Prominent UAE Activist Jailed for 10 Years Over Social Media Activity

An activist in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was sentenced on Tuesday to 10 years and jail and a fine of 1 million dirhams, or about $272,245, for "defaming" and sharing "false information" about his nation on social media.

An Abu Dhabi court ruled that Emirati citizen Ahmed Mansoor, who was part of Human Rights Watch (HRW) Middle East and North Africa Advisory (MENA) Committee, will also face three years of probation after his sentence, Gulf News reported. According to the ruling, the activist was found guilty of using Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites to "defame" the UAE by publishing "false information", "lies" and "rumors".

Horrible news: UAE court sentence prominent human rights advocate Ahmed Mansoor to 10-year prison term. For what? Contacting human rights groups.
Appalling, shameful, unbelievable!

— Fadi Al-Qadi (@fqadi) May 30, 2018

Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of the Middle East and North Africa division at HRW, criticized the UAE's decision to convict Mansoor.

"Today's sentence of Ahmed Mansoor exposes just how weak and brittle the UAE government really is, unable to tolerate the mildest of criticisms from a genuine reformer who deeply loves his fellow Emiratis," Whitson told Newsweek. "A 10-year sentence for 'defaming' the UAE is all you need to know about the brutality and repression beneath the Emirates' gilded façade."

Mansoor was detained in the spring of 2017. At the one-year anniversary of his detention in March, HRW released a statement calling for his release, saying he was "facing speech-related charges that include using social media websites." The rights group also said that the activist had not been allowed to call his family and was only allowed one visit with his wife.

State prosecution alleged that Mansour promoted hatred and "sectarian feelings" that could disrupt the country's unity, while also telling his followers to disregard national laws. Websites, electronic devices and social media platforms used by Mansoor were seized by the court. Although he was also initially accused of cooperating with a terrorist organization, he was acquitted of that charge.

Court-appointed lawyer Tariq Al Shamsi argued that all charges against his client should be dropped, but the court decided otherwise and moved forward with the conviction.

Shame on #UAE for this cowardly and despicable sentence of @ahmed_mansoor -- Laureate of Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, @HRW advisory committee member, and my friend.

The only defamation here is of his character.

— Sarah Leah Whitson (@sarahleah1) May 30, 2018

This isn't the first time Mansoor faced legal trouble for his activism. In 2011, he received a three-year prison sentence for allegedly "insulting" leaders of the UAE in speeches and presentations shared on social media. He was also convicted of sharing false information with foreign organizations that could harm his country.

The UAE has strict cyber security laws that have seen citizens pay massive fines for cursing on WhatsApp and foreigners deported for sharing unwanted images online. In 2016, an expat man was even arrested for sharing the link to an international charity's fundraising page on Facebook, because the organization was not legally registered in the country. An expat woman was also deported and fined $40,000 in 2016 for snooping through her husbands phone after she suspected him of having an affair.

According to Khaleej Times, the UAE's Cybercrime Law No. 5, lays out punishments for hackers as well as for those who use the internet to insult religions, slander public officials, forge official electronic documents, send or re-publishing pornographic materials and several other offenses.

When the law was passed in 2012, Human Rights Watch criticized the legislation for oppressing free speech.

"The UAE's cybercrimes decree reflects an attempt to ban even the most tempered criticism," Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said at the time, Reuters reported. "The determination to police and punish online dissent, no matter how mild, is incompatible with the image UAE rulers are trying to promote of a progressive, tolerant nation."

However, the UAE claims the law does not violate free speech, saying that right is guaranteed in the nation's constitution.