Social media users in the United Arab Emirates who “show sympathy” for Qatar could face up to 15 years of jail time, UAE Public Prosecutor Hamad al-Shamsi said in a statement on Wednesday.
The announcement follows a major diplomatic rift between Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, all members of the powerful Gulf Cooperation Council over allegations that the small, but wealthy peninsula state supports terrorism. Qatar has rejected the charge as “unjustified” and “baseless.”
“Inclination or favoritism” towards Qatar by social media users in the UAE is punishable by three to 15 years in prison, alongside a minimum fine of 500,000 dirhams ($136,000), according to the Public Prosecutor’s statement.
Social media in the Gulf has been brimming with Tweets both criticizing and celebrating the breaking of ties with Qatar – a plethora of politically charged hashtags have also surfaced.
On Monday, Qatari nationals and residents were given two weeks to leave Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain; those countries also banned their own citizens from entering Qatar.
The rift came two weeks after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt blocked several Qatari media outlets, including Al Jazeera, over comments allegedly made by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
Al Thani reportedly hailed Iran as an “Islamic power” and criticized US President Donald Trump’s policy towards Tehran. Qatar said the website was hacked – and on June 6, US officials told CNN that US investigators believe Russian hackers were behind it.
US officials said the goal of the Russians appeared to be creation of a rift among the US and its allies.