May 30, 2013
Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al Thani
Office of the Prime Minister
c/o Embassy of the State of Qatar
Via email: [email protected]
Dear Prime Minister Hamad,
We are writing to express our concern about the cybercrime bill approved by the cabinet on Wednesday, which would restrict online expression on news websites and social media. We ask you to postpone its submission to the Shura Council and consult with media, legal, and human rights representatives to ensure that its provisions do not infringe on freedom of expression.
Countries throughout the Middle East and beyond look to Qatar as a media leader in recognition of your constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of press, and in light of Al-Jazeera's ambitious and expanding global reach.
For that reason, we were dismayed to read the Qatar News Agency's description of the cybercrime bill, which would among other things prohibit the publication of "false news" that threatens "state safety" or "general order;" the publication of material infringing on "social principles or values;" and the publication of information about the private lives of individuals.
We are concerned that these vague provisions would allow arbitrary application and create a chilling effect on public discourse. But it is difficult to analyze these provisions without the full text of the bill, which to our knowledge has not yet been made public.
We understand your government has legitimate concerns about criminal activity in cyberspace. But we believe that defending against cybercrime does not require overly broad provisions that would constrict freedom of expression.
As you know, many Arab countries have adopted regulations governing media, the Internet, and political expression in the wake of major popular protests that have rocked the region since 2011, including the UAE, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Oman. These laws have often been used to crack down on legitimate dissent.
Yet some governments have taken a different course in reaction to public outcry. This year, the Iraqi parliament withdrew an ambiguous Information Crimes bill in light of human rights concerns. Last month, Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Sabah withdrew a highly restrictive media bill to allow further review.
We urge you to follow the lead of your Gulf neighbors by withdrawing the cybercrime bill, publicly releasing the draft text in its entirety, and encouraging an open dialogue about its provisions between your government and the citizens it serves.
Already, the Doha Centre for Media Freedom said it would "very much like to be consulted" about the proposed law. The center and others have said they have many questions about the bill's potential impact on freedom of speech in Qatar.
Qatar should affirm its position as a global media leader by ensuring that the cybercrime bill does not impinge on a free and open Internet, which is a necessary condition for the exercise of press freedom and freedom of expression.
Excellency Abdullah bin Khalid Al Thani, Minister of Interior
His Excellency Hasan bin Abdullah Al-Ghanem, Minister of Justice
His Excellency Mohamed Bin Abdulla Al-Rumaihi, Ambassador to the United States of America and Mexico