United Arab Emirates: Journalist sentenced to prison for spreading false news

A TV journalist and his interviewee have been sentenced to two years in prison for spreading false news that claimed that five members of an Emirati family had died of Covid-19. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) acknowledges that the broadcasting of misinformation infringes journalism ethics and is a professional error but condemns the jail sentence as disproportionate and supports its affiliate, the UAE Journalists Association, in its efforts to free the journalist.

Credits: Facebook/Mondhir Almuzaki

In August, Mondhir Almuzaki had interviewed an individual who claimed that five members of one Emirati family had died of Covid-19. The report was broadcast on Abu Dhabi Sports channel, Almuzaki’s employer, which is owned by Abu Dhabi Media, a government agency.

The Public Prosecution investigated the claims made in the report and found them to be untrue. Almuzaki and his interviewee, whose identity was not disclosed, were arrested shortly after the report was broadcast and shared on social media.  The Abu Dhabi Court of Appeal sentenced the journalist to the minimum penalty provided for in the penal code for the offense of spreading false rumors. Article 198 of the Penal Code regulates punishment for the dissemination of false information and Article 197 of the Criminal Code provides for temporary imprisonment for publishing information that undermines public order.

Abu Dhabi Media announced internal investigations into the case and disclosed that disciplinary measures had been taken against members of staff, including suspension from work, financial penalties and warning letters.

UAE authorities and especially the Attorney General have, since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, repeatedly issued warnings for the media to avoid the spread of misinformation.

In response to the broadcast, the director of the Federal Emergency, Crisis and Disaster Prosecution service, Salem Al Zaabi warned that media outlets that spread fear and impact the country’s safety by acting irresponsibly will face criminal proceedings.

IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: “ Fact-checking is at the core of our profession and journalists must do their utmost to strictly abide by ethical standards. We see the broadcasting of the false report on Abu DhabiSports channel as a grave professional error by the media company which should take responsibility. However, the arrest of Mondhir Almuzaki and his jail term is against international law and does not serve justice. We consider that the sanctions taken by the media against the journalist should be sufficient to close the case and that self-regulation is key when it comes to a breach of ethics. We call on the head of the United Arab Emirates to pardon him and set him free.”

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 146 countries

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