UAE warns of heavy penalties for sharing social media drug posts

Officials can trace people who have shared or forwarded messages about illegal narcotics

Dubai Customs seize bags of Captagon tablets in a raid in 2021. Officials say social media is increasingly being used to sell drugs. Photo: Dubai Customs
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Social media users face large fines and jail time for sharing or forwarding adverts from people selling illegal drugs.

People caught doing so could be fined Dh1 million ($272,250) or given a prison sentence of up to three years.

This includes reposting a message or sharing a tweet about the availability or sale of drugs.

Last week, the UAE downgraded penalties for drug and alcohol misuse in some circumstances. But selling or trafficking drugs can lead to years in jail. Prosecutors can push for the death penalty for drug dealing, which is rarely used.

We have seen people in their 60s and in their early teens use them. Amphetamines are currently the biggest problem
Mohamed Rashed Al Dhanhani, director of Abu Dhabi Community and Legal Awareness Centre

To drive the message home, a new anti-drug campaign by the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department shows how social media can be used to encourage young people to try illicit substances.

The sale and distribution of banned drugs online are illegal, as a physical sale is, and come under the UAE’s Cybercrimes and Anti-Rumour Law, Mohamed Rashed Al Dhanhani, director of Abu Dhabi Community and Legal Awareness Centre, told The National.

"People wrongly assume that only the physical sale of narcotics is punishable by law and that reposting or sharing is harmless," he said.

“Many times, it is the people who repost, share or retweet about this material that lead us to the addicts and the dealers.”

Mr Al Dhanhani urged parents to keep a watch over their children's social media activities.

He said there are cases of drugs being used by children in their early teens, who learnt of their availability from WhatsApp groups and social media posts.

“Drug use knows no nationality or age, we have seen people in their 60s and in their early teens use them," Mr Al Dhanhani said. "And there is no specific drug that they use but amphetamines [psychostimulant drugs] are currently the biggest problem.

"Every illicit drug and every user, regardless of age or race, concerns us.”

He said the main focus was to rehabilitate drug users, not punish them.

Last week, the country's attorney general announced a series of new laws that reduced penalties for drug use.

Under the new legislation, the courts were given the power to deal with more offences with fines instead of jail sentences.

Someone caught with drugs would be fined between Dh10,000 and Dh30,000 if it was their first offence, rising to Dh50,000 for their third.

In January 2022, minimum sentences for drug use were cut, mandatory deportation for non-citizens caught with drugs was dropped and an emphasis was placed on rehabilitation. People caught with products containing cannabis or CBD oil now have the items confiscated rather than being prosecuted.

Foreigners are now referred to rehabilitation rather than being deported for drug use.

“Before giving a judgment, judges will still look at the foreigner's circumstances — whether they have a stable job, a family and permanent residence in the UAE and if this is their first offence. If they do, then they would most probably be referred to a rehabilitation centre and will have to undergo regular drug tests,” Mr Al Dhanhani said.

The majority of drug traffickers are from overseas but foreigners make up a minority of drug users in the UAE.

Tough laws remain in place for drug smuggling, with a minimum sentence of five years and a maximum death penalty, if pursued by prosecutors.

“Judges would rather refer a person to rehabilitation than have him jailed,” Mr Al Dhanhani said.

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Updated: June 08, 2022, 10:18 AM