Geneva, August 28, 2018
The authorities of the United Arab Emirates have amended articles 26, 28 and 42 of the Federal Law No. 5 of 2012 on Combating Cyber-Crimes under Federal Law No. 2 of 2018, in order to add ambiguous, loosely drafted, broad and unclear legal provisions that would further criminalize the right to freedom of expression and association, by invoking the right to fight against terrorism and prevent any possible danger against the State security and interests.
In fact, this amendment, which is promulgated under Federal Law No. 2 of 2018 on Combating Cyber-Crimes, undermines the role of digital technology in promoting freedom of expression and access to information, providing spaces for dissenting speech, and monitoring as well as documenting grave human rights violations and fundamental freedoms as affirmed by the Joint Declaration of 2016 on freedom of expression and the fight against violent extremism Issued by the four international experts mandated by the United Nations, the African Union, the Organization of American States and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on freedom of expression and access to information.
Emirati authorities are using the fight against terrorism as a pretext to violate the right of Emiratis to freedom of expression, criticize the existing authority, and establish associations that would monitor the violations, and call for the accountability and pursuit of the perpetrators and enable the victims of torture of their right to reparation and redress. Thus, the UAE authorities are violating the right of every person who seeks, receives, disseminates or imparts information and ideas to others regardless of frontiers, whether in written, printed, artistic or any other form.
The International Centre for Justice and Human Rights (ICJHR) considers this amendment as a confusion between terrorists and political activists, human rights defenders and bloggers, and a misconception between terrorist organizations and the organizations that defend victims of torture and monitor abuses made by the UAE authorities regarding the rights and freedoms.
Article 26, amended by Federal Law No. 2 of 2018 on combating cyber-crimes, emphasized on the criminalization of terrorist groups and other groups, bodies and illegal organizations. It also criminalized the establishment or management of websites, the dissemination of information, the facilitation of communication between the creators and the promotion of their ideas. The punishment was set to a period not less than ten years imprisonment than and not more than twenty five years and a fine that won’t be less than two million dirhams and won’t exceed four million dirhams.
However, the UAE authorities systematically violate the freedom of association and prohibit the foundation of parties and associations except for those that support the government. The ICJHR fears that the groups, organizations and bodies defined as illegal, are the ones which criticize the UAE authorities and document their human rights violations and cooperate with international organizations, bodies and mechanisms, in order to expose the abuse of the dignity, rights and freedoms of Emiratis and non-Emiratis by the authorities.
Besides, new Article 26 of the Law also incriminates every person who tries to download, re-broadcast or re-enter the websites to watch their content or to publish any content that includes incitement to hatred and the penalty would be an imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years and a fine not less than For five hundred thousand dirhams and not exceeding one million dirhams.
The ICJHR express deep concern over the amendment of Article 26 and fears that is intended to threaten and intimidate Emiratis in case they browse websites that deal with human rights in the UAE and the violations they are committing in this regard. This is in order to obscure what is being circulated on networks and websites of gross human rights violations committed by Emirati authorities inside and outside the UAE.
On the other hand, the ICJHR welcomes the replacement of the corporal punishment mentioned in the third paragraph of Article 26, which entails the transfer of the accused in a counseling center. It should be noted herein that the ICJHR has already warned in previous statements about the misuse of counseling centers by the UAE authorities as arbitrary detention centers in order to extend the penalty under the pretext of advice and guidance. The ICJHR received a number of cases concerning the detention of some activists and prisoners of conscience who were put in Al-Munasah centers under the pretext of “terrorist danger”, including the case of Osama al-Najjar, Abdullah al-Helou, Faisal al-Shehhi, Badr al-Bahari and Ahmad al-Mulla.
Indeed, the UAE authorities are also prohibiting, through the amendment of Article 28 under Federal Law No. 2 of 2018, any possible criticism against judicial officials or any of those charged with implementing the provisions of the law through the Internet, websites and other technical means, even with cartoons. Every accused will be subject to temporary imprisonment and a fine of up to one million dirhams, which is kind of “support” made by the UAE authorities towards the law enforcement officers, who are violating fundamental human rights, in order to reassure and protect them from any criticism and provide them with impunity from any accountability or punishment.
The ICJHR also notes that the amendment of Federal Law on cyber-crimes is part of a number of other laws that tighten the crackdown on freedom of expression such as the Anti-Terrorism Law and the Penal Code. Indeed, the UAE authorities have consistently monitored and controlled the Internet and even launched the eagle eye system in order to penetrate the accounts, websites and e-mails and spy on users by acquiring modern technologies, contracting with major companies and even commissioning experts including the National Electronic Security Authority, in violation of the privacy of Internet users and freedom of opinion and expression on the Internet.
Therefore, the International Centre for Justice and Human Rights calls upon the authorities of the UAE to:
1. Review the Federal Law on combating cyber-crimes in order to make it conform to international standards relating to the right of everyone to seek, receive, disseminate and impart information and ideas to others, the right to freedom of opinion, expression, and information, access to the Internet, the right to privacy. The UAE officials also need to clearly and accurately formulate the articles that derogate from these rights and put them under the control of an independent and impartial judiciary.
2. To immediately release all the prisoners of conscience who have been arrested and tried because of exercising their right to freedom of opinion and expression and their right to liberty, security and fair trial.
3. Allow the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and International Human Rights Organizations to visit the United Arab Emirates.
4. 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.