Skype Banned in the United Arab Emirates
The popular internet video calling service Skype has been banned in the United Arab Emirates in an act of censorship that forms one part of a much wider crackdown on freedom of speech and assembly in the country.
Internet users in the UAE found themselves unable to connect to Skype over the weekend after Emirati authorities blocked the video calling service for failing to adhere to its strict regulatory guidelines.
The UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) asserted that “voice over internet protocol are considered part of the UAE's regulatory activities”, stating that voice over IP (VoIP) calling services must conform to a strict set of policies that Skype and other services do not meet.
This constitutes a much a wider clampdown on VoIP calling services in the country. In recent years, Emirati authorities have banned call features on WhatsApp, Facebook, Viber and Snapchat.
As well as tightening their control on web based providers, UAE authorities have also stepped up monitoring and surveillance techniques concerning the online activities of internet users within its borders. In 2012, the UAE government instituted the vague 'cybercrime law' which has allowed the authorities to more effectively control and sanction online activity around social media sites.
Critics have long maintained that the cybercrime law heavily contravenes rights around freedom of expression and assembly in the UAE and that it is merely a technique used by authorities to silence dissenting voices in the country. In 2016 alone, around 300 people were detained for voicing opinions on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Last year journalist, Tayseer al-Najjar, and prominent UAE academic, Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith were sentenced by Emirati courts to three and ten years respectively for comments made on social media sites that the authorities deemed 'damaged the reputation of the UAE state'.
In recent years, international rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have issued heavy condemnations of the Emirati authorities' clampdown on freedom of speech and assembly within its borders. This latest round of censorship must be understood within a wider climate of repression in the country.
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