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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 July 2018

UAE World Cup fans warned that ridiculing teams online could carry harsh legal penalties

Images and posts have swept through social media that cross the line between banter and bigotry or hate speech. 

Fans of Japan and Colombia take a picture together before their World Cup 2018 Group H match on Tuesday. AP 
Fans of Japan and Colombia take a picture together before their World Cup 2018 Group H match on Tuesday. AP 

With World Cup 2018 fever in full swing, UAE residents have been warned not to get too carried away on social media as posts that could be considered to ridicule countries or their teams online carry harsh penalties under federal law.

Since the tournament began last week, images and posts have swept through Twitter and Whatsapp that cross the line from being a bit of friendly banter between football fans to being bigotry and even hate speech.

One picture that has been circulating online shows proud dogs bearing the flags of winning teams, while a scared cat that hides in the background is shown with the flag of a losing team. The same picture is often seen carrying different flags in each spot.

Another post, referring to the 1-0 defeat of current World Cup holders Germany by smaller side Mexico, said that "drugs are becoming more useful than technology when it comes to winning a football match". Germany is known as a powerhouse of tech development, whereas Mexico is sometimes derogatorily called a country of drug dealers.

A country is shown as a group of murderers wearing bloodied clothes in another post, with men lined up holding sharp weapons, and there are other posts that feature spiteful language or racial slurs.

Awatif Mohammed, an Emirati lawyer with Al Rowad Advocates, called on fans to be cautious and not resort to blind fanaticism in favour of their World Cup teams by posting, circulating or sharing inappropriate messages or images.

“It may lead to their involvement - driven by World Cup fever — in a criminal case,” she said.

Under the 2015 law that protects against discrimination and hatred, a person found guilty of either faces a minimum of five years imprisonment and a fine of between Dh500,000 and Dh1 million. If they are found guilty of inciting hate speech, they will face one of these penalties.

Article 20 of the cyber crimes law says that a person who issues statements online that ridicule others or cause them harm in some way can be imprisoned for between one month and three years, and will pay a fine of between Dh250,000 and Dh500,000.

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Lawyer Mohammed Elhais said that according to the law, the prosecutor general of the emirate where a person has created an offensive post can file charges, but also that “any citizen of a country that feels they have been mocked can file charges".

"In one of post I saw, Mexico was mocked. In this case, any Mexican citizen can file charges against the person who made the post,” he said.

Ms Awatif also warned parents to keep an eye on what their children do online as exchanging inappropriate text, audio or video content could land them in legal trouble, too.

“Parents should lead by example and show good sportsmanship in front of their children. They should tell them that it is OK to share feelings about football matches, but not if they go beyond public morals,” she said.

Tips for avoiding trouble online

  • Do not post incorrect information and beware of fake news
  • Do not publish or repost racist or hate speech, yours or anyone else’s
  • Do not incite violence and be careful how to phrase what you want to say
  • Do not defame anyone. Have a difference of opinion with someone? Don’t attack them on social media
  • Do not forget your children and monitor their online activities