On June 5, GCC members Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, announced their decision to sever diplomatic relations with Qatar and install an air, land and sea blockade.
The announcements were only the first of a number of measures that were taken over the following week, most of which were issued in by the three governments, and some targeted their own citizens.
Here are a few of the most prominent – and strangest – of these decrees.
Breaking up families
The Saudi-led bloc issued orders of forced removals against their own nationals, as well as Qatari nationals.
Qatari residents of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain were given two weeks’ notice to leave and return to Qatar. Saudi, Emirati and Bahraini citizens residing in Qatar were told by their governments to return immediately or face serious consequences.
Thousands of individuals and families suffered under these orders, as the deep familial and interpersonal ties between GCC countries mean that there are a huge number of families where one spouse is Qatari and the other is a national of another GCC country.
These families were split up. Qatari mothers residing in Saudi, the UAE or Bahrain took the brunt of these decisions, since they were forced to leave their children, who only have their father’s citizenship, behind.
Sympathy for Qatar expressed by social media users across the GCC created a PR disaster for the countries who severed relations with their Gulf neighbour.
To stem the flow of negative reactions Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain took steps to curb their citizens from expressing opinions that opposed their policies.
The UAE Attorney General Hamad Saif al-Shamsi announced that any objections to the UAE’s strict measures against the government of Qatar or expression of sympathy with Qatar would be a crime punishable by a prison sentence of 3-15 years and a fine of no less than $136,000 (500,000AED), whether on a social media platform or via any written or spoken medium.
Shamsi added that the UAE had taken decisive action against Qatar as a result of “its hostile and irresponsible policy against the UAE and a number of Gulf and Arab states”. He noted that these infractions would be prosecuted in accordance with cybercrime laws because they were deemed to be harmful to the nation’s higher interests and social stability.
Shamsi stated that the general prosecutor’s office would be implementing the law on offenders who were guilty of what he called “crimes”. He stressed that this decision was taken to preserve the national security of the UAE and its higher interests and the interests of its people.
The criminalisation of sympathy with Qatar was implemented in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain with slight differences in the length of prison sentences and size of fines.
The Bahraini Ministry of Interior stated “any expression of sympathy with the government of Qatar or opposition to the measures taken by the government of Bahrain, whether through social media, Twitter or any other form of communication, is a criminal offence punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine”.
Banning Al Jazeera and blocking websites
Hotel residents in Saudi Arabia can no longer watch Al Jazeera channels, after the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage warned against airing Al Jazeera inside any hotel or tourist establishment.
The commission stressed that all channels belonging to the Al Jazeera Media Network are to be removed from the list of satellite stations in “all hotel rooms and touristic facilities and furnished residential units … including the TV lists kept within”, in order to avoid punishments that included fines up to $27,000 (100,000 Saudi riyals) and a cancellation of the hotel’s licence.
This general directive was sent to the owners and operators of tourist facilities, and it stressed that channels screened should be “compatible” with “official Saudi channels”.
In addition, the commission ruled that no individual receiver units be available inside rooms, each hotel to must have a central receiver programmed in accordance with official Saudi policy.
At the end of May 2017, Egypt blocked 21 websites, including Aljazeera.net, claiming that they had content “supporting terrorism and extremism as well as publishing lies”. A source at the official Middle East News Agency said that most prominent among those blocked sites were Aljazeera.net, al-Sharq, Masr al-Arabia, al-Shaab, HuffPost Arabi, Rassd, and Hamas Online.
Among the blocked sites was also Mada Masr, an Egyptian news site that works from within Egypt and describes itself as progressive and not linked to “Islamists” or to Qatar.
The Saudi-led bloc against Qatar followed suit and blocked websites from the Al Jazeera Media Network and the Qatari newspapers al-Watan, al-Raya, al-Arab, and al-Sharq.
Saudi internet users were greeted by the statement “The requested site is in violation of the systems and directives of the Ministry of Culture and Information”.
Users within the UAE attempting to access a number of sites, including Aljazeera.net, see a message from the telecommunications regulatory authority stating that the sites’ content is restricted and does not comply with the standards of the telecommunications authority.
Closing postal services
On June 8, the Emirates Post Group, a government agency, announced that all postal services to Qatar would be halted in accordance with instructions from the government of the UAE.
The group further stated that all postal offices within the country had been informed to stop accepting any mail being sent to Qatar.
On June 8, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt issued a joint press release in which they designated a number of individuals and organisations of differing nationalities as “terrorist”.
The list included 59 individuals, including Yusef al-Qaradawi, chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, as well as 12 bodies including Qatar Charity and Eid Charity.
The UN responded to this statement by reiterating that they are bound only by the “terrorist designations” issued by its own agencies, not those issued by any other party.
Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the secretary-general of the UN, said that the UN has strong cooperation with Qatar Charity, including a number of joint projects being implemented in Yemen, Syria and Iraq.
An official at the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded said that accusing Qatar Charity of “terrorism” is not only a defamation of humanitarian charitable work, but also constituted a violation of international standards and rules.
He pointed out that the inclusion of a number of journalists on the list indicated that the purpose was to intimidate and to muzzle freedom of expression guaranteed by international accords.
Source: Al Jazeera
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