It’s the UAE’s turn to imprisson online publishers

Here we go again:

UAE online forum administrator sentenced to prison
Earlier this month, on August 8th, Mohamed Rashed al-Shohhi, an online forum administrator in the Emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah (UAE) has been sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of nearly US$ 13,600 (Dh50,000) for content deemed defamatory published by anonymous on the popular forum board he moderated (suspended).

It has also been reported that the department of e-government services managed to access the forum’s control panel looking for registrants email addresses. And it seems that this has led to the arrest, on August 19th, of a forum registrant, Khaled El Asli.
GlobalVoices Advocacy

Why is this, I hear you ask?

الدكتور هاشم الرفاعي مدير عام دائرة الهيئة الالكترونية في رأس الخيمة أكد ان المنتدى الالكتروني أغلق درءاً للمفاسد حيث كان يطرح بعض القضايا التي تمس الخصوصية والتدخل في الحياة الشخصية ناهيك عن السب والتشهير.

وأضاف الدكتور الهاشمي ان التقنية تحتاج إلى تنظيم والحرية تحتاج إلى توجيه، موضحا ان الجانب السيئ للجوانب التقنية يكمن في عدم تحفظها، وإدراكها للجانب الاجتماعي المدني وما يمكن ان يترتب عليه مضيفا ان إغلاق المنتدى جاء بسبب الحوادث الكثيرة التي اشتكت ضده مؤكدا ان العقاب يردع كل المسؤولين عن المنتديات الالكترونية ليتجنبوا تلك الطرق في طرح المواضيع مشددا على أن الفرد إذا أراد إيصال آرائه فيمكنه ذلك بطرق رسمية أخرى متاحة ككتابة رسالة أو إرسال فاكس أو عن طريق قنوات البث المباشر مؤكدا أن المسؤولين يتقبلون تلك الطرق ويولونها الأهمية.
الخليج – Google translation of full article

What is essentially happening is that an anonymous commenter entered a perceivably defamatory comment and the forum moderator got it instead. Making true the local adage that if you can’t handle the donkey, break the cart! Or in Dr. Hashim Al-Rifa’i’s words – who heads the eGovernment Department in Ras Al-Khaima, a small and almost forgotten emirate in the UAE – if you have a complaint, you had better write a letter or send a fax! I wonder what his “eGovernment” initiative is like, it must be better than the telex technology, don’t you think.

He must also fully believes in the Big Red Switch which he and his government must have been ecstatic at activating against this new fangled thing called the Internet.

The situation in the whole Middle East is quite tenuous now and publishing anything on the internet is getting quite scary.

Well needless to say that I support Mohamed Rashed al-Shohhi’s right to freedom of speech and that he should not to be held responsible for comments entered in his electronic publication; therefore, ask for his release and exonoration from those ridiculous charges he has been imprisoned under.


  1. Esra'a

    This is really threatening, we really have no control over what happens in our forums and blogs. There is rarely any time for complete moderation, so how can he be held responsible if it’s out of his hands? While limits are definitely crossed with certain commenters, our responsibility should merely be in deleting them, not paying the price of what someone else says. Doing so is just nuts.

  2. Post

    What’s nuts is that it seems that Bahrain is the best there is – and I am absolutely serious – as far as freedom of speech is!

    Ironic isn’t it?

    Kuwait which was the beacon not only kidnap online publishers, but beat the crap out of them.

    Saudi, well, Saudi is Saudi and no decent is allowed or is allowed at one’s peril.

    Qatar doesn’t exist.

    Same with Oman.

    The UAE – which really is the whorehouse of the Gulf is all moral on their people’s ass in banning “inappropriate” sites while in the flesh it’s okay, and now they throw a moderator in jail with a hefty fine while going through private logs to trace whoever entered a stupid comment. Freedom of speech in that country, scratch that, FREEDOM in that country is non-existent.

    They can have and keep their skyscrapers for all I care.

    But Bahrain! Bahrain for all its ills and all the crap we throw at it day in and day out is the best there is! And what others imprison, frisk, beat, fine and kidnap their citizens for is printed every single day in our newspapers, let alone our online media!

    How frickin’ ironic is that!!!

  3. Esra'a

    Too ironic if you ask me! Quite threatening, too. If all these countries get away with it, especially Egypt which Bahrain has growing ties with, what makes us so sure that Bahrain won’t follow their lead? I hope Kuwait and the UAE shape up, for our sake too!

    Qatar doesn’t exist.

    What about Al Jazeera? It takes a lot of balls to both host and publicly support the most controversial Arab network in the world. I gotta admit that I’m very impressed with the number of interfaith and democracy seminars the Qatari government sponsored and helped organize. Keeps me hopeful in Qatar’s efforts of improving human rights in the region. But I very rarely hear about Qatar in this respect, so perhaps there’s much I’m missing.

  4. Drima @ The Sudanese Thinker

    It feels like they’re really starting to pay attention to the internet now and I don’t know about you but I’m starting to feel chocked up.

    Mahmood, man seriously, out of all the bloggers I read regularly, you’re the one I have the most respect for. Even with your opinions you still show your face to the whole world.

    Esra’a, scary shit indeed. And keep in mind, Sudan and the Gulf? Two totally different galaxies when it comes to freedom of speech. We’ve got to start being extra cautious from now on.

  5. Post

    Esra I’m not talking about the main stream media here, but even with that Al-Jazeera is nothing more than a propagandist tool with no valid content as far as I’m concerned except for proposing and propagating extreme thoughts simply for their viewers’ pleasure and chagrin. I no longer take it as a benchmark or even regard it as a station. Especially when you consider their policy of never criticising their own government or royal family. I would rather watch Al-Arabiya or any of the other channels which have gained much more credibility than Al-Jazeera ever had.

    But I very rarely hear about Qatar in this respect, so perhaps there’s much I’m missing.


    There is an old adage which says that if there is not one demanding their own rights and making a fuss about it, then that right will be lost. This is the very same situation here I think, if a fellow publisher gets roughed up and imprisoned and fined and no one makes a fuss about it, don’t be too surprised if you get the same treatment and no one would raise any voice of objection.

    That’s why it is very important to (1) Stand firm against wrongs and champion what is right, and (2) voice your opinion and transmit it to the ends of the Earth for others to know about local intransigent situations especially those concerned with freedoms of speech. With this, we hope that when we are right no one would dare touch us, and no one would dare trample over freedoms of speech and human rights.

    Shut up and you deserve what you get.


    Remember what I told you mahmood? About the Kuwaiti who was arrested a few days ago, beat up, and is now released? That situation passed, people were pissed for a day or two, then they let him free and the people figured, hey, we have a victory here. And everyone forgot about it. Unless we start some real ruckus out here DEMANDING that people be held accountable for doing that to him, this situation will be repeated over and over again… We have to show that we DO, infact, have POWER; the power of free speech. Remember, the most they care about is their “reputations”. So lets hit them where it hurts, and get them to respect us.

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