Once again, a UAE citizen is facing trial for statements made online. Saleh al-Dhufairi, a self-described patriot and pro-democracy activist, has been arrested on charges of provoking strife in the country, after posting a series of tweets, in which he criticized UAE security forces.
Reuters reports that al-Dhufairi was arrested in his home early on Tuesday morning, targetted for criticising the UAE’s decision to deport Syrian nationals who had staged a peaceful demonstration in front of their embassy in Dubai. Al-Dhufairi’s brother-in-law who was present at the time stated that the police did not have a warrant for his arrest. The Dubai police later informed the family that an arrest order had been issued by the electronic crimes department in Dubai.
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On February 26 and 27, al-Dhufairi posted several tweets in Arabic calling out the decision to deport the protesters, as well as writing a blog post [Arabic] criticizing the extent to which security services interfere in the lives of UAE citizens. Al-Dhufairi also criticised the security apparatus for interfering in religious affairs, and called for the Syrian nationals to be allowed to return to the country. His last tweet informed his followers that he was being arrested.
Speaking about the case, a Dubai police spokesperson said, “Saleh al-Dhufairi has been arrested on accusation of spreading ideas by speech, writing, and any other means that provoke strife, hurt national unity, and social peace.”
The UAE introduced extensive cyber crime laws, which address a wide variety of issues from hacking to blackmail. Facing a trial in federal court, Al-Dhufairi could be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison.
The UAE government is simultaneously one of the most forward thinking governments in the Middle East, when it comes to online services, while also adopting many of the archaic and dictatorial approaches used by many of its neighbours. On the one hand, the government has taken to Twitter and Blackberry Messenger to communicate with citizens and residents, while on the other, spreading rumours via IM, SMS or Blackberry Messenger or tagging Facebook photos without permission are crimes, which could earn you a jail sentence.
Al-Dhufairi is not the first UAE citizen to face charges for statements made online. In November 2011, five bloggers and activists, known as the UAE Five, were sentenced to three years in prison. A day after their conviction, however, they received a presidential pardon and were consequently released.