A US citizen has become the first foreigner to be charged under the United Arab Emirates' "cybercrime" decree for a satirical video about young people in Dubai. Shezanne Casim, an Abu Dhabi resident, was arrested in April and charged with, among other things, violating Article 28 of the cybercrimes law, which bans "using information technology to publish caricatures that are 'liable to endanger state security and its higher interestes or infringe on public order'" and is punishable by imprisonment and a fine of up to 1 million dirhams (approximately 272,000 USD). The law came into effect more than one month after the video* was posted.
While on the surface the UAE claims progressiveness, rights groups know better: the country's human rights situation is in rapid decline. Digital repression is a common feature of the Gulf states, but things have become particularly worse in the Emirates since the 2012 decree. In the past few months the government has: tried to shut down an Arab-American news site hosted in Germany; arrested an Egyptian journalist and numerous citizens; and sentenced an activist to two years in prison for tweeting about a trial. Last year, the country played host to the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), where it pushed for stricter Internet controls.
The US and the UAE in particular share a cozy relationship; just last month, Secretary of State John Kerry reasserted that the two countries "are friends." That said, the UAE's actions are in direct contradiction to the Internet freedom principles espoused by the State Department. While the State Department is "monitoring the case," we think they should do more and call directly on their friend to release Casim. Friends don't let friends jail people for speech.
*The video can be viewed here. Individuals located in the UAE are not advised to click the link.