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UAE: Social media users face jail for Qatar sympathy

شعار Al Jazeera Al Jazeera 07/06/2017
Qatar was trending worldwide with many pointing to the seriousness of the rift [Thomas White/Reuters] © Provided by Al Jazeera Qatar was trending worldwide with many pointing to the seriousness of the rift [Thomas White/Reuters]

The United Arab Emirates has banned people from publishing expressions of sympathy towards Qatar and will punish offenders with a jail term of up to 15 years, the UAE-based newspaper Gulf News and pan-Arab channel Al-Arabiya reported.

In a statement released on Wednesday, UAE's Attorney-General Hamad Saif al-Shamsi said sympathising with Qatar was a cybercrime punishable by law.

"Strict and firm action will be taken against anyone who shows sympathy or any form of bias towards Qatar, or against anyone who objects to the position of the United Arab Emirates, whether it be through the means of social media, or any type of written, visual or verbal form," Gulf News quoted Shamsi as saying in the statement.

The Federal Public Prosecution also announced that according to the Federal Penal Code and the Federal law decree on Combating Information Technology Crimes, anyone who threaten the interests, national unity and stability of the UAE will face a jail term from three to 15 years, and a fine not less than AED 500,000 ($136,000).

Since the diplomatic row erupted, slogans against and in support of Qatar have been among the top topics discussed on Twitter in Arabic, which is a hugely popular medium of expression in the Arab world, particularly in Saudi Arabia.

Qatar diplomatic crisis: All the latest updates

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates severed diplomatic ties and transport links with Qatar on Monday, accusing it of supporting "extremism".

The dispute between Qatar and the Arab countries escalated after a recent hack of Qatar's state-run news agency. 

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir told reporters in Paris that Qatar must end its support for the Palestinian group Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood before ties with other Arab Gulf states could be restored.

Hamas said in a statement that al-Jubeir's remarks "constitute a shock for our Palestinian people and the Arab and Islamic nations".

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel accused US President Donald Trump of stirring up conflicts in the Middle East and risking a new arms race.

The dispute comes less than a month after Trump visited Saudi Arabia and called for Muslim nations to unite against "extremism".

Qatar said there was "no legitimate justification" for several nations cutting diplomatic ties and the decision was in "violation of its sovereignty".

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