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UAE Included in International Index for Suppressing Freedom of Expression

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An international index placed the UAE among the countries most aggressively curbing freedom of expression worldwide. This repression applies not only to journalists and activists but affects all individuals, regardless of citizenship status, residing in the country.”

The findings from the international group “Article 19,” dedicated to safeguarding freedoms, assigned the UAE a low score of only 6 out of 100 in its report, indicating a severe crisis in freedom of expression within the country.

The report, issued by Article 19, a group concerned with freedoms with offices around the world, tracked the status and data of freedom of expression for the year 2024 in 161 countries using 25 indicators, then put an average score for each country ranging between 0 and 100.

The report categorized countries into five levels of freedom of expression: “open,” “less restrictive,” “restricted,” “very restrictive,” and “a state of crisis.” The ranking signifies that countries labeled as “open” have the highest level of freedom, while those classified as “a state of crisis” have the lowest. A higher degree indicates a better standing regarding freedom of expression.

The organization said the report provides a concrete measure and quantifiable perspective on expression, ranging from online publishing, freedom to protest, investigation, and access to information to hold responsible leaders accountable.

39 countries, including the UAE, are categorized as being in a “state of crisis” (with 4.2 million people), 24 are classified as “very restricted” (inhabited by 773 million people), 25 are labeled as “restricted” (with a population of 1.1 billion), 35 are considered “less restrictive” (comprising 531 million people), and 38 are classified as “open” (with a population of 1.2 billion).

According to the index, the UAE is one of the six worst countries in the Middle East and North Africa in terms of restricting freedoms and withholding information.

Dozens of activists, academics, and lawyers are serving lengthy sentences in UAE prisons after unfair trials on vague and broad charges that violate their right to freedom of expression and association.

The United Nations and Emirati civil society groups have long called on the Emirati authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all those detained solely for exercising their human rights, to end all violations and harassment of detained critics, and to amend all laws that violate human rights.

However, the UAE authorities continued, without a legal basis, to imprison at least 51 Emirati prisoners after they completed their sentences between one month and about 4 years ago.

All the individuals detained were participants in the deeply unjust mass trial famously known as the “UAE 84,” involving 69 government critics. Their conviction constituted a blatant violation of their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association.

The UAE authorities used baseless anti-terrorism justifications to continue detaining them after the expiry of their sentences. Some prisoners have completed their sentences since July 2019.

In May 2023, Jordanian officials arrested Khalaf Abdul Rahman Al Rumaithi, who holds dual Turkish and Emirati citizenship and transferred him to the UAE, where he risks arbitrary imprisonment, an unjust trial, and potential torture. Neither Al Rumaihi’s family nor his legal representatives have received any communication from him or information regarding his location since May 9.

Prominent Emirati human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor has been imprisoned in solitary confinement for the sixth year. Human Rights Watch, along with other human rights organizations, urged the United States and other governments to publicly call on the UAE authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mansoor before COP28.

The UAE employs cutting-edge surveillance technologies to monitor public areas, online interactions, and even the personal devices of individuals, thereby infringing upon their rights to privacy, freedom of expression, freedom of association, and other fundamental rights.

The authorities enforce censorship on the internet, prohibiting content deemed critical of the rulers, government, policies, and any topics, whether social or political, that they perceive as sensitive.

The “Crimes and Penal Code” and the “Combating Rumors and Electronic Crimes Law” seek to reduce the space for opposition.

Article 174 of the Penal Code stipulates a prison sentence of no less than five years and a fine of no less than 100,000 dirhams (about 27,225 US dollars) if the act occurs “through writing, speech, drawing, statement, or by any information technology or media means.”

Two clauses potentially impact journalists operating within the UAE. Article 178 outlines penalties of three to 15 years imprisonment for individuals who gather information, data, or materials without proper authorization and share them with foreign entities or individuals for their advantage. Additionally, the Cybercrime Law introduces a fresh segment titled “Dissemination of rumors and false information.”