Fussing about cussing in the UAE

Fussing about cussing in the UAE
The law in the UAE means that people who swear on Whatsapp can be punished with a $68,000 fine. Are the tough cyber laws meant to punish or protect?
3 min read
16 Jun, 2015
The UAE, like its Gulf neighbours, has tough cyber laws in place [Getty]
The first rule in Dubai is that you never swear or make rude gestures in public. State-sanctioned social laws mean such actions can land people in jail, and put expatriates on a flight back home.

The UAE daily Amarat al-Youm reported that the country's strict social code has now been extended online.

Courts can punish people who swear on the Whatsappmessaging service with fines of up to $68,000 and expatriates can expect to be deported.

The law came under review after a UAE court ordered the re-trial of a man convicted of swearing on Whatsapp, after the prosecutor complained that his $800 fine was not harsh enough. He now faces jail time and a much heftier fine.

India's prime minister Narendra Modi sent a message to his supporters on Twitter about the new laws - probably with the 2.2 million Indian citizens who live in the UAE in mind.

Many Emiratis agree with the government's tough law as a protection against slander and harrasment. This is particularly true of women, who could face serious repurcusions if rumours about their character are spread online.

Others have a more sinister view that this is an attempt by Big Brother to control people's words and thoughts.

Commentators also suggested that, if the law is applied to the letters, the use of certain emoticons in texts and messages could lead to prosecution.

Censorship has always been an obstacle for writers and thinkers in the Gulf region. New cyberlaws have been used to suppress dissent after the Arab Spring, and most famous of these is the case of Saudi blogger Raef Badawi who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for criticising the country's Muslim leaders.

Even the Gulf nation with a history of comparitive freedom of speech has not been averse to using cyber laws to punish critics.

In 2013, Kuwait sentenced a teacher to 10 years in prison for insulting the country's emir. Bloggers and activists have also been imprisoned in Kuwait for criticising the country's neighbour Saudi Arabia online.

Kuwait passed comprehensive cyber laws earlier in the month it says are essential for preventing terrorism. But critics of the legislation say the laws go too far.

MP Jamal al-Omar said, "With respect to the justice minister, I think if this law is passed, most Kuwaitis will be in jail. People [will] get five years in jail for just one or two tweets".