The Doha skyline, pictured in May 2019. The Qatari Emir this month approved a law on 'false news' that carries a potential five-year prison sentence. (AP/Kamran Jebreili)

Qatar changes penal code to include ‘false news’ law

January 21, 2020 3:09 PM ET

New York, January 21, 2020—Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani amended Article 136 of the country’s penal code to make the publication or sharing of “false news” punishable by up to five years in prison or a 100,000 Qatari riyal fine (US$27,473), according to the Beirut-based Gulf Center for Human Rights. Details of the law, which the emir approved January 8, were made public in a January 19 PDF published on the Ministry of Justice’s website.

“Instead of standing up for press freedom in the Gulf region, where the free flow of information is under threat, Qatari authorities have jumped on the ‘false news’ bandwagon,” CPJ Senior Middle East and North Africa Researcher Justin Shilad said. “Qatar should rescind this repressive law and focus instead on legislation that enshrines press freedom in line with its international human rights law commitments.”

Qatar signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights last year, which includes commitments to uphold freedom of expression, the state-run Qatari newspaper The Peninsula reported. The Gulf nation is embroiled in a diplomatic dispute with several countries in the region that have taken steps to censor anyone publishing comments deemed sympathetic to Qatar, CPJ has found.

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