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GCC: Defective laws used in pandemics to further suppress freedom of expression

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The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, particularly Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have used the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to continue pre-existing patterns of repression. the right to freedom of expression in 2020, Amnesty International said in a detailed statement today.

Across these states, flawed laws are being used to criminalize fake news to summon, arrest, investigate and prosecute individuals who post content on social media about the pandemic or government response to it.

Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said:

The GCC states have failed to justify how these measures are necessary and proportionate to the protection of public health. Individuals are being subjected to harassment and intimidation simply for discussing the pandemic online, in clear violation of their right to freedom of expression.

The GCC states have failed to justify how these measures are necessary and proportionate to the protection of public health. Individuals are being subjected to harassment and intimidation simply for discussing the pandemic online, in clear violation of their right to freedom of expression.

Lynn Maalouf

Once again, the GCC states choose to use the tools at their disposal to silence any public debate, in this case about the pandemic, and are obviously more concerned about avoiding public scrutiny than about protecting public health. Access to information is actually essential to keep the public up to date on how to protect themselves from the virus.

We therefore call on the GCC States not only to put an end to such unjustified practices and to ensure that people can express themselves without fear of retaliation, but also to urgently step up their efforts to ensure that they disseminate reliable, accessible, evidence-based and reliable information, which is essential to counter false and misleading information.

Amnesty International has reviewed official statements from these countries, released through government social media accounts and comments provided by government sources for reporting in the controlled domestic press, for the period from March to the present.

Background

The right to freedom of expression is protected under international human rights law, notably under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Bahrain and Kuwait have both acceded to the Covenant. Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are among the approximately 7% of UN member states that are not parties to the Covenant.

All GCC states have laws on public safety, which are often used to punish protected expressions. In recent years, Gulf countries have added new repressive statutes under the heading of counter-terrorism or cyber security laws, but many provisions in their lengthy criminal codes are also incompatible with the right to freedom of expression and continue to be used for print reviews online.

General prohibitions on the dissemination of information based on vague and ambiguous concepts, such as false news or dissemination of misinformation, are incompatible with international human rights law and standards. International law does not allow general prohibitions on the expression of a wrong opinion or an incorrect interpretation of events.

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