The closure of a newspaper, the interrogation of journalists, and the dismissal of others exacerbate ongoing repression in the UAE
Stockholm - The international human rights foundation Skyline calls on the authorities of the United Arab Emirates to end the policy of intimidation against journalists and to stop the repression of freedoms and the media. It considers international reports of the closure of a newspaper, the interrogation of journalists and the dismissal of others as new evidence of the undemocratic treatment of journalistic work in the country.
In a statement released today (Wednesday), Skyline says it is very concerned about what the Associated Press published two days ago about the reasons that led authorities to close the Emirates newspaper, as well as the prior questioning of several editors and the editor-in-chief, and then weeks later. The dismissal of dozens of employees and the announcement of the dissolution of the newspaper.
According to the International Agency revealed, contrary to what was stated by International Media Investments (IMI), which operates the newspaper, based in Abu Dhabi, that the closure of "Al Roya" stems from its transformation into a new office in Arabic for CNN, the real reason is due to a report on the increase in fuel prices in the United Arab Emirates.
The report shed light on the causes of the crisis, when price hikes were commonplace after the UAE phased out fuel subsidies and citizens felt the pressure of life after the Russian invasion of Ukraine led to a spike in oil prices.
The report included interviews with Emirati citizens, some of whom live near the border with Oman, where fuel prices are half those in the UAE due to government subsidies, and who said they went to Oman to fill up their cars, while others said they put extra fuel tanks in their cars.
The report went viral on social media on June 2, particularly in the area of cross-border refuelling. A few hours later, the report was deleted from the website and never appeared in print.
According to recent reports, journalists associated with the report were subpoenaed, suspended, and questioned by management representatives and a lawyer about the report and those involved in its editing and publication.
A week after publication, journalists were given a choice: Either resign with benefits or terminate employment and face the possible consequences. Those who signed the resignation pledged not to reveal the reason for their dismissal, according to a copy of one of the letters obtained by Associated Press. The newspaper's dissolution and the imminent launch of an Arabic-language business magazine on CNN were then announced.
As a result of the events, at least 35 employees lost their jobs in one day, and dozens of others were laid off and received severance packages. IMI did not respond to repeated questions about the number of people laid off, while profiles on the LinkedIn hiring site confirm that about 90 people who used to work at "Al Roya" are now unemployed, and a limited number of employees remain on the site.
Skyline International believes that this development reflects the repressive attitude in the country, the lack of freedom of expression and restrictions on the media. In this regard, it referred to the arrest of dozens of opinion makers, journalists, and dissidents, their unfair trials, and the long prison sentences for simply trying to express their opinions on governance and human rights in recent years.
Skyline points out that the seriousness of the events is not limited to the damage caused to journalists suspended from work, but also to the state of intimidation of journalists working in various media outlets in the country, forcing them to self-censor their publications more, in addition to official censorship and the blocking of ideas and materials of the press by media representatives.
In this context, Skyline points out that journalistic work loses its true meaning when the journalist or the media cannot write freely and professionally or address urgent issues under the pressure of fear of punishment and arbitrary dismissal.
At the end of its statement, Skyline International calls on the country's president and all government authorities to end all restrictions on freedoms, including freedom of journalistic work, andt to review strict laws and their compliance with international human rights covenants, as well as administrative decisions and oral circulars.