Qatar joins other Gulf States for surveillance of online media

Eurasia News


The Gulf nation of Qatar is set to approve a range of new measures that aim to monitor online activity by its citizens, and could well lead to punishment for websites and users that breach the ‘general order’.

The draft of the country’s new media laws has moved on to an advisory council for final approval, and has been expected at least for the past year.

In March, Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al Kuwari, Qatar’s Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage, publicly stated that social media would be covered by the new media laws as “it is the most important form of free expression in the present world.”

The new measures seem to resemble those enacted in other Western-backed Gulf states such as Kuwait and Bahrain, which have sharply increased arrests linked to social media posts that insult or otherwise undermine rulers.

In Bahrain, the government has gone through great lengths to project a positive public perception, and has been intolerant of activism over media such as Twitter since it first began to experience a swell in demonstrations brought on by the Arab Spring.

Bloggers in Bahrain, as well as in Kuwait, have been subject to prosecution for comments deemed seditious or ‘blasphemous’ against the monarchies. In September of last year, for example, a high court in Bahrain sentenced prominent independent blogger and human rights activist Abduljalil Alsingace to life imprisonment on charges of ‘plotting to topple’ the country’s leadership.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, in 2012 Bahrain saw some of the worst conditions for journalists in the country since King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa assumed power in 1999. CPJ documented three journalists’ deaths, dozens of detentions, deportations, and smear campaigns.

In the case of Qatar, Jamie Ingram, a Middle East analyst at IHS Global Insight, sees similarities between the country’s new online media regulations and those of other Gulf nations.