The problem of Internet censorship in Gulf countries still really serious. More websites are blocked since we have wrote about this issue.
With the population over 9 million and 90% Internet penetration UAE still has the following limits:
1. Social Media/ICT Applications are Blocked (including Facetime, WhatsApp, Line, Skype, IMO, Facebook call, Viber and others )
2. Political/Social Content Blocked
3. Bloggers/ICT Users are Arrested (read about 500,000 fine for WhatsApp comments)
The best idea to unblock websites in UAE by using a VPN – virtual private network.
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On the chart below you can see the countries of the world with the most severe Internet limits. They are purple and UAE is among the countries where Internet is not free.
Internet limits in UAE
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) maintains an authoritarian grip on both politics and telecommunications. The country’s two mobile phone and internet service providers are either directly or indirectly owned by the state, reflecting a lack of checks and balances when it comes to surveillance and government requests to companies to hand over their customers’ personal data. Ongoing crackdowns on users have increased self-censorship on social media and online news outlets, of which the most prominent are government-owned. Numerous websites are blocked and search results are filtered in order to prevent access to local and international voices that differ from the state line, particularly on political, religious, and sexual matters. Current legal restraints, coupled with a judiciary that fundamentally lacks independence, create a highly problematic legal environment where users cannot be guaranteed that their constitutional and internationally recognized rights will be upheld.
A new anti-terrorism law was issued in August 2014, providing lengthy prison sentences for crimes such as undermining national unity, possessing materials counter to the state’s notion of Islam, and “publicly declaring one’s animosity or lack of allegiance to the state or the regime.” The country’s 2012 cybercrime law already contains punishments for offending the state, its rulers, and its symbols, or for insulting Islam and other religions. As such, nonviolent opposition activists are often targeted under laws designed to counter terrorists and cybercriminals. At least five users are serving seven to ten-year sentences for their online activities as part of the so-called “UAE94” trials targeting 94 alleged members and supporters of the banned political opposition group, al-Islah. Six social media users have since been sentenced to three to five years for criticizing the judicial process or calling attention to human rights abuses, often regarding their jailed family members. For instance, Osama al-Najjar was sentenced to three years in September 2014 for alleging that his father was tortured while in prison. Foreign nationals are also targeted under harsh laws regulating social media use, resulting in their arrest and often deportation.
The government has embraced information and communications technology (ICT) as a means of developing a competitive economy and improving citizen services. Indeed, the UAE is ranked 23rd in the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Networked Readiness Index. While remaining open to receiving large amounts of foreign investment and expatriate workers, the government has actively fought to deter political discussions, demands for reforms, and criticism of public officials online. The first reported instance of law enforcement bodies targeting ICT use for political motives occurred in July 2010, when an 18-year-old named Badr al-Dhohri was held in Abu Dhabi for using his Blackberry to pass along a message that called for a protest against increases to the price of gasoline. Between 2011 and 2015, dozens have been detained for their political discussions on online forums and social media. Many have reported that they were held without charge, denied the right to an attorney, and in some cases, tortured.
Availability and Ease of Access
While the use of broadband is widespread, prices are extraordinarily high; the UAE has one of the most expensive broadband rates in the world, with high-end subscriptions costing more than AED 8,000 (US$2,178) a year. However, the UAE ranks 22nd in the ITU’s 2014 ICT Price Basket Index, in which local broadband prices are measured against, gross national income (GNI) per capita. This reflects a sense that despite the high prices, the internet remains affordable for most Emiratis, though not necessarily to all migrant workers.
The number of internet users has risen rapidly from a penetration rate of 61 percent in 2007 to 90.4 percent in 2014 according to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA). The expansion of wireless broadband penetration has doubled from 45 percent (in 2012) to 90 percent (in 2013). As of February 2015, there were 1,145,216 internet subscribers in the country, 99 percent of whom had broadband connections.
The UAE has one of the highest mobile phone penetration rates in the region at nearly 178 percent representing 16.8 million subscriptions in 2014. In 2014, the Emirates ranked first in smartphone penetration in the Middle East region with 60.9 percent of total users.
Etisalat upgraded broadband speed twice, once in September 2014 and again in April 2015 for 100,000 business clients. In March 2015, Etisalat signed a partnership with Ericsson at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to implement 5G technology making the UAE the first in the region to take this step.
According to UNICEF, literacy in the Emirates was reported at 94 percent among males and 97 percent among females, and thus does not constitute a strong obstacle to internet use. UAE schools are now among the top 25 worldwide for online connectivity. There are now 123 smart-learning schools, compared with only 14 in 2012. The program benefits 11,402 students, who are also equipped with tablets. The ministry has also completed the e-content project in both English and Arabic. Principals are enrolled in international computer literacy training programs. By 2017, the country expects its Smart Learning Program to be installed in all K-12 government school classes; replacing textbooks with tablets and allowing students to interact with educators through an online platform.
Restrictions on Connectivity
In the Emirates, internet service providers (ISPs) are owned by the state. In 2008, Etisalat had announced the rollout of its nationwide fiber optic backbone. This May, Etisalat selected TeliaSonera International Carrier (TSIC) as its preferred global internet backbone provider under a framework deal.
The country’s two internet service providers—Etisalat and du—have launched their own carrier-neutral international internet exchange points, Smarthub and Datamena, respectively. Cuts to undersea cables have disrupted internet access for Emirati users on several occasions, though government-instituted outages are not known. In November 2013, du issued a statement that submarine cables were experiencing faults affecting their internet bandwidth. In March 2013, Etisalat warned that users would face slower speeds due to the cutting of a fiber-optic cable off of the Mediterranean coast of Egypt. Du suffered similar disruptions in April 2010 and March 2011 due to cuts to the SEA-ME-WE 4 cable. In 2008, 1.7 million users in the UAE were affected by undersea damage to submarine cables occurring at five separate locations around the globe.
Limits on Content:
Online censorship has increased in the UAE following the Arab uprisings of 2011 as authorities blocked numerous websites and web forums where users openly call for political reforms or criticize the government. While self-censorship is pervasive, the ongoing crackdown against online dissent points to the fact that a limited number of users continue to use their real names when addressing sensitive issues. The families of political detainees use social media to highlight human rights abuses and communicate on behalf of their loved ones. The refusal of state-run news sites to cover controversial issues and trials has increased the importance of Twitter. These factors contribute to a highly controlled online environment in which freedom of expression and the right to information is not respected.
Blocking and Filtering in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and others emitares
The TRA instructs ISPs to block content related to
- political speech threatening to the ruling order.
According to Herdict, the crowdsourcing tool that lets users report blocked content, internet users from the UAE have reported several social, political, LGBTQ, dating, and proxy sites blocked in their country.
In December 2014, a website run by anonymous employees of Emirates airlines was reported to be blocked in the country. The website of Beirut-based NGO Gulf Center for Human Rights was blocked in January 2015. On Reddit, users reported the blocking of archive.today, a tool that keeps snapshots of URLs entered in case content disappears or gets modified.iHerb.com, an online retailer of nutritional supplement and wellness products, was reported to have been banned in June 2015.
The telecommunications company du details what criteria it used to block websites in a document available on its website. Prohibited content includes information related to circumvention tools, the promotion of criminal activities, the sale or promotion of illegal drugs, dating networks, pornography, homosexuality, gambling, phishing, spyware, unlicensed VoIP services, terrorism, and material that is offensive to religion.
Skype’s download page and online forum continued to be blocked during the coverage period, alongside several proxy websites. In May 2015, several users reported the storytelling platform Wattpad blocked in the UAE. Earlier in 2015, the dating app Tinder was blocked. A similar app, Jeltee, was launched by two Armenian expats and marketed as an app for forming friendships and connections rather than casual dating.
The availability of Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) services in the UAE is shrouded in doubt and complicated by disputes between the country’s two telecommunications companies, Etisalat and du, and the TRA. In the past, many aspects of VoIP applications were blocked by both providers, and Skype was classified by the TRA as an “unlicensed VoIP.” When users landed on the Skype website, a notice appeared stating,
“Access to this site is currently blocked. The site falls under the Prohibited Content Categories of the UAE’s Internet Access Management Policy.”
In March 2015, providers blocked the Whatsapp voice calls feature a few hours after it was introduced. Two months later, Facebook’s video-calling feature was blocked as well. In April 2014, Etisalat’s Twitter account stated that Skype can only be used over Wi-Fi.
Similar products such as Viber or Apple’s Facetime have been banned since 2013; in fact, Apple agreed to sell its iPhone4 products to UAE mobile phone companies without the Facetime application preinstalled.
Users in the UAE reported that Viber only works over Wi-Fi and Apple’s Facetime video-calling feature can only be used if the iPhone was purchased outside the country. However, on numerous occasions the TRA has emphasized that it is up to the mobile phone providers to license these products. In September 2014, the TRA clarified that the use of Viber and Skype in the country is still not permitted. Initial reports from the TRA indicated that Skype users could face fines of AED 1 million (US$272,000) or two years imprisonment, but the regulatory body denied that it had made these statements and reiterated that Skype was still an “unauthorized service.”
Etisalat and du currently offer their own prepaid VoIP cards, although their prices are higher than those listed by Skype. In January 2014, the VoIP service “Vippie by Voipswitch” tweeted that they were blocked in the Emirates. Despite these limitations, circumvention software and proxies are commonly used by Emiratis to access blocked content and VoIP services.
Violations of User Rights:
The rights of online users in the UAE are not protected by law, nor are they respected in practice. Several laws, including the penal code, the publishing law, and the cybercrime law, are commonly exploited to deter free expression and violate the rights of users. There is a general feeling among those who reside in the UAE that online tools are monitored and that surveillance is widely practiced with little judicial oversight. Several prominent online activists and ordinary citizens were detained in late 2012 and early 2013 as part of the UAE 94 trials. In addition, 2014 and 2015 saw a number of cases of arrest, torture, and long prison sentences.
In a new decision by the country’s Federal Supreme Court issued in June 2015, insulting others via WhatsApp messages will be punished with an AED 250,000 (US$68,000) fine and jail time, with deportation for foreign violators.
The cybercrime law issued in November 2012 continues to be used to prosecute online users that are critical of the government. While the introduction of the law was fundamental in providing a sounder legal basis to combat online fraud, money laundering, hacking, and other serious cybercrimes, the law also criminalizes a wide range of online activity commonly accepted within international norms. For example, hefty fines and jail sentences await users who engage in online gambling, disseminate pornographic material, or violate another person’s privacy through posting their photograph or making statements about them online, regardless of the accuracy of the accusations. Intermediaries, such as domain hosts or administrators, are also liable if their websites are used to “prompt riot, hatred, racism, sectarianism, or damage the national unity or social peace or prejudice the public order and public morals.” The cybercrime law also contains punishments for offending the state, its rulers, and its symbols, or for insulting Islam and other religions. Calls to change the ruling system are punishable by life imprisonment. Authorities have repeatedly warned foreign nationals that they must also follow the country’s restrictive laws.
Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities
Since the sentencing of the 69 political dissents in 2013, the UAE continues to arbitrarily detain bloggers, netizens, and internet users. Human rights groups have continuously criticized the UAE for violating the human rights of political detainees and failing to provide them with fair and transparent trials. Instead, many are denied access to a lawyer, held without cause for extended periods of time, or tortured.
Surveillance, Privacy, and Anonymity
The high amount of prosecutions and physical harassment of users in the UAE is, in part, due to the obstacles they face in using ICT tools anonymously. Mobile phone users re-registered their information as part of a 2012 TRA campaign “My Number, My Identity.” In January 2013, the country’s two mobile phone providers issued a final warning to their users to register their SIM cards or have their lines cut for failing to comply.
Cybercafe customers are also required to provide their ID and personal information in order to surf the net. In April 2014, the Ministry of Interior announced plans to link ID cards with internet services and cellphones “to crackdown on child abusers.” An official stated “by linking ID cards with internet service providers, people’s identities will be linked to the websites they visit.” In March 2015, the TRA announced its establishment of an alert system that detects certain keywords relating to “nudity, sexual cyber-extortion and insulting members of the ruling families.” Ghaith Al Mazaina, acting manager at the security quality service at the TRA, stated:
“We have started monitoring all the social media channels – all websites and profiles are monitored.” Another TRA official added: “We try to get the page or profile down or remove the violation as soon as possible and report the case to police if it is a criminal case.”
Internet and mobile providers are not transparent in discussing the procedures taken by authorities to access their data and users’ information. Incidents of providers demanding warrants or legal permissions for security bodies to gain access to user data are not known. Warnings from both the Abu Dhabi and Dubai police against spreading rumors through mobile messages may indicate the government’s overall surveillance on users.
Intimidation and Violence
Online activists in the UAE face arbitrary detention, travel restrictions, and potentially torture. In February 2015, Emirati authorities arrested Omani blogger Muawiyah Alrawahi as he was crossing into the country by car. The blogger has been critical of both Omani and UAE authorities online and remains in arbitrary detention as of July 2015. Human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor has faced continual harassment by the authorities, and is subject to a travel ban. Similarly, three sisters disappeared in February 2015 shortly after being questioned for posting tweets on behalf of their brother, Dr. Issa al-Suwaidi (part of the UAE 94), who is currently a prisoner of conscience. Asma Khalifa al-Suwaidi, Mariam Khalifa al-Suwaidi, and Dr. Alyaziyah Khalifa al-Suwaidi were released three months later in May.
How to Open Blocked Sites in UAE Safe and Easy?
On 2016 the only reliable solution that works to unblock websites in United Arab Emirates is using a VPN – virtual private network.
Using VPN to Open Blocked Sites is:
- Works for UAE
You can use VPN on Windows, Android or iOS.
Unblock sites in UAE Step by Step
Below you can find simple step by step guide how to access restricted websites:
- Get VPN Account.
- Setup VPN connection from your device.
- Enjoy your Internet freedom!
No additional software of applications are required.
You can setup VPN on your device in a few moments and enjoy secure and free Internet in UAE!
Used materials from Freedomhouse.
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