DUBAI // Fifteen abusive or defamatory Facebook and Twitter accounts were shut in the first three months of this year, including three last week, police have said.
Maj Saeed Al Hajri, the head of the electronic crime division of Dubai Police, said the websites agreed to close the accounts after being given evidence of the users' actions.
The move followed investigations by police electronic patrols.
Dubai Police yesterday said that social media websites were not routinely monitored but only scrutinised when there was a complaint.
"Electronic patrols do not monitor social media websites as they are considered the private matter of the account holder," said Maj Salem Obaid, deputy director of anti-electronic crimes at Dubai Police CID. "But in case of a defamation or abuse complaint, our patrols enter these accounts to prove the validity of the claim and collect evidence in the case."
Maj Gen Khamis Al Mazeina, the deputy chief of Dubai Police, stated last month that the routine monitoring of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter was considered a violation of UAE law, as it would infringe on personal freedom.
The issue of freedom of expression on social networks was highlighted in February when the Dubai Police chief, Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim, pursued a defamation case against a 42-year-old Emirati, alleging the man had defamed him on Twitter with unfounded accusations of corruption and injustice.
Judge Jamal Al Sumaiti, the head of the Dubai Judicial Institute, pointed out that the authors of insults on social networks were liable to prosecution under the law.
Maj Obaid said electronic police patrols have a heavy presence on the internet and closely monitor several chat forums to ensure they are not havens for exploitation, blackmail, stalking, pornography or narcotics.
"We are present around the clock on the internet and have a similar task of the actual patrols, where we work to discover and prevent many crimes, such as prostitution and drug selling," Maj Obaid said.
Electronic patrols were established in 2009 as part of the anti-electronic crimes department, which was set up as a unit in 2002 and transformed into a department in 2008.
In the first quarter of this year, the department dealt with 179 cases, including online defamation, blackmailing and abuse.
The department did not provide a breakdown of its cases or conviction rates.
The number of electronic crime cases investigated by Dubai Police has increased from 266 in 2010 to 596 last year.