Qatar’s government has backed new Internet codes that widen controls over news websites and online commentary after similar clampdowns by other Gulf Arab states. Western-backed Gulf nations have sharply increased arrests over social media posts on charges that include insulting rulers. Stronger media laws also have been placed in many Gulf countries as officials worry about growing opposition linked to the Arab Spring.
Qatar’s measures would give wide leeway to punish websites or social media users for items considered a threat to “state security” or the “general order.” It outlaws any news, video or other posts that violate the “sanctity” of a person’s private life, even if the report is true. The official Qatar News Agency said Thursday the draft law now goes to an advisory council for final approval.
The law punishes anyone who manages, via the internet or any information technology means, without a right, to enter an electronic website and informational system of any of the state’s organs, institutions, authorities or otherwise affiliated bodies or companies thereon, and anyone who establishes or runs an electronic site via the internet or any information technology means, or publishes false news with the aim of jeopardizing the state safety, its general order, internal or external security. The law also punishes anyone who infringes on the social principles or values or otherwise publishes news, photos, audio or visual recordings related to the sanctity of the private and familial life of persons, even if they were true, or infringes on others by libel or slander via the Internet or other information technology means.
Countries throughout the Middle East and beyond look to Qatar as a media leader in recognition of your constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of press, and in light of Al-Jazeera’s ambitious and expanding global reach.
For that reason, we were dismayed to read the Qatar News Agency’s description of the cybercrime bill, which would among other things prohibit the publication of “false news” that threatens “state safety” or “general order;” the publication of material infringing on “social principles or values;” and the publication of information about the private lives of individuals.