Change.org blocked in UAE after internet users call for Skype ban to be lifted
The popular online campaigning site change.org has been blocked by the Emirati authorities after thousands in the UAE used it to sign an online petition calling for the recent Skype ban to be lifted.
Last month, the UAE's Telecommunications and Regulatory Authority blocked access to Skype for failing to comply to its strict regulatory guidelines.
The UAE's social media telecom provider Etisalat informed internet users via Twitter that “access to the Skype App is blocked since it is providing unlicensed Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) Service. which falls under the classification of prohibited contents as per the United Arab Emirates' Regulatory Framework,”
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.
The recent block prompted Skype user, 'Mostafa Amr' to launch an online petition on change.org calling on the Emirati authorities to reverse the ban. In a matter of hours, the petition had garnered over 5,000 signatures worldwide along with a raft of angry comments from disgruntled Skype users inside the UAE.
Urging the UAE government to revoke the ban, the petition read:
“VoIP is vital and needed for many families who are living in the UAE and need to contact their loved ones who are living outside the UAE.
“I personally, used VoIP services ever since they were introduced. They have saved me millions of dirhams (AED) a year and I can not stress how important it is to so many people that they can not afford to pay extra charges when they call people who are out of the country.
“This petition is to encourage Etisalat, DU and the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority to release their VOIP services such as Skype and make their guidelines more flexible.”
Within hours of it going online, however, the petition, along with the website, had been blacked out by the Emirati authorities.
Dubai resident, Faisal Hashmi, tweeted his disbelief at the UAE authorities recent move:
“Etisalat blocked Skype last month, so someone started a petition on Change.org to unban it which quickly got a lot of signatures. So Etisalat has now banned Change.org. The entire website. You can't make this up.”
This is yet another example of the Emirati authorities' repressive attitude towards freedom of speech and assembly. In recent years, the authorities have systematically shut down avenues of dissent within the country in a bid to insulate themselves from criticism. This has led to hundreds of peaceful government critics have being detained in recent years on what are essentially speech charges. This latest round of censorship should be understood within this wider climate of repression.