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U.A.E. Passes New Law Prescribing Mandatory Jail Time for Online Dissidents

BY Lisa Goldman | Tuesday, November 13 2012

The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) is cracking down on dissent with a new law that stipulates jail time for anyone who criticizes the government online, reports the Global Arab Network.

In a presidential decree announced on official news agency WAM, authorities said the new legislation would target web sites and internet users that “deride or... damage the reputation or the stature of the state or any of its institutions”.

These institutions include the president, the vice president, any of the rulers of the emirates, their crown princes, the deputy rulers, the national flag, the national anthem, the emblem of the state or any of its symbols, the decree said.

As well as covering material deemed defamatory of UAE authorities, the new law also threatens jail terms to those who use the internet to call for unlicensed demonstrations in the country, as well as a much broader range of offences including online soliciting of prostitution and trafficking of firearms.

The UAE has so far been spared much of the unrest that has swept across the region over the last 20 months, although authorities have in recent months detained more than 50 suspected Islamists who they accuse of trying to whip up discontent.

In its report on the new law, Reuters notes that "Social networking sites have enlivened public discourse in the UAE, a major oil exporter and business hub, where state media is tightly controlled and freedom of speech is restricted."

The BBC adds that while U.A.E. citizens will be sentenced to a minimum of three years in mail for violating the new law, foreigners will be deported. There are about 4 million foreigners living in the Emirates.

Meanwhile, the U.A.E. just won a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council.

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