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what do you think about the UPR recommendations to the United Arab Emirates?

World Press Freedom Day 3 May 1

 

Geneva, 3 May 2018

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, the International Centre for Justice and Human Rights (ICJHR) restates the numerous human rights violations committed against bloggers and journalists who have been deprived of their liberty and personal safety in the UAE. The ICJHR also monitors the UAE's violation of the press and media rights and freedoms, as well as the right to independent and pluralistic media. We also note their violation of international standards which affirm that " Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. " (Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

Censorship and control of the media

The UAE authorities control the media through the National Media Council, which is affiliated to the Council of Ministers in accordance with Federal Law No. 11 of 2016 in addition to the fact that its decisions are not effective until their ratification by the Council.

Media must abide by the rules and regulations issued by the Council and commit to provide the information and data required by the council in order to achieve its purposes, in violation of the right to maintain the confidentiality of the press and information sources guaranteed by the relevant international standards.

The UAE Council of Ministers issued its Decision No. 23 of 2017 on media content, thereby giving full authority and absolute control to the government over the printing or circulation of any media content.

Besides, the audio-visual and print media or any person who prints any publication inside the State must have prior authorization in accordance with Article 6 of the resolution, in order to ensure the pre-control on all media content and other publications. The Council may suspend or prohibit any publication without authorization and impose sanctions on the violator.

In fact, authorization and prior permission include book fairs; the department of Book Fairs shall provide the Council with a list of titles of publications before their presentation. This also applies to films before they are screened in cinemas.

The UAE authorities have also put strict guidelines in Article 4 which issued red lines prohibiting all publications from violating them. The red lines and the list of taboos include  respect for the regime, its symbols, institutions, the supreme interests of the state and society and the state’s policies refraining from publishing anything that would harm national unity and, social cohesion as well as not to defame the economic, judicial and security system of the state or publish anything that would harm the national currency or the economic situation of the country.

The UAE officials have deliberately made the wording of these guidelines too ambiguous to control the media content and track down bloggers, human rights activists and journalists. Indeed, every publication that would speak about human rights violations and governance in the country or criticize the UAE’s security abuses, economic choices and the lack of transparency and monitor the violation of fair trial guarantees will be subject to prohibition and prevention.

Online media is also subject to censorship especially after the formation of a committee, namely, the Internet Control Committee, whose task is to control the contents of the websites and to block websites that violate the requirements of the UAE authorities.

The decision issued by the Council of Ministers does not allow judicial appeal for those affected by the denial of permission, cancellation, blocking, and the prohibition of deliberation. They are only allowed to complain before the Director General of the Council, which does not ensure the necessary guarantees of redress for the appellants, especially with the subordination of the Council to the Executive authority.

Violation of the freedom of the Internet by the UAE authorities

The UAE authorities have tightened their control over the Internet and violated the freedom of opinion and expression. The Falcon Eye System focuses on hacking accounts, sites and e-mails on the Internet and spyware on users by acquiring new technologies and working with major companies and experts.

The National Commission for Electronic Security is responsible for the leakage and hacking operations in violation of the privacy of Internet users and the freedom of opinion and expression on the Internet. In fact, they use ambiguous laws to spy on bloggers. This was described by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of the Judiciary and Lawyers following her visit to the United Arab Emirates in 2014, after examining the inclusion of vague definitions that open the door to arbitrary interpretation and abuse including Federal Law No. 5 of 2012 on combating cybercrimes, Federal Law No. 7 of 2014 on Combating Terrorism and Federal Law No. 2 of 2015 on Combating Discrimination and hatred as well as the Penal Code that was amended under Federal Law No. 7 of 2016.

In fact, to further restrict access to the Internet, the authorities of the United Arab Emirates have penalized users of VPNs for circumventing the IP address of the network using a fictional address or a someone else’s address, pursuant to Federal Law No. 12 of 2016, 2012 on Combating Cyber-crimes.

Besides, the UAE authorities have arbitrarily blocked numerous websites, including the Fars News Agency, the Middle East Eye, the Noon Post, the Arabic New in its Arabic and English versions, the IMASC website, the UAE71, the "Arabi21" and the website of the Swiss Organization for the Protection of Human Rights. In addition to other Arab and international websites of civil society organizations and Media including the website of Al-Jazeera channel.

The UAE authorities have repeatedly pledged to consider accession to treaties that guarantee rights and freedoms in 2013 and 2018 but have not yet done so.

Violation of the right to personal security by Emirati government

There were numerous violations against journalists and bloggers which affected their personal safety and their physical and psychological integrity, depriving them from their rights and freedoms because of their activities on social media.  They were arbitrarily arrested and forcibly detained by the State Security Service. Besides, some of them were subjected to torture and ill-treatment and tried by the Federal Supreme Court without providing any necessary guarantees for them to defend themselves.

The last trial was that of human rights defender Ahmed Mansour, that started on 14 March 2018 and the second session was held on 11 April 2018 without informing the family or lawyer. On March 20, 2017, the State Security Apparatus arrested Ahmed Mansour without any judicial warrant and took him later to an undisclosed location for posting tweets defending human rights that were considered by the prosecution of cybercrimes as “provoking sedition, sectarianism and hatred on social media”. They  claimed that such posts would harm national unity and social peace and damage the reputation of the state and its status and incite others not to abide by their laws in accordance with the requirements of the notorious federal law of cybercrimes.

Besides, Jordanian journalist and member of the Journalists' Syndicate and the Jordan Writers Association, Mr. Tayseer al-Najjar is still in detention.  He was arrested on December 13, 2015 for publishing a post on Facebook in 2014. However, the UAE authorities found it to be threatening to the security of the state and its supreme interests in accordance with the provisions of Federal Law No. 5 of 2012 on Combating cybercrimes. On March 15, 2017, the Federal Court of Appeal in Abu Dhabi sentenced him to three years imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 dirhams under the Federal Law No. 5 of 2012 on cybercrimes.

Activist and blogger Osama Najjar is still languishing in the counseling center of Al Razeen prison, despite the expiry of his prison sentence on March 17, 2017, claiming that he represents a “terrorist threat” in addition to the fact that the authorities did not set time limits for his deposit in counseling centers.

Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith announced his entry into a hunger strike for the second time starting from Sunday, 25 February 2018, in protest against his ill-treatment by Al-Razeen prison administration. On March 29, 2017, he was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for denouncing the human rights violations committed by the Egyptian State, that were considered by the authorities of the UAE as “ disturbing the good relations with the Egyptian State via the Internet and inciting to sedition, hatred, racism as well as sectarianism and damaging the national unity and social peace”, without providing him with the necessary guarantees for self-defense.

The International Centre for Justice and Human Rights in Geneva therefore calls upon the authorities of the United Arab Emirates to:

  1. Immediately release the prisoners of conscience, human rights activists and bloggers who have been arrested and tried in violation of their right to freedom of opinion and expression, their right to liberty and personal security as well as their right to a fair trial.

  2. Unblock Internet websites and cease from restricting the right to freedom of expression on the Internet and not to use measures that would prevent cyber-crime in order to target human rights activists and reformists.

  3. Amend the law regulating the National Information Council and the law on combating cybercrimes and other laws that have been proven to be inaccurate and contrary to the principle of the legality of crimes and penalties and replace them with new laws in accordance with the UAE Constitution and the relevant international standards for the protection and promotion of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

  4. Allow the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and International Human Rights Organizations to visit the United Arab Emirates.

  5. Ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Optional Protocols, the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.