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CAPSULE REPORT: Freedom of expression violations continue despite end to imprisonment for press crimes

(HRinfo/IFEX) - The following is an abridged HRinfo report:

United Arab Emirates: Freedom of expression is missing despite a decision banning imprisonment for press crimes

November 27, 2007


Despite the wise decision by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoom - the prime minister and Dubai's governor - not to imprison journalists for press crimes, which was widely welcomed locally and internationally and among concerned organizations as a victory for the press and the freedom of opinion and expression, this decision is now threatened. A number of ministries and bodies in the U.A.E. who welcomed the decision implement articles of the law in some cases and manipulate it, distorting the goal behind it, in others.

This manipulation of the decision by these bodies and officials demonstrates unwillingness to take serious steps to support freedom of expression in the country, which was the goal behind the decision. These officials try to keep the wall of censorship ever high for non-professional reasons, which are not in keeping with the open-minded spirit sweeping the country.

The following are examples of freedom of opinion and expression concerns in the Emirates:

1- Shutting down the two Pakistani channels, Geo News and Ary One, based in Dubai media city

The authorities in the Emirates and in Dubai on November 17, 2007 took the channels' programs off the air in the U.A.E. The authorities in Dubai Media City informed the channels of the decision and gave them two hours notice to cut transmission without giving any reasons, which contradicted the slogans of freedom and liberalism that Dubai Media City has used to attract a large number of international and Arab satellite channels. A number of international organizations monitoring freedom of opinion and expression condemned the decision and called upon the authorities to withdraw it and not give in to voices calling for the repression of freedom.

2- Protest of teachers arbitrarily suspended by the ministry of education blacked out

The city of Dubai saw on November 20 a protest by 25 Emirati teachers, who were suspended and transferred to other ministries. The protesters stopped by the house of the late Sheikh Rashid Bin Said Al Maktoom, the palace of his Excellency Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid, the vice president of the U.A.E., and finally the ministry of education. The protesters condemned as unjust the decision forcing them to leave their educational jobs and move to other non-related jobs. Some teachers carried out the protest to draw attention to their case and rights. Even though all newspapers were invited to cover the protest, a media black-out was devised by media outlets. One newspaper, the English-speaking Gulf News, did cover the protests along with a number of independent cyber forums.

The protesters were not able to meet the prime minister or the education minister as they were at a meeting in Abu Dhabi. Some journalists believe that the black-out decision was taken by high-level security bodies in the Emirates. The decision came after 83 teachers were prohibited from teaching and sent to other administrations with the goal of pushing them out of the educational system because of their Islamist background.

3- "Kholkhal" play banned 4 hours before going to Doha

In a surprise decision, the ministry of culture and media banned the play "Kholkhal" from the Gulf Theatre Festival just four hours before its cast and crew were to travel to the festival. The ban came on the grounds that the show does not represent the reality of local youth. "The ministry has the right to express reservations against scripts that might . . . conflict with social and intellectual values in Emirati society," said Mr Bilal Albadour, the deputy assistant for cultural affairs in the Ministry of Culture. He added that, "the play deals with a very particular case that does not represent a phenomenon in Emirati society requiring attention and analysis, but depicts a rare incident that cannot be generalized and extended to all youth in our society."

The play's cast and crew were delighted to learn from the local media and the Emirates news agency that the play was chosen for the festival, but the last minute ban came as a shocking blow to them and to freedom of opinion and expression in the Emirates.

The play is about a poet and his relationship with a dancer, which ends with her being killed. It was to be performed at the 8th Gulf Youth Theatre Festival in Doha from November 7 to 14. The play was produced by the Youth Theatre for Arts and the Dubai Cultural Council, written by Salim Alhittawy, directed by Salim Balioha and stars Marawan Abdullah Salih and Am'na Alswaidy.

4- Emirati writers banned from writing and publishing

In October 2007, the "Khaleej" newspaper refused to run an essay by Dr Abdel Khaliq Abdullah entitled "University reforms in the Emirates".

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This is not the first time "Khaleej" newspaper has refused to run Dr Abdel Khaliq's essays (he is a staff writer). Once before, the newspaper refused to publish his essay, "Normalization with the residential enemy". The essay was published in the Bahraini newspaper "Al Waqt" although it addressed an Emirati issue. "Khaleej" also stopped publishing the remaining instalments of a seminal cultural study, "Cultural lock-up: A study of cultural fragmentation in the Emirates", by Abdulaziz Jasim. It was stopped after two instalments were published in the newspaper's cultural review. Some intellectuals and the newspaper's staff protested and some refused to contribute to the newspaper in response to what they described as a setback to the available margin of freedom.

In addition, several Emirati writers remain on a blacklist established in the days of former media minister Shiekh Abdullah Bin Zaid. A number of writers called for the bans to be removed in accordance with the decree not to jail journalists for press crimes, but to no avail.

A female journalist and activist in monitoring the status of freedom wrote in the newspaper "Albayan" that "prohibition of writing and arbitrary suspension are forms of severe punishment a media or a press outlet may use against journalists for ulterior motives known only by the decision-makers in that outlet." Several writers and intellectuals agreed with her. The list of banned writers includes: Dr Said Harib, Dr Mohammed Al-Rokn, Dr Mohammed Almansoory and others.

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The report was prepared by activists and volunteers from the Emirates in collaboration with the Arabic Network for Human Rights information.

To read the full report, visit:

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