‘As dangerous as the virus’: Middle East cracks down on COVID-19 rumor mongers

Countries in the Middle East have also imposed curfew to restrict people's movement during the outbreak. (File/AFP)
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Updated 30 March 2020

‘As dangerous as the virus’: Middle East cracks down on COVID-19 rumor mongers

  • Fines and jail sentences await people who spread fake news about coronavirus in the region
  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called the spread of fake news about the coronavirus an “infodemic”

DUBAI: Governments in the Middle East have said they have zero tolerance for rumor mongers amid the coronavirus pandemic, warning people of prosecution and hefty fines if they engage in what they have described as “dangerous” behavior.
Egypt and Oman on Saturday joined countries in the region who have explicitly said they were going to punish those who spread fake news and rumors about COVID-19.
Imprisonment of up to five years and a fine of around $1,200 could be imposed, according to a government statement carried by local Egyptian media Ahram Online. The statement has also called citizens to verify the authenticity of news they see on social media platforms – usually a hotbed for viral, misleading content.
Oman’s Public Prosecution said it will form a dedicated committee that will pursue rumor mongers in the Sultanate.
“Circulating these rumors poses a great danger to society, because they could harm public health or public order,” the country’s Assistant Prosecutor Jassem Al Yaqoubi, said in a report by Times of Oman.
Al-Yaqoubi said spreading rumors online would be a violation of Oman’s Anti-IT Crime Law, which carries a punishment of three years jail term and a fine of up to $7,700.
The Omani government said the severity of the punishment was increased in recent amendments, so as to deter people from engaging in such behavior.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called the spread of fake news about the coronavirus an “infodemic.”
Here is how some Arab nations are handling the issue of fake COVID-19 news:


Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia had earlier condemned the spread of fake news surrounding the outbreak, describing it as just as dangerous than the virus itself.
The Saudi Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution have made arrests relating to coronavirus rumor mongering in the Kingdom, and has imposed imprisonment and a whopping fine of up to $800,000.
A source at the bureau has urged Saudis to get information from official sources only and to fully cooperate with coronavirus-related decisions issued by the government.
Kuwait
Kuwait has previously taken a stand against people who spread unverified information about the virus that might cause unnecessary public panic.
“We will not tolerate those who spread rumors and they will be held accountable,” Deputy Premier, Minister of Interior and Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs Anas Al-Saleh said.
Legal action has been taken against the holders of 23 social media accounts in Kuwait last week for posting misinformation about the virus.
A group of Kuwaiti academics have reiterated the danger fake information poses on society – its negative impact on people’s morale and the country’s ability to overcome the pandemic.
“Rumors harm society and spark panic and fear among its members,” according to Dr Ali Al-Zubi, a Sociology professor at Kuwait University, in an interview with state-run KUNA.
He said people were already under “enormous psychological stress” because of the outbreak.
But Al-Zubi said encouraging people to act responsibility was more effective than threatening them with tough penalties.
UAE
Authorities in the UAE earlier warned residents against spreading fake information online, saying violators will face jail sentences from three years to life in prison, and a fine of up to $816,000.
The Ministry of Interior said rumors such as exaggerating the number of infections in the country could trigger fear and panic, adding only relevant health authorities are allowed to give official numbers.
Several agencies in the country have launched concerted efforts to discredit rumors about the virus being circulated on social media.
Jordan
Earlier this month, Jordan made a series of arrests for publishing fake news about COVID-19.
The country’s Public Security Directorate said they would immediately take necessary legal action against people who cause panic because of misinformation.
Bahrain
Bahrain’s interior ministry has also warned against getting information from unknown and unverified sources.


Yemen’s terrifying, severely damaged road to Taiz on brink of collapse

Vehicles are pictured on a damaged road, the only travel route between Yemen’s cities of Taiz and Aden. Yemen has been left in ruins by six years of war, where over 24 million people are in need of aid and protection. (AFP)
Updated 26 September 2020

Yemen’s terrifying, severely damaged road to Taiz on brink of collapse

  • Convoys of vehicles big and small move at a snail’s pace as they squeeze past each other on the narrow road that has been severely damaged over the years by heavy rainfall

TAIZ: Lorries filled to the brim with goods labor up and down the dangerously winding and precipitous road of Hayjat Al-Abed, the mountainous lifeline to Yemen’s third largest city.
Unlike all other routes linking southwest Taiz to the rest of the war-torn country, the road — with its dizzying drop-offs into the valley below — is the only one that has not fallen into the hands of the Houthi rebels.
Some 500,000 inhabitants of the city, which is besieged by the Iran-backed Houthis, depend on the 7-km stretch of crater-filled road for survival, as the long conflict between the insurgents and the government shows no signs of abating.
Convoys of vehicles big and small move at a snail’s pace as they squeeze past each other on the narrow road that has been severely damaged over the years by heavy rainfall.
“As you can see, it is full of potholes, and we face dangerous slopes,” Marwan Al-Makhtary, a young truck driver, told AFP. “Sometimes trucks can no longer move forward, so they stop and roll back.”
Makhtary said nothing was being done to fix the road, and fears are mounting that the inexorable deterioration will ultimately bring the supply of goods to a halt.
Dozens of Taiz residents on Tuesday urged the government to take action, forming a human chain along the road — some of them carrying signs saying: “Save Taiz’s Lifeline.”

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500,000 inhabitants of Taiz, which is besieged by the Iran-backed Houthis, depend on the 7-km stretch of crater-filled road for survival.

“We demand the legitimate government and local administration accelerate efforts to maintain and fix the road,” said one of the protesters, Abdeljaber Numan.
“This is the only road that connects Taiz with the outside world, and the blocking of this artery would threaten the city.”
Sultan Al-Dahbaly, who is responsible for road maintenance in the local administration, said the closure of the road would represent a “humanitarian disaster” in a country already in crisis and where the majority of the population is dependent on aid.
“It is considered a lifeline of the city of Taiz, and it must be serviced as soon as possible because about 5 million people (in the province) would be affected,” he told AFP.

Humanitarian aid
Meanwhile, Yemen’s president on Thursday urged his government’s rival, the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, to stop impeding the flow of urgently needed humanitarian aid following a warning from the UN humanitarian chief last week that “the specter of famine” has returned to the conflict-torn country.
President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s plea came in a prerecorded speech to the UN General Assembly’s ministerial meeting being held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It aired more than a week after Human Rights Watch warned that all sides in Yemen’s conflict were interfering with the arrival of food, health care supplies, water and sanitation support.