UAE residents caught using social media to insult the Gulf state’s rulers or spread malicious rumours could face up to 10 years in jail, the director of Dubai Police’s anti-organised crime unit said.
False news spread by Twitter, Facebook, or using BlackBerry’s BBM messenger services risked harming UAE society and would be dealt with severely, said Col. Abbulrahim bin Shafi.
“Spreading rumours or disclosing false information and news [that] threatens the public security or causes panic among the people…will be a crime [even] if it is through email, BlackBerry or any type of tool that spreads the information,” he told Arabian Business.
The policy means internet users caught forwarding rumours or insults, despite not instigating the information, could face between three and ten years in jail.
“[We] impose severe penalties for those who spread rumours and dishonor our reputation.”
It is illegal in the UAE to threaten state security or public order, or to insult the ruling families or senior government members.
A British woman was last month fined AED3,000 by a Dubai court for insulting Ramadan and calling her colleague a dictator on her Facebook wall.
Research in Motion risked having its BlackBerry smartphones banned in the UAE and Saudi Arabia last year after its encryption technology raised concerns the phones could be used for terrorist attacks or other illegal activities.
The UAE’s phone regulator said in October it acknowledged RIM’s “positive engagement” and said the smartphone’s services would continue to operate as normal.
The regulator didn’t say whether the deal allowed it to monitor messages by BlackBerry users.
In April, the UAE said it may look to restrict access to the highly secure Blackberry Enterprise Server, a system used by many international firms active in the Gulf state.
In a statement to Arabian Business, RIM said it adhered to UAE regulations for lawful access.
“We ensure we balance our commitment to preserving customer privacy with the local requirements of law enforcement agencies and regulators,” the statement said.
There are more than one million BlackBerry customers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.