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UAE: escalating attacks on online activists

By: 
Ahmed Elbassiouny

December 31, 2012

It all started as precautious measures to prevent the country from falling into the wave of the Arab Spring that swept many countries across Middle East and Northern Africa, in fact, the entire world. The state government of the United Arab Emirates has passed recent laws that govern Internet use and limit organized demonstrations.
 
The crackdown started with online social media, where a few activists had posted leaked documents that the government found “threatening.” The first activist to be taken down had leaked documents from the Ministry of the Interior about human rights issues. Saeed Al-Shamshi was believed to have the twitter account @weldbudhabi, where the leaked documents went viral. With around 11,000 followers, the only way the authorities could save the situation was to “hack the twitter account a few times.” The activist went over-board and identified some of the secret agents for the ministry’s security agency. Seven other online activists were held in custody for similar actions.
 
The case became more severe when the authorities detained an 18 year-old blogger in early December. Mohammed Salem al Zumer was arrested a few times by the Emirati police for blogging in support of the arrested activists. According to the Emirates Centre for Human Rights, al Zumer was stopped by security officers while driving a car in Sharjah, and his laptop and other stuff were taken away.
 
The case is a replica of human rights violations seen in Saudi Arabia and other countries with significant dictatorships. According to reports, one of the eight activists arrested by the Emirati government was first arrested in Saudi Arabia and handed over. This shows the tight relations between the two Western-backed countries and the cooperation in keeping the people quiet. 

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