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Qatar: New Cyber Crime Law poses real threat to Freedom of Expression

2014-09-17

On 15 September 2014, a new Cyber Crime Law came into force following its ratification by the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. The new Law 14/2014 includes amendments to previous legislation on Cyber Crimes and threatens freedom of expression in Qatar.

Some of the articles which are included in the law are vague at best and it is feared that the legislation will be used as a means to target human rights defenders and to hinder their peaceful work.  For example a person can be sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of up to QR 500,000 (approx. $140,000) if found guilty of  ‘spreading false news with the aim of destabilising national security’ or for ‘using websites to spread terrorism or support terrorist groups’.

Article 5 carries with it the same punishment, up to three years in prison and fine of up to QR500,000, for ‘creating or managing a website of a terrorist group or organisation on the internet or through any other related IT tools, facilitating communication with leaders or members of these groups, spreading their ideas, financing them.’ This article could essentially be used against anyone who expressed their opinions or beliefs on-line or who set up a webpage or group to promote ideas.

Article 6 sets out a term of imprisonment not exceeding three years, and/or a fine not exceeding QR500,000 for an individual who ‘created or managed a website to spread false news in order to jeopardise the safety of the state, its general order and its local or international peace.’ It further sets out imprisonment for a term not exceeding one
year, and/or a fine not exceeding QR250,000, for an individual who ‘spread false, aired or published false news through any means ‘in order to jeopardise the safety of the state, its general order and its local or international peace.’’

Article 8 provides for imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, and/or a fine not exceeding QR100,000 for an individual who ‘violated any of the social values and principles, or published news, pictures, audio or video recordings related to the private or family life of individuals, even if the content is true, or aggressed another person with libel and slander through the internet or any other IT means.’

Article 11 relates to electronic forgery and fraud and provides for a term of imprisonment not exceeding three years, and/or  a fine not exceeding QR100,000 for an individual who committed one ‘used the internet or any other IT means to impersonate a natural or juristic person.’

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) expresses serious concern at the enactment of the new Cyber Crimes Law and views it as a real and serious threat to freedom of expression and opinion and belief on the internet and through social media.  It is feared that the Cyber Crime legislation will be used to silence human rights defenders and to impede their work as has happened in Saudi Arabia, where human rights activist Fawzan Al-Harbi, is serving a seven-year sentence under Cyber Crime legislation.

The GCHR urges the authorities in Qatar to:

  1. Ensure that all articles which could be used to restrict freedom of expression are revoked, in particular articles  5, 6, 8 and 11 of the new Cyber Crimes Law 14/2014;
  1. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Qatar are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment. 

The GCHR respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 6 (b and c): “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (b) As provided for in human rights and other applicable international instruments, freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms; (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters”, and to Article 12 (1 and 2): “(1) Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. (2) The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.