Journalist tells of harassment in UAE

The saga of the UAE and its harassment of critics continues. Last week it emerged that two Americans who publicly criticised the exploitation of migrant workers in the Emirates had found themselves under investigation by a private detective who was looking for people to say negative things about them.

One of those under investigation was Ariel Kaminer, a former New York Times journalist, who worked with an Emirates-based reporter, Sean O’Driscoll, on a story about the exploitation of migrant workers building New York University's campus in Abu Dhabi. In an interview with Newsweek, O'Driscoll has now given a detailed account of the harassment he faced in the UAE before he was eventually deported last October.

O'Driscoll says his car tailed for months and he suspects his movements were also tracked through his mobile phone. But it was a stick-and-carrot approach. He says he was also offered money and privileged treatment by police if he would write favourable articles about the UAE and spy on other foreign journalists.

The Newsweek article says:

Shortly after the Times published O’Driscoll’s and Kaminer’s investigation, O’Driscoll was given trouble at the local daily newspaper where he was employed as a staff reporter. The government had threatened the paper: Either publish an apology for the Times piece that includes O’Driscoll repenting and claiming the story was fabricated from lies, or the newspaper would be forced to close.

O’Driscoll was horrified, and made it clear that he would resign his post if the newspaper published any apology or untrue story under his name. Ultimately, the paper chose to run a story – under his byline – that was neither an apology nor a denouncement of the Times story, but instead reported the government’s view of the conditions for the workers constructing the Guggenheim, the Louvre and other institutions on Saadiyat Island ...

O’Driscoll resigned from the paper the same day the article appeared.

A week later, he was summoned by Abu Dhabi's police department to meet the chief of Security Media. The article continues:

O’Driscoll was nervous, but the conversation took an unexpected turn: He was told he was to become a spy for the government, and in the process become very rich. 

"They said that from now on I was to be put on the payroll for the police and that I would be spying on foreign journalists coming into the UAE,"he says. "I'd write a monthly report for the police and pass it on. I was to take foreign journalists out for drinks and figure out what they were doing in the UAE, and report all this back to the police."

The police didn’t discuss figures, he says, "but the spokesperson for Abu Dhabi police said it would be, the exact phrase was, 'Some fucking good money'."

In addition to spying on journalists, O’Driscoll would be writing favourable articles about the UAE in the foreign press ...

"They said that in exchange ... I would also get criminal immunity – not just for the article, but like if I punched somebody in a pub, they’d make that go away. Or, the other example was, if I had a drunk driving offencxe that didn’t hurt anybody – one phone call and that would go away. They also said they could call my employer and get me more holiday time."

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have been facing persistent online harassment as a result of articles I wrote about two strange "human rights" organisations which have links to the UAE.

One was the International Gulf Organization (IGO), based in Switzerland, which describes itself as a "non-governmental organisation dedicated to implementing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at regional and international levels". Last month IGO published a vitriolic attack on Human Rights Watch which it accused of "targeting" the UAE in its annual World Report.

The other organisation is the Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD), based in Norway, which also has links to the UAE and promotes an unusually favourable view of human rights there.  

The harassment, which began in mid-February and was still continuing yesterday, has included repeated attempts to hack my Twitter and Facebook accounts, the creation of fake online profiles using my name or photograph, and the use of hundreds of fake Twitter accounts to post false and defamatory allegations about me. The full story is here.   
Posted by Brian Whitaker
Wednesday, 1 April 2015