Photography rules unclear, judge says

Two men are charged with taking photos of Yas Marina Circuit, but prosecutors say they do not know whether any signs prohibit the practice.

United Arab Emmirates - Abu Dhabi - Aug 29 - 2009 : Tourist visit Emirates Palace Hotel. ( Jaime Puebla / The National ) *** Local Caption ***  JP Tourist 01.jpg
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ABU DHABI // A state security judge ordered prosecutors today to clarify whether photos taken at Yas Marina Circuit were illegal, one of several recent cases underscoring ambiguity about photography rules in the capital.

"As a rule, a person is allowed to take photographs anywhere unless there is a sign stating it is illegal, a

nd unless it is customarily known that it is illegal to take photographs in the area," Chief Justice Shehab al Hammadi of the State Security Court told prosecutors in court.

Two Bangladeshi residents of Abu Dhabi, KM and SM, appeared before the State Security Court today charged with taking illegal photographs at Yas Marina Circuit. The two men were free on bail, but it could not be confirmed whether they had been in police custody.

Chief Justice al Hammadi asked them whether they had seen any signs prohibiting photography in the vicinity, and they said they had not.

The chief justice then asked the prosecutors present at the court if there was a sign at Yas Circuit, one of the UAE's premier tourist attractions, that banned photography.

"I do not know," the prosecutor said. "I will check with the person who wrote the report."

The chief justice then ordered prosecutors and police to clarify the issue.

The State Security Court has seen three such cases in the last month, and all the defendants said they had not seen any signs announcing a photography ban. Prosecutors insist signs were in place.

An Iranian man, RAS, in the Emirates on a visit visa, was sentenced last week to one month in prison because he took a photograph near the Presidential Palace in Ras al Akhdar, near the Corniche. He told the court he did not see any warnings against photography.

The National
visited the area today and confirmed a sign was present on the wall of the palace. The red placard, about a half-metre wide, was placed on a wall behind trees. The sign reads: "No trespassing, no photography" in Arabic.

According to his cousin, RAS was visiting relatives in Sharjah and was advised to visit Abu Dhabi, especially the Corniche area, which they said was "nice and neat". He was walking behind the Emirates Palace towards the beach, his cousin said, and was taking photographs along the way. It was hard for his cousin to notice the sign, the cousin said.

Prosecutors say RAS took the photograph from the roundabout between the Emirates Palace and the Presidential Palace. He has been in jail since he was arrested about three months ago.

In a separate case, a Japanese man was arrested two months ago on suspicion of taking a few photographs of electrical "machines and equipment" at the Khalifa Industrial Zone in Abu Dhabi, located in Taweelah near the border with Dubai.

And last year, a UAE resident was arrested and charged with photographing military installations near Abu Dhabi island after he stopped near the Sheikh Khalifa bridge to take a picture of the sunset.

All defendants pleaded guilty to taking photographs but they denied criminal intent.