UAE utilities company accused of ‘bullying’ reporter for critical tweets

An Emirati reporter was asked to apologize for tweeting criticisms after power was cut to his house for four consecutive days

Ismaeel Naar
Ismaeel Naar - Al Arabiya English
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A leading UAE government-run utilities company has been accused of bullying a UAE reporter who tweeted about poor services after he said his home’s electricity was cut for nearly four days after heavy rains battered the country last Wednesday.

The Emirati reporter told Al Arabiya English that he had posted two tweets after four consecutive days of power outage at his home and poor communication from the company’s side.

“I had posted two tweets criticizing the company. The first was asking the company what crimes I committed for the electricity to go out for this long and to receive poor services in return. The second tweet was about me fearing that they’d win media praise or an international award for their ‘swift response time’ given their poor quality in responding to me,” the reporter said, speaking on condition of anonymity as he preferred to maintain his privacy and instead urge others to focus on the issue itself.

The reporter, who works for a local English-language newspaper, said that while power was eventually restored to his house, he was surprised when the newspaper he works for received a letter of complaint from the company asking for the reporter to “immediately apologize.” This letter has been seen by Al Arabiya English.

While not mentioned specifically in the letter, the reporter said unofficial meetings held by the company insinuated that they would threaten the newspaper with withdrawing advertisements unless an apology was issued.

Heavy rains lashed parts of the United Arab Emirates last Wednesday, bringing airports, roads and schools to a standstill for most of the morning and afternoon.

Dramatic videos posted on social media networks from the desert country showed strong winds and flooding battering parts of the capital Abu Dhabi and Dubai, as authorities announced airport delays of landings and departure. Schools were also closed and traffic piled up as commuters began their drive home.

‘Setting a precedent’

On Thursday, UAE officials warned both citizens and expats in the UAE not to spread rumors and post negative images and videos of rains, accidents and fires on social networking sites, according to daily news website Emirates 24/7.

“Such acts are punishable under both penal and information technology laws,” the report said and added that “it increases confusion and panic in society as well as affects the reputation of the country and the efforts made by the state departments in saving and protecting life and property.”

From his side, the reporter said that he had tweeted from his own capacity. “My Twitter bio mentions my name and profession as ‘Journalist’ without mentioning the paper I work for. I tweeted from my personal capacity as a UAE citizen and I don’t believe I broke any laws,” he said.

According to Emirates 24/7, Colonel Dr. Salah Obeid Al Ghoul, Director of Law Respect Culture Bureau, General Secretariat of the Office of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior said that “spreading rumors is a criminal offence that calls for specific penalties,” and that “violators will be sentenced to imprisonment ranging between one month and three years in case they broadcast… any news that breaches public security or harming public interest.”

So far, the reporter has refused to issue an apology and told Al Arabiya English that his newspaper has decided to stand by him.

“I refuse to apologize as I don’t want to set a precedent. If this can happen to me, a UAE citizen with full rights, how will public institutions treat a foreigner in our country should he have criticized the company in the same manner?” the reporter asked.

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