Over the past few months, Dubai has been working really hard to make to the list of top 10 happiest cities in the world.
The United Arab Emirates even set up new ministries for happiness, tolerance and youth recently to prove it means business.
It turns out, however, it was all for show.
On Feb. 29, Oman national Saleh Mohammed al-Awaisi was sentenced to three years in prison and fined Dh 50,000 (almost $13,612) for reportedly forwarding a poem that criticized Emirati soldiers fighting in Yemen.
The man was charged with disseminating information “with a view to ridiculing and damaging the reputation of state symbols,” according to Dubai-based daily newspaper The National. He will be deported at the end of his prison sentence.
The UAE has contributed the second-largest army to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition currently bombing Yemen. Riyadh’s invasion has killed more than 3,000 civilians over the past year — a fact that has prompted international condemnation.
Therefore, al-Awaisi isn’t the only one who is critical of Saudi allies’ role in the military intervention in Yemen. Free speech is a basic human right but it doesn’t look like the Emirati government acknowledges this fact since it frequently jails people for online comments it considers offensive.
Last year, Abu Dhabi police arrested a Florida man who posted a rant about his UAE-based employer on Facebook. Another man was slapped with a fine of $68,000 after using “insulting” language over WhatsApp.
While it’s a good thing the the UAE is appointing ministers for tolerance, it would be better if the UAE reviewed draconian policies robbing citizens and expatriates of their basic rights.