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    Freedom of expression is missing despite a decision banning imprisonment for press crimes

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    United Arab Emirates:
    Freedom of expression is missing despite a decision banning imprisonment for press crimes

    November 27, 2007

    Despite the wise decision issued by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoom-the prime minister and Dubai's governor- not to imprison journalists in press crimes and despite the decision was welcomed widely in local and international circuits and among concerned organizations as they regarded the decision a victory for the press and the freedom of opinion and expression, yet this decision is threatened these days from a number of ministries and bodies in the U.A.E who welcomed the decision before yet they would implement articles of the law in some cases and manipulate it, distorting the goal behind it in other cases.

    This manipulation of the decision by these bodies and officials demonstrate unwillingness to take serious steps to support the issue of the freedom of expression in the country" which was the goal behind the decision ".these officials try to keep the wall of censorship ever high for non-professional reasons which are not in keeping with the open-minded spirit that is sweeping the country.

    The following are examples of issues concerning the freedom of opinion and expression in the Emirates:
    1- Shuttering-down the two Pakistani channels Geo News and Ary One based on Dubai media city.
    The authorities in the Emirates and in Dubai specifically on November 17,2007 took the step to cut the channels' programs off the air on U.A.E and the authorities in the Dubai media city informed the channels of the decision and gave them a respite of two hours to cut transmission without giving reasons for this decision which broke away from the slogans of freedom and liberalism the Dubai media city announced to seduce a huge number of international and Arab satellite channels. A number of international organizations monitoring the freedom of opinion and expression condemned the decision and called upon the authorities to withdraw their decision and not to give in to voices calling for opressing freedom repression.

    2- protest of Teachers who are arbitrarily suspended by the ministry of education screened out:
    The city of Dubai saw on November 20 a protest by 25 Emarati teachers who were suspended and transferred to other ministries. The protesters stopped by the house of the late Sheikh Rashid Bin Said Al Maktoom(1),the palace of his Excellency Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid the vice president and finally the ministry of education. The protesters condemned the unjust decision which forces them to leave their educational jobs and move to other non-related jobs. Some teachers carried out that protest to draw attention to their case and rights. Despite all newspapers were invited to cover the protest, a media screen-out was devised by all the media outlets. One newspaper, the English speaking Gulf News covered the protests along with a number of independent cyber forums (2).

    The protesters couldn't meet the prime mister or the Minster of education as they were in a meeting in Abu Dhabi. Some journalists believe that the screening out decision was taken by superior security bodies in the Emirates after 83 teachers were prohibited from teaching and sent to other administrations with the intention to disperse them over other ministries in positions that don't suit their education in an attempt to push them off the educational system because of their Islamist background.

    3- "Kholkhal" play banned 4 hours before going to Doha:
    In a surprise decision, the ministry of culture and media banned the Kholkhal play from participating in the gulf theatre festival just four hours before its crew went on board for the festival. The banning decision came on the ground that the show doesn't represent the reality of the local youth. "the ministry has the right to show reservations against scripts that might damage the image of the public opinion and conflict with social and intellectual values in the Emarati society" said Mr.Bilal Albadour, the cultural affairs, deputy assistant in the ministry of culture, he added that" the Kholkhal play deals with a very particular case that doesn't represent a phenomenon in the Emarati society that necessitates attention and analysis but it depicts a rare incident that cannot be generalized and extended to all the youth in our society".

    The play's crew was delighted to learn from the local media and the Emirates news agency that the play was chosen to go for the festival yet the last minute ban came as a shocking blow to the play's crew and the freedom of opinion and expression in the Emirates.

    The play talks about a poet and his relationship with a dancer that ends up in killing her, the play was supposed to participate in the 8th Gulf youth theatre festival in Doha from November 7 to 14, the play was produced by the Youth Theatre for Arts and the Dubai cultural council. The play is written by Salim Alhittawy, directed by Salim Balioha and started by Marawan Abdullah Salih and Am'na Alswaidy.

    4- Emarati writers banned from writing and prohibition slapped on publishing:
    The Khaleej newspaper refused, as it did times before, to run on October 2007 an essay for doctor AbdelKhaliq Abdullah that was titled "reforms in university in the Emirates". The essay denotes the necessity of establishing an extensive evaluation of the performance of the national universities, the reform calls were stemmed from the focus on teaching with the English language and excessively hiring foreign professors at the expense of national academicians.

    This is not the first time the Khaleej newspaper refused to run doctor Abdelkhaliq's essays (he is a staff writer). Once before, the newspaper refused to publish his "normalization with the residential enemy". the essay was published in the Bahraini Alwaqt although it was addressing an Emarati issue; Alkhaleej also stopped publishing the remaining episodes of a seminal cultural study titled" cultural lock-up: a study of cultural fragmentation in the Emirates" the study was written by Abdulaziz Jasim ,it was stopped after publishing two episodes in the newspaper's cultural review. Some intellectuals and the newspaper's staff protested and some refused to contribute to the newspaper as response to what they described a setback in the available margin of freedom.

    In addition to that, there are still several Emarati writers who lie in the banning list since the days of former media minister, Shiekh Abdullah Bin Zaid. A number of writers called for removing the ban in accordance with the decree not to jail journalists for press crimes; there was no response and things still the way they are.

    One of the female journalist and an activist in monitoring the status of freedom wrote in Albayan newspaper saying that "prohibition of writing and arbitrary suspension are forms of severe punishment a media or a press outlet may use against journalists for ulterior motives known only for the decision makers in that outlet". Several writers and intellectuals agreed with her. The banning list of writers include: Doctor Said Harib, Doctor Mohammed Al-Rokn, Doctor Mohammed Almansoory and others.

    5- The ministry of culture and youth denied an Emarati writer a permission to publish a book.
    Last june2007,the ministry of culture and youth refused to give the Emarati writer and artist "Manal Bin Omar" a permission to publish her first book which was titled "Away From The Hands of Whores", which is a group of poems. the ministry refused to give permission unless the title be changed first as the ministry claimed that it is immoral and shouldn't be related to an Emarati citizen who is bound by traditions and morals. In her desperate attempt to defend her choice,the writer phoned the minister to protest against his ministry's refusal yet she was surprised of the minister's reaction who "roughed her up" for choosing that title and gave her 'a speech' on traditions, religion and morals!

    6- A wave of lawsuits hitting Majan's staff and manager:
    Six lawsuit cases are filed until now against Majan.net website. Majan is well known web forum in UAE & provides a wide margin of freedom for its participants.

    The Majan participants benefited from the recognition of "Majan" & started to freely express their opinions and political criticism. They addressed many problems that the Emirati citizen is concerned about. At that point, some of those who hate freedom & criticism launched a campaign against the website & its administrators, manipulating the law, supported & approved by "higher" authorities in the "Ras El Kheima" emirate. The administrator of the website and its staff writers started to face a series of juridical sentences, most of them are lacking evidences. Moreover the website itself was finally banned by a juridical sentence.

    Majan website & its administrator; Mohamed Al Shouhi together with staff writer; Khaled Al Asli are facing 6 lawsuits:
    • Ras El Kheima court issued its sentence of prison in 2 of the cases while the appeal court canceled the2 sentences on November 19, 2007.
      Thus remains 4 cases against Majan's administrator; Al Shouhi & one of its staff writers; Al Asli. These cases are as follows:
    • A lawsuit case in the appeal court on a sentence of 5 months prison against Al Shouhi & Al Asli
    • A lawsuit case against the website & its administrator that is still in the Primary court.
    • 2 lawsuit cases which appointments are not determined yet.
    In case of implementing the decree of Sheikh Bin Rashed Al Maktoum, the Prime Minister, these cases should be referred to civil courts instead of felony courts, to settle any conflict between the Website administrators & any citizen accusing them, as these cases are considered press-related cases. Also, in this case, Majan website should be released once again.

    7- A new libel and defamation lawsuit filed against the owner of a sport website in Ras Alkheima:
    In a case similar to Majan's case, a libel and defamation lawsuit was filed against" Emirates Eagle's Forum" a dialogue forum on the internet. the lawsuit was filed by an individual in Ras Alkheima who claimed that he was insulted on the website's pages; although he didn't produce a proof or tried to contact the website to take off the alleged insult.

    The case was referred to the court yet the website's owner's father paid 20,ooo Dirham to the plaintiff drop his lawsuit. This case stirred indignation of several writers and intellectuals and electronic websites' owners who believed that this is a new type of internet blackmail and everyone is vulnerable to fall for, especially with lack of special courts and judges, as anyone can use a false name and register in any website to write whatever he likes and then file a lawsuit against the owner of that website. this calls for forwarding a demand to take off the insulting material before taking a legal action against the website's owner, in other words, for anyone who believes that there is something personally insulting on a certain website, he or she has to contact officially the website's owner and ask to remove the harmful material, if the alleged insult was not removed, a complaint can be forwarded to "civil" court asking for compensation based on his or her official communiqué which was denied by the website's owner.

    8- Media & Press Banning by undeclared orders:
    When it comes to addressing the Arabic or International affairs boldly, Emirati press is suffering of the so called "undeclared, unwritten" decrees of press banning. The same banning goes in particular on the Emirati affairs. Such decrees are usually referred to as "decisions from higher authorities" in this emirate or that one.

    Violating these "undeclared decrees" by journalists or some newspapers does not necessarily mean that lawsuits would be filed against them. But this violation would cause such a journalist to be oppressed in several ways, such as banning from writing, publishing or denying the "violating" newspapers from their portion of advertisements, local news & information. The very thing that causes many crises to such newspapers.

    Examples of cases where banning where implemented :
    During the "Abu Dhabi Cinema Festival" which was held under the title of "Middle East Festival", the local press was prohibited from criticizing or publishing any negative comments about the festival. This contributed to fabricate an unreal image of the festival & it did hide many of its defects & weaknesses. It is to mention that one particular column-writer in a local paper in Abu Dhabi was allowed to criticize the festival. Most probably, this was an exception & that he got the green light from a "higher authority" first, other than this exception prohibition was the rule!

    The report was prepared by activists and volunteers from the Emirates in collaboration with the Arabic Network for Human Rights information.

    1-Sheikh Rashid Bin Said Almaktoom, one of the founders of the U.A.E
    2-go to the Emirates' economic forum
    http://www.uaeec.com/vb/showthread.php?=57621(November 24,2007).

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