Global Freedom of Expression

Abdullah Al-Hadidi (U.A.E. Twitter Case)

Closed Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Electronic / Internet-based Communication
  • Date of Decision
    May 22, 2013
  • Outcome
  • Case Number
  • Region & Country
    United Arab Emirates, Middle East and North Africa
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Themes
    Access to Public Information, National Security, Political Expression
  • Tags

Content Attribution Policy

Global Freedom of Expression is an academic initiative and therefore, we encourage you to share and republish excerpts of our content so long as they are not used for commercial purposes and you respect the following policy:

  • Attribute Columbia Global Freedom of Expression as the source.
  • Link to the original URL of the specific case analysis, publication, update, blog or landing page of the down loadable content you are referencing.

Attribution, copyright, and license information for media used by Global Freedom of Expression is available on our Credits page.

Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

Abdullah Al-Hadidi is an Emirati activist who had covered human rights cases in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) prior to his arrest and charges on March 22, 2013. By April 8, 2013 he was sentenced to a year in prison.  The charges against him stemmed from his tweets about a sedition trial which he was covering.  Mr. Al-Hadid later lost his appeal on May 22, 2013 and served a 10-month sentence of imprisonment as a result.


At the time of his arrest, Mr. Al-Hadid had been covering a high-profile freedom of speech case in the Emirati courts which dealt with sedition charges. The case was widely publicized as “UAE’s 94” because the trail included 94 defendants accused of conspiring to overthrow the government. Since one of the defendants was Mr. Al-Hadid’s father, Mr. Al-Hadid had been both reporting on the case and helping the defense gather evidence to support his father’s case.

Mr. Al-Hadid was one of very few members of the public who were allowed to attend the hearings for the “UAE’s 94” case. After the hearings were over, Mr. Al-Hadid took to Twitter to express his dismay of both the outcome and the process as a whole.  His comments also included detailed descriptions of the proceedings as well as criticisms of placing his ailing father in solitary confinement.

Upon his arrest, Al-Hadidi faced several charges under the UAE’s Penal Law, Abu Dhabi Penal Law, and theUAE’s Cyber-Crime Law. After being sentenced in trial and subsequently losing his appeal, Mr. Al-Hadid served a sentence of 10-months in the UAE prisons.

Decision Overview

Following a brief trial, Al-Hadidi was sentenced to 10 months in prison.  The primary charge against Mr. Al-Hadidi was his violation of two articles of the Cyber-Crime Law, which was mandated in 2012, a few months prior to Al-Hadidi’s arrest.  It is not clear how the Court reached the 10-months sentence, or whether some charges were dropped in the process, but the charges filed in the case were the following:

  1. Violation of the Cyber-Crime Law No. 5 of 2012: This law is generally repressive to online freedom of expression. For example, its Articles 28 and 29 impose fines up to $300,000 and “temporary” imprisonment on any one who “uses the internet to undermine national security or public order in any way, including through online comments and cartoons.” Additionally, Article 46 of the law considers using the internet in commission of any violation of UAE law an aggravating circumstance.
  1. Violation of Article 265 of the UAE Penal Law: This Article imposes up to a year term of imprisonment for those who “with malicious intent, spread false news about the proceedings of a public trial or hearing.”

It is likely that Al-Hadidi was convicted of both of the above crimes.  It is not clear how the prosecution proved the elements of “malicious intent” or “falsity of news.”  What is clear, however, is that the UAE judges, on both trial and appellate levels, determined that the news was false and that Mr. Al-Hadid had “malicious intent” without giving much explanation.

Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Contracts Expression

This is one of a few high-profile prosecutions under Cyber-Crime Law No. 5 of 2012, mandated by the UAE President in November 2012. Although the law was promulgated to combat internet crimes, the government has almost exclusively used it to curtail online expressions that are even mildly critical of the government.  This case is but one example of the extent to which the law is expanded to curtail expression.  In this case, the mere online reporting on public trials was held sufficient to impose a one-year sentence on Mr. Al-Hadidi.  This law also makes using the internet an aggravating circumstance to any other violation of UAE law.

Moreover, the law’s language suffers from extreme vagueness.  Phrases such as “undermine public order;” “malicious intent,” and “temporary imprisonment,” are not explained or defined anywhere in the court decision of in the law itself.  Due to lack of any binding precedent, UAE judges have been free to impose the harshest penalties based on subjective determination of the meaning of the above-mentioned vague phrases.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • U.A.E., Cyber-Crime Law No. 5 of 2012

    Articles 28, 29, and 46 of this law criminalize various forms of online expression.

Other national standards, law or jurisprudence

  • U.A.E., Penal Law

    Article 265 imposes up to a year of imprisonment for the crime of “spreading false rumors with malicious intent.”

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Official Case Documents

Official Case Documents:

Reports, Analysis, and News Articles:

Have comments?

Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.

Send Feedback