ABU DHABI // Two men were convicted and fined yesterday for taking photos of the Yas Marina motorsport racing circuit.
The State Security Court rejected the argument of two Bangladeshi residents of Abu Dhabi, KM and SM, that the track - a premier tourist attraction - was commonly photographed and there were no signs prohibiting cameras.
"All people take photos there, we did not know it was forbidden," SM told the court through a translator.
Prosecutors insisted there were signs, and on that evidence the men were convicted. KM was fined Dh1,000 and SM Dh500.
The judgment is the latest in a series of rulings in which justices at the State Security Court, who preside over all illegal photography cases, have made it clear that the onus is on photographers to establish whether taking photos is legal.
An Iranian tourist was sentenced last week to a month in prison for taking photos of the Presidential Palace in Ras al Akhdar, near the Corniche. He spent three months in jail before the verdict. The man told the court he took photos of the palace out of "admiration of the structure of the building" and that he did not have any "bad intentions".
"Photography is prohibited around the palace due to the nature and sensitivity of the place as a presidential palace," Chief Justice Shehab al Hammadi of the State Security Court said in his ruling. "It does not avail the defendant to say he did not know. He should have inquired if it was not forbidden to take photos."
A Lebanese man was arrested six months ago taking a photo of the Capital Gate, the "leaning tower of Abu Dhabi", because he accidentally included part of a nearby embassy in his picture. Three months later he was acquitted of ny crime.
An Indian man was arrested last month for taking photos and videos of planes taking off, and of the control tower at Abu Dhabi International Airport. He told prosecutors he was an amateur photographer and wanted to keep the pictures as "commemorative photos". He said he did not see a sign prohibiting photography. The judges ruled that his confession was sufficient for a conviction, and he was fined Dh1,000.
An official at the Supreme Court said prohibiting photography must be done through a decree, and be clearly advertised with signs.
"Security agents or CCTV cameras would be in front of a prohibited place to make sure no one takes photos," the official said. Places where photography is automatically prohibited include embassies, royal palaces and security facilities.
The Dubai-based lawyer Dr Ali al Jarman said that by law, signs should be posted defining areas where photography was prohibited.
"In sensitive areas like military zones, diplomatic zones and areas that concern state security signs are posted by law in areas where photography is prohibited, but if no sign is present prosecutors have to show ill-intent by the person for the court to rule against them," he said.
Publishing images can be legally confusing as well, experts said. The Emirati lawyer Jousline Khairallah said that ownership of a photograph under UAE law belongs to the subject of the image, while copyright law gave ownership to the photographer.
Publishing news, photos or comments about the secrets, private or family life of individuals, even if the information is correct, is punishable under UAE law with a prison sentence and/or a fine.