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UAE arrests broadcast journalist over comments made off-air before football match

State media says unidentified journalist's comments were leaked online and would harm the 'public interest' in the UAE
The comments came ahead of a broadcast of the 2022 Qatar World Cup Asian Qualifiers match between UAE and Iraq at the Zabeel stadium in Dubai, on 12 October 2021 (AFP)

Authorities in the United Arab Emirates have detained a journalist over comments he made that were leaked online, accusing him of "uttering words which would harm the public interest in the country".

The journalist, who was not identified, was arrested after he made the comments off air ahead of a televised international football match.

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The official news agency WAM said that an "audio and video clip circulated online showed the accused exchanging conversations... before the live broadcast.

"The broadcast reception unit in the TV building was hacked, and the published clips were seized and broadcast on some social media platforms," the news agency said.

The report said the content of the conversation would "violate public morals, harm public interest, and incite hate speech".

The charges faced by the journalist could carry a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to 500,000 dirhams ($136,131).

An investigation into the hacking had been launched, and three people involved in the broadcast - the state-run Abu Dhabi Sports channel's live broadcast of the UAE-Iraq World Cup qualifying match on 12 October - were fired over the incident, WAM reported.

On Thursday, more than two dozen rights groups held an alternative expo online to pay tribute to human rights defenders who have been detained or persecuted in the country. The Gulf nation is hosting the 2020 World Expo, and opened its fair earlier this month with a lavish ceremony that included fireworks and music performances. The UAE hopes the six-month event will spark an influx of investment, after its economy was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.