Government crackdowns on Internet dissidents and bloggers in the United Arab Emirates have finally come to a head. The government made sweeping changes yesterday to the laws that govern what the country's citizens can and can't do on the Web, according to the UAE state news agency WAM.
The most drastic of the changes is jail time for anyone who imitates or pokes fun at the country's leaders. According to WAM, the new laws "stipulate penalties of imprisonment on any person who creates or runs an electronic website or uses any information technology medium to deride or damage the reputation or stature of the state or any of its institutions."
The UAE is typically seen as one of the more moderate Middle East nations, but in recent months it has been heavy handed with people it views as threats. In July, the government forced an activist blogger, Ahmed Abdul Khaleq, to choose between indefinite detention or exile. According to Amnesty International, he chose exile.Khaleq was first arrested with four other men who were known as the "UAE 5" in April 2011. According to Amnesty International, they were tried in court and then jailed on charges of "publicly insulting" UAE's president in an online forum that the government blocked in 2010.
UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan issued the decree yesterday that allowed the new amendments to the country's Internet laws, according to WAM. Besides possible jail time for deriding the authorities, the changes also include imprisonment for anyone who "calls for demonstrations, marches and similar activities without a license" and for using the Internet to sell or buy drugs, deal in prostitution, gamble, or carry out the unauthorized trade of antiquities and art.