The Emirati authorities have been harassing and arresting users of BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) who allegedly tried to organise a protest against an increase in the price of gasoline (one of the highest in the Arab world). The protest was eventually called off. BBM user Badr Ali Saiwad Al Dhohori, an 18-year-old resident of Ras Al Khaimah, has reportedly been held in Abu Dhabi since 15 July.
The authorities were able to trace the organiser, known as “Saud,” because he included his BlackBerry PIN in a BBM message he sent calling for the protest. They held Saud for a week and interrogated him to trace those he had been messaging. Accused of inciting opposition to the government, he has lost his job. At least five other members of the group have reportedly been summoned by the police or are still being sought.
“We call for an end to this government witch-hunt against BlackBerry Messenger users who tried to get their fellow citizens to join them in a protest,” Reporters Without Borders said. “These young people did nothing bad. At first they planned a peaceful demonstration but they ended up calling it off because they did not want to break the law. They must not be made to pay for the government’s dispute with BlackBerry’s services, which it cannot control as it would like.”
The press freedom organisation added: “Because they cannot decipher BlackBerry’s encrypted data and thereby gain access to its clients’ personal data, the security forces have decided to intimidate users in order to combat their potential for disseminating information. These summonses must stop. Al Dhohori and others potentially held at the moment in relation to this case must be freed without delay.”
Any demonstration in the United Arab Emirates requires a special permit from the security forces which is extremely hard to obtain.
The arrests come at a time when the authorities have been make increasing hostile comments about BlackBerry, accusing it of providing services that could cause security problems.