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Changes to UAE cybercrime law threaten free expression

(ANHRI/IFEX) - 14 November 2012 - The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) expresses its deep concerns regarding revisions issued by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) under the cybercrime law.

According to ANHRI, despite the inclusion of clauses guaranteeing the protection of information or details related to credit cards, bank accounts, Internet payment methods, and electronic forgery in general, the law also includes several broad clauses that would allow the authorities to prosecute and imprison citizens based on unclear provisions.

The specific clauses that would threaten freedom of expression include the legal prosecution of :

- those who post pictures and/or audio recordings electronically even if the content is true, as well as anyone who calls for peaceful demonstrations or marches

- those deemed by the authorities to disregard the law, those who violate the basic principles of the regime, and those who use the Internet to mock and damage the reputation of the state, its foundation, the president, its representatives, and its national slogans

- those who provide false, inaccurate or misleading information to any organizations, institutions, or entities which could affect public interest or insult the position and prestige of the state

The law also allows the court to confiscate any equipment, programs, or other things used for an unspecified period of time, as well as to shut down the location or the website where the crime was committed.

"The passing of this law restricts all means of freedom of expression and exchange of information in the country," said ANHRI, "it is used as a justification for the wave of arrests of activists calling for democracy. The charges against them are still unknown, even in light of the pressure placed on the UAE to reveal the fate of these activists."

ANHRI added that this law will empower the authorities to send anyone to jail at any time without any obstacles due to the flexibility of this new law. "While it may appear to protect privacy and freedoms, it actually serves to take them away with the intention of sending a number of citizens and activists to jail through means that appear legally acceptable but are actually very repressive," ANHRI stated.

This law further demonstrates the UAE's persistence in silencing critical voices that call for freedom and democracy. It also proves that it does not have any intention to change its current practices, or to give up total control of judicial authorities, stated ANHRI.

ANHRI calls on the UAE to revoke this repressive law and to comply with the international laws and treaties that it has signed.

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