The United Arab Emirates this week introduced sweeping new regulations that forbid web users from criticizing the government and organizing protests online. According to state news agency WAM, the laws explicitly prohibit users from publishing any material that would "endanger the security of the state and its supreme interests," including any content that calls for regime change or mocks national leaders. President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan announced the regulations in a decree issued Monday, introducing them as amendments to an existing law on cybercrime.
As Reuters reports, the amendments outlaw a wide range of activities, including using the internet for prostitution and human trafficking. Yet those pertaining to online dissent are by far the most expansive, calling for "penalties of imprisonment on any person who creates or runs an electronic website or uses any information technology medium" to criticize or deride the government. This extends to criticism or caricatures of political leaders, emirate rulers, the national flag, and any national symbols. The law also punishes anyone who uses the internet to criticize Islam, as well as those who organize demonstrations without first obtaining a license.
Although the UAE wasn't touched by the Arab Spring protests that spread across the Middle East in 2011, critics say the country's stance on human rights has deteriorated in recent months. This week's amendments come just days after the EU formally condemned the UAE for human rights violations, months after the country detained, and reportedly tortured more than 60 people with suspected ties to the Islah Islamist group. UAE officials have vehemently denied any wrongdoing, reiterating their commitment to fundamental human rights, and pointing to the country's recent election to the UN Human Rights Council.