British legal group Detained in Dubai has urged the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to update its UAE travel warnings to UK tourists in an open letter penned by the organization’s head, Radha Stirling.
“We have frequently called upon the FCO to provide more accurate information to Britons about the many risks they face in the UAE which the current advisory does not cover,” Stirling said. “It is simply not enough to warn people to obey the laws and customs, when very often the legal system itself poses a threat even to law-abiding tourists who may be subjected to false arrests, fabricated cases, forced confessions, torture, and lack of representation.”
Stirling’s letter specifically highlights the dangers inherent in the UAE’s Cybercrime laws, under which Laleh Shahravesh was prosecuted. In the letter to Permanent Under Secretary of State Sir Simon McDonald, head of the FCO, Stirling said:
“This warning is insufficient in light of the Shahravesh case, insofar as it does not explain that a British citizen can, in fact, be prosecuted if they ever visit the UAE, for posting material online in the UK which anyone inside the UAE may deem offensive.
It is vital for British citizens to be aware before traveling to the UAE that their entire social media history must adhere to UAE standards of acceptable content before they risk entering the country.”
The Cybercrime laws, she says, are irresponsibly vague and can easily be misapplied, as in Laleh’s case, in matters that have nothing to do with public endangerment, hate speech, or incitement to violence. “UAE Cybercrime laws subordinate the police, prosecutors, and courts to the tyranny of individual egos,” Stirling explained.
“If anyone in the UAE is offended by someone’s online content, even if they do not know that person, and even if that person posted the content in a different country; a criminal case can be made and an arrest warrant issued. It is an enormous threat to free speech well beyond the borders of the UAE.”