Graphic by Megan Eloise/The Gazelle
An Australian woman was arrested and jailed in Abu Dhabi on July 13 this year for posting a photo on Facebook. The photo was of a car parked over two disabled spots, accompanied by a caption.
The initial arrest and subsequent deportation of the graphic designer, Jodi Magi, made local
news. This was not the first time that a person in Abu Dhabi has been prosecuted for taking photos. In 2014, a professor from the U.S. was arrested
for taking photos in a restricted area and in 2011, two Bangladeshi men were arrested for taking photos at Yas Marina circuit.
These arrests have led to certain calls for laws regarding photography in the UAE and their implementation to be clearer. In 2011
, a judge ordered that the rules surrounding the taking of photography be clarified.
Greg Bruno, senior director of Public Affairs and Communications at NYU Abu Dhabi, cautioned that, “It is unlawful to take photos of military, government or airport buildings and facilities, whether they are labeled with 'No Photography' signs or not.”
However, those prohibitions did not apply to Jodi Magi. According to Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Magi was arrested
for writing "bad words on social media." Magi notes on her blog that the photo and accompanying caption was posted to a closed group without mentioning names, and that the license plate of the car was obscured.
Students at NYUAD will have to navigate these pitfalls in their own activity online. NYUAD’s advice on cultural and legal issues surrounding photography suggests
that “it is always courteous to ask before photographing people. Students should avoid photographing women in general, and particularly national women, without their permission.”
NYUAD students have used photography to address issues within the UAE in the past. As part of a final exhibition for the January Term class Modern Architecture in Abu Dhabi, students displayed photographs of scenes at Hamdan street.
Mariel Mok, who graduated from NYU Tisch School of the Arts in 2015, took photos focusing on prostitution along Hamdan Street. Mok said that she was aware of the sensitivities surrounding photography in the UAE.
“I was aware that photographing could be an issue, but the professor gave us a lot of precautions, like always carry your ID, if anyone asks you tell them you're from NYU,” said Mok. “Tell them you're doing this project with this professor and it's about the street and the buildings and not about people and nothing political.”
This context did impact the decisions that Mok made in curating and exhibiting her photography.
“I felt that I self-censored, not in the sense that I looked at a picture and didn't put it in, but I looked at what was in front of me and I thought I probably can't shoot this,” she added.
Posting photos online can also put students and individuals at risk. As The National reported
, the 2012 Federal Anti-Information Technology Crimes Law makes it a crime to breach “someone’s privacy by copying, saving or publishing their photo or personal data using an electronic device." Penalties can be as severe as "six months in prison and/or a fine of up to 500,000 AED, even if the photo was taken in a public place.”
Bruno reminded students that social media is governed by the UAE government.
“Anyone posting information online, whether in a Tweet, a Facebook post, blog entry or photo caption, should keep in mind the context in which online communications are governed by the UAE, and how NYUAD expects every member of its community to communicate,” said Bruno.
Political posts on social media are especially sensitive, according to Bruno.
“In the UAE criticism, of the government, of UAE leaders or the Islamic faith is unlawful if it has the potential to incite social or political unrest, or is interpreted as taking the form of insult, defamation, slander or libel,” said Bruno.
The UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority also publishes
white papers on the ethical use of online media.
In Section 1.3 the white paper on Facebook
notes that “users should be aware of the associated risk under UAE law of claims for defamation and breach of privacy involving the use of photographs and videos of other people without consent. UAE law contains quite broad provisions relating to the protection of privacy and reputation, so care needs to be taken when posting information about others.”
In taking photos in public, Mok said that students should always communicate with people about their role as photographer.
“If you're going to do it just do it, don't try and sneak in a photo because that's even worse, because people aren't stupid and they can see and it makes it even worse if you try and hide it,” said Mok.