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Web writer and site administrator sentenced to five months in prison

(HRinfo/IFEX) - HRINFO has expressed deep concern over a new sentence passed by the Ras Kheima court against writer Khalid El-Asly, of the Majan website ( http://www.majan.net ), and the site's head administrator Muhammed Shouhi. Both were sentenced to five months in prison. This is the second case launched against the website. A further two complaints have been filed but thus far have not been admitted to court.

El-Asly and Shouhi were sentenced on criminal defamation charges, in part based on the testimony of the head of the Ras Kheima government's electronic department, who alleged that El-Asly is the same writer who uses the alias "Hair". No substantial evidence was presented to corroborate this claim. The court did not take into account statements made in El-Asly's and Shouhi's defense, claiming that the testimony presented was not impartial and pointing out that comments by the head of the Ras Kheima electronic department, attacking members of the Majan staff, had previously appeared in newspapers.

According to HRinfo, the latest verdict ushers a new era in U.A.E., marked by the disappearance of freedom of expression and the imposition of traditional repressive measures used in the Arab world. Further, it marks an end to the positive role the country used to play in the sphere of Internet communications. The head of the Ras Kheima medical department previously filed a lawsuit against El-Asly, accusing the writer of defaming him in an essay posted on Majan. Officials have repeatedly tried to bring to court another two complaints against Shouhi and Majan.net, which would bring to four the total number of cases faced by the website and its staff.

"Even if it is true that the new cases will be targeting Majan.net, and Shouhi in particular, this won't deny the fact that freedom of expression in the Emirates is history now. When a writer or a citizen stands trial for writing something critical, regardless of how strong it is, he or she becomes a prisoner of conscience and this case will mar the history of the Emirates," said HRinfo.

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