Reporters Without Borders condemns the blocking of the online discussion forum UAE Hewar (http://uaehewar.net/), which has been inaccessible in the United Arab Emirates since 7 February. Some of the contributors to the site think the authorities are blocking it in order to discover the identity of the site’s owners, who call themselves “Emirati intellectuals.”
One of the site’s pages was blocked in November because of an article about religion (see http://www.emarati.katib.org/node/109), but this is the first time the entire site has been blocked. Hosted in the United States, it can still be accessed outside the UAE.
“This is an act of censorship aimed at suppressing the most independent voices in the Emirates,” Reporters Without Borders said, calling for the site to be unblocked at once. “The authorities are displaying an inability to tolerate the Internet’s use as an open space for discussion.”
Attempts to connect within the UAE produce a “network error” message. Responding belatedly to queries from site members, the Telecom Regulatory Authority evasively referred them to telephone operators Etisalat and Du. The US company that hosts the site, Host Rocket, confirmed to Reporters Without Borders that its inaccessibility in the UAE is not due to any technical problem.
UAE Hewar is very popular. The subjects debated on the forum include such human rights issues as freedom of opinion and expression, civil and political rights, the independence of the judicial system and racial discrimination – issues not traditionally discussed in the Emirati media.