- Global Voices - https://globalvoices.org -

Qatar: New Cyber Crime Law Could Threaten Online Speech

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, Qatar, Freedom of Speech, Governance, Law, Politics

Qatar is looking to shore up its legislation regarding cybercrime, including punishment for accessing sensitive government data, but a draft law recently approved by the country's cabinet also puts limits on online expression.

The state-run Qatar News Agency published a brief about it (http://www.qnaol.net/QNAEn/NewsBulletin/Pages/default.aspx — have to click on date, May 29 and find the “Cabinet” update):

“[The cabinet] approved a draft law to enact a law on fighting cyber crimes and to refer it to the Advisory Council. The law punishes anyone who manages, via the internet or any information technology means, without a right, to enter an electronic website and informational system of any of the state's organs, institutions, authorities or otherwise affiliated bodies or companies thereon, and anyone who establishes or runs an electronic site via the internet or any information technology means, or publishes false news with the aim of jeopardizing the state safety, its general order, internal or external security.”

But more importantly – as far as online freedom of speech is concerned – QNA reports:

“The law also punishes any one who infringes on the social principles or values or otherwise publishes news, photos, audio or visual recordings related to the sanctity of the private and familial life of persons, even if they were true, or infringes on others by libel or slander via the Internet or other information technology means.”

No further information about the draft law has been released yet, but it's clear that the language is sufficiently vague enough to have wide-reaching implications about what you can and cannot say online in Qatar.

Last year, the UAE passed strict cybercrime laws that activists say “stifle free expression” [1] and “attacks free speech” [2], and the fear is that Qatar's new bill could go the same way.

Reaction in Qatar has obviously been pretty negative so far:

On Twitter, writer¬†Christine GerberRutt called it “unacceptable”:

@JustKooki1 [3]: Unacceptable. Under the new law that one word could get me in prison for 3 years. #qatar [4] #freedom [5] http://fb.me/B2pTUWll [6]

While others express fear:

@scampyfries: [7] Be afraid, be very afraid! Qatar's new cybercrime law raises concerns over freedom of online expression http://tmblr.co/ZJn_jxmACWo6 [8]

@JohnLaprise [9]: This is problematic. Qatar’s new draft cybercrime law raises concerns over freedom of online expression http://dohanews.co/post/51710659718/qatar-new-draft-cybercrime-law-raises-concerns-over#.UacYkrR7UZQ.twitter  [10] via @dohanews [11]

Commenting about the draft law on Dohanews.co [12] (my website), Joh Laprise, a professor at Northwestern University in Qatar, expands on this [13] a bit:

“Given national privacy norms, if I read this correctly, any individual capturing any content which depicts or records individuals must get their express permission or potentially be punished.”

Another commenter [14], going by the name iamthexxx, responds:

Not surprising! The only surprise is why they haven't banned Facebook and twitter and all social media?
Another law to suppress critics! way to go!
Things are getting better day by day!!

While on Twitter, blogger and web designer Xtian guesses he won't be able to write much anymore:

@xtian001: [15]No more bad reviews of services, restaurants, hotels when Qatar Cybercrime Law gets passed? No more horrendous parking photos either!

In conversation with Sultan AlQassemi, Emirati professor Abdulkhaleq Abdulla

@Abdulkhaleq_UAE [16]: @SultanAlQassemi [17] it is getting tight all over the place. Enjoy it before it gets more restrictive.

So, get it out of your system while you can!