisings.
The director of organized crime-combating unit of Dubai Police, Abdul Rahim Shafei, told local media that law enforcement agencies will deal strictly with people who use social media forums or technologies to spread "baseless rumors" and hurl insults at the members of the royal family or senior bureaucrats.
The tiny Gulf country, home to a vast expat population of South Asians and Westerners, becomes the first member-state of the Gulf Cooperation Council to implement a law to curb what analysts describe is Internet activism, according to The Peninsula. Most social network commentators said free expression through the Internet trumps rumor-mongering.
"Media reports about the U.A.E. law have, though, evoked mixed reactions in Qatar with many commentators writing on social networking sites that rumor-mongering must be dealt with strictly. But there were others who said that although spreading rumors should be discouraged, it is important to have free expression on social media," according to The Peninsula.
Outside the Middle East, China has been among the first countries to have to clamp down on Internet activism. When the Web population in that country crossed the 400 million-mark, China enforced an anti-rumor mongering law, according to The Peninsula.