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UAE reporter detained for leaked pre-game comments before World Cup qualifier

Emirati authorities hold journalist for remarks that ‘harm the public interest,’ made off-air ahead of Iraq game

Illustrative -- Under the images of UAE leaders, Brazil's players train during a practice session in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Nov. 12, 2019 (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Illustrative -- Under the images of UAE leaders, Brazil's players train during a practice session in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Nov. 12, 2019 (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

DUABI — The United Arab Emirates said Friday it had detained a journalist after comments they made off the air ahead of a televised international soccer match were hacked and posted online.

The incident occurred shortly before the state-run Abu Dhabi Sports channel’s live broadcast of the UAE-Iraq World Cup qualifying match on October 12.

The journalist, who was not identified, was accused of “uttering words which would harm the public interest in the country,” the official news agency WAM said.

Other suspects were arrested before being released on bail, WAM said, citing the public prosecution for cybersecurity crimes.

“An audio and video clip circulated online showed the accused exchanging conversations… before the live broadcast,” the news agency said.

“The broadcast reception unit in the TV building was hacked, and the published clips were seized and broadcast on some social media platforms.”

The report said the content of their conversation would “violate public morals, harm public interest, and incite hate speech.”

The charges faced by the journalist could carry a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine up to 500,000 dirhams ($136,131).

An investigation into the hacking had been launched, and three people involved in the broadcast were fired over the incident, WAM reported.

The UAE is a nation of autocratic rulers where speech is strictly monitored. Emiratis online have encouraged fellow citizens to report comments critical of the country to law enforcement in the past amid the country’s yearslong boycott of Qatar with other Arab nations. That boycott ended in January. Qatar will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

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