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Website closed, its administrator sentenced to prison, one of its writers detained

(HRinfo/IFEX) - On 21 August 2007, HRinfo noted that the harsh sentence issued by Ras Kheima criminal court in U.A.E. against the head administrator of Majan website ( http://www.majan.net ) greatly threatens freedom of expression in the U.A.E.. On 8 August Muhammed Rashid Shouhi was sentenced to one year in prison, and instructed to pay a 50,000 Dirham (approx. US$13,600) fine and 30,000 Dirham (approx. US$8,100) in compensation to a government official. The ruling also called for the closure of the website.

The head of Ras Kheima medical services had filed a complaint about the website's discussion forum, alleging that the contribution of an unknown user was defamatory and libellous toward him. Although the comments on the website did not exceed legitimate political criticism against a public official, not to mention that Shouhi should not be held accountable for the contributions of others, the court has responded harshly, sending Shouhi to Mamoura prison, from which he will soon be transferred to the central prison.

On 19 August, Khalid El-Asly, one of Majan's writers, was arrested and questioned by members of the security services, who refused to release him on bail. The electronic department of Ras Kheima also confiscated the website's control panel and searched through the e-mails of registered users.

A group of intellectuals and writers in the U.A.E. and the neighbouring country of Oman launched a campaign to free Shouhi and to put an end to the arbitrary detention of El-Asly.

"We stand hand in hand with those brave writers and intellectuals, and we believe that it behooves the U.A.E. to take pride in Majan.net members and administrators instead of incarcerating them for exercising their right to freedom of expression. It's a harsh blow to freedom of expression and the right to use the internet in a country that was famous for spreading the usage of the internet" said Gamal Eid, HRinfo executive director.

HRinfo decided to address the following authorities Sheikh Muhammed Bin Rashid al Maktoum, vice president, head of the ministers' council and Dubai governor; Sheikh Sakr alQasimy, governor of Ras Kheima; and Colonel Talib Ben Sakr Ben Muhammed Qasimy, head of Ras Kheima's police station, to urge them to rectify this mistake which damages the U.A.E.'s image and threatens freedom of speech and expression.

The constitution of the U.A.E., issued in 1971, stipulates in article 30 the right of its citizens to freedom of speech and expression, either in writing or verbally.

Majan.net and http://www.wa6n.net are among the most popular forums in the Emirate of Ras Kheima.
Shouhi was preparing to enter a Matser's programme in September and he is a father of three children.

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