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UK advises citizens not to criticise UAE on social media

UK government travel advice also warns birdwatchers and planespotters to be careful, and advises against taking photos of women on beaches
Criticism of UAE government on Social media has been restricted (AFP)

The UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has issued new travel guidance discouraging British citizens travelling to the United Arab Emirates from posting any material that criticises or ridicules the Emirati government on social media.

The updated travel guidance comes after a number of foreign nationals were arrested for posting links that were critical of the UAE government and contravened Emirati law.

The guidance also discourages any criticism of companies or individuals linked to the UAE being posted on social media by British citizens.

A spokesperson for the FCO told Middle East Eye that travel guidance was updated on a regular basis based on continuous assessments of the situation on the ground.

The website also mentions instances of individuals being detained, prosecuted and convicted for posting material critical of the Emirati government.

It also discourages visitors from taking photographs of people without their permission, citing the case of a British citizen arrested for photographing women on beaches, and warns bird watchers and plane spotters to be careful, especially near military sites.

The full guidance reads: "Photography of certain government buildings and military installations isn’t allowed. Don’t photograph people without their permission. Men have been arrested for photographing women on beaches. Hobbies like bird watching and plane spotting, may be misunderstood - particularly near military sites, government buildings and airports. In February 2015, three British nationals were arrested while plane spotting at UAE airports. They were detained for two months.

The UAE has a track record of clamping down on dissent and restricting the use of social media after passing a wave of anti-terror laws criminalising criticism of the government.

Last month an Australian-British citizen was sentenced to prison in Dubai after he posted a link encouraging social media users to donate to a charity helping Afghan children in refugee camps during the winter.

Scott Richardson, a father of two, was arrested by the Emirati authorities after he broke strict new laws prohibiting the promotion of any charity not registered in the UAE.

An Omani national was also jailed earlier this year for violating Emirati cybercrime laws after sharing a poem on social media criticising the war in Yemen.

Saleh Mohammed al-Awaisi was sentenced to three years in prison and fined Dh 50,000 ($13,612) “for forwarding a WhatsApp message that mocked the UAE and its martyrs,” according to The National, an Abu Dhabi-based newspaper.