A new cybercrime law in Qatar could be used to penalize journalists with prison sentences for offenses including violating the Gulf state's social values and disturbing the peace.
Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, ratified the new law September 15, according to the Doha Centre for Media Freedom (DCMF), a non-profit press-freedom organization in the country. The law will come into immediate effect, according to Qatar News Agency.
Article 8 of the law makes it illegal to publish news, pictures or audio/video recordings that violate Qatar’s social values or relate to the personal or family lives of individuals - even if the information is true. Violators could receive up to three years in prison and fines of up to 100,000 Qatari riyals, or more than $27,000.
Article 6 makes it illegal to create or manage “a website or any other media to publish false news with an intention to jeopardize the security of the state or disturb peace locally, regionally or internationally,” according a report by The Peninsula Qatar, an English daily newspaper published in Qatar. Violators could receive up to three years in prison and a fine of 500,000 Qatari riyals, or more than $130,000. Sharing or redistribution of “offensive material” could also be punishable by the law.
The broad language of the “Anti-Cybercrime Law” is deliberately ambiguous, according to Arabian Business, a weekly business magazine published in Dubai. The Committee to Protect Journalists released a statement Sept. 17 calling on the Qatari government to abolish parts of the new law.
"This law is ostensibly to stop cybercrime, but at least two articles of the law will severely restrict freedom of expression, which is not a crime," said Sherif Mansour, Committee to Protect Journalists Middle East and North Africa Coordinator, in a statement.
The new law also contains provisions that establish stricter penalties for electronic fraud, copyright violations, aiding terrorism, and distributing child pornography.
Unlike many Arab states, Qatar did not experience significant domestic unrest during the 'Arab Spring' protests in recent years. Though the Qatari government owns the al-Jazeera television network, whose journalists have faced prosecution and restrictions in other Arab countries, it has little tolerance for internal dissent. In 2012, poet Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami was sentenced to life imprison incitement to overthrow the regime after reciting poems critical of the country's former emir, according to Human Rights Watch. His sentence was reduced to 15 years in jail by an appeals court in February.