The United Arab Emirates Telecommunications Regulatory Authority warned the country’s 360,000 Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) users what they can and cannot tweet in an infographic that looks surprisingly cheerful for what amounts to political and religious censorship.
“Do not publish content that is contrary to public morals, the principles of Islam, the social and moral welfare of the UAE or anything that contains irreverence towards Islam or the other heavenly religions,” the TRA wrote (‘other heavenly religions’ refers to Christianity and Judaism).
Restrictions meant to prevent political dissent from spreading through social media
Some of the rules (which don’t seem to be new, just applications of existing law to Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR)) seem reasonable: prohibitions against hate speech, threats of violence, and revealing private information about other people with their consent are all defensible, though the interpretation of such vague rules could be problematic. But the rest is clearly meant to prevent Twitter from being used as a tool of dissent of political organization as it has been in other Arab countries.
The infographic also has a vague warning to be careful about posting content “which you do not own or which contains material that is subject to someone else’s rights.” The second part sounds like it prohibits posting copyrighted content on Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR), but the first part could be interpreted to mean that there is no ‘retweet does not equal endorsement’ in the UAE.
People have already been jailed in the UAE for tweets and satirical YouTube videos
Even without the religious restrictions, banning Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) messages that are contrary to social welfare could mean literally anything, giving the government an easy excuse to lock people up. Last year Abu Dhabi jailed a man for two years for tweeting about a trial, reports Aarti Nagraj for Gulf Business, so this isn’t just an abstract problem that might show up in the future.
A US citizen, Shezanne Cassim, was jailed for nine months for posting a YouTube video that poked fun at Dubai without any mention of religion or politics. The eminently pro-business ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has said that Cassim’s treatment was a mistake, but the incident still shows how much authority the Emirati governments have and how harsh the laws can be even for minor transgressions.