Freedom of Media in the UAE

Freedom of Media in the UAE

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the regional hub for international media, and the constitution of the United Arab Emirates has also laid out laws ensuring the freedom of expression. However, like many other areas, there are discrepancies between laws and the practice. The UAE government uses its powers to limit the freedom of expression in practice.

Media in UAE is regulated under the 1980s’ Federal Law Number 15 for ‘Printed Matter and Publications’. They are among the most restrictive press laws in the Arab world. According to the law, the government has the authority to censor all domestic and foreign publications before they are distributed. The Federal Law number 15 also prohibits media from criticizing the rulers of UAE and their families, the government and even those foreign governments with whom UAE has friendly relations. Criticizing and denouncing any of the afore-mentioned authorities is considered as a criminal offense. If a journalist is found guilty of committing this offense, he may also have to face prosecution under the cybercrime law and the penal code. According to article 24 of the cybercrime law, using a computer for destroying the social peace or damaging national unity is a crime.

Its article 29 says that “deriding or harming the reputation, stature, or status of the state, any of its institutions, its president or vice-president, the rulers of the emirates, their crown princes or their deputies” is a crime that could lead to imprisonment and a fine of up to one million dirhams.    

It also prohibits media to publish any kind of information that can produce adverse effects on UAE’s economy. The Press and Publication law has prohibited 16 types of materials from being published.

The severity of these laws against the freedom of expression can be estimated from a 2014 incident in which Osama Al- Najjar was sentenced to 3 years prison and was fined for $ 136,000 by the Federal Supreme Court just for writing a tweet about the mistreatment that his father and other political prisoners received in custody.

Due to its strong policies limiting the freedom of expression, the World Press Freedom Index ranked it at 118 out of 180 countries, in 2015.       

The government arbitrarily detains journalists, online activists and bloggers and keeps them in custody without any legal justification. Although the Ruler of Dubai and the vice President of UAE Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid directed the relevant authorities in September 2007, to refrain from detaining journalists due to their journalistic works and rather gives them other forms of punishments, the legislation could not be passed into a law which shows the lack of seriousness on the part of UAE government to provide freedom of expression to the media.