Illegal?: A tourist taking picture of a lady posing in front of the Dubai Creek with the diplomatic missions in the background xpress/ATIQ-UR-REHMAN

DUBAI: Taking photographs of foreign diplomatic missions is a criminal offence punishable under the UAE law, top lawyers have cautioned.

Mustafa Zafeer OV, Managing Partner and Senior Lawyer at Mustafa and Almana Associates, said: “All foreign embassies and consulates within the state are the responsibility of the hosting country. So when pictures of such sensitive buildings are taken, it can be deemed a threat to state security, which may attract penal action under Article 168 of the UAE Penal Code or other provisions depending on the charges.”

Mohammad M.A. Hameed from Al Midfa and Associates, said: “Article 168 (2) of the Penal Code–Federal Law No 3 of 1987 clearly states that detention and a fine, or either one of these two penalties, shall be imposed upon anyone who photographs, films or makes drawings or maps of sites or places contrary to a prohibition issued by competent authorities.”

The need for public awareness about such legal provisions has come to the fore as tourists and residents alike freely take pictures of public places.

Only recently, a Korean who took photographs of the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi, saying its architecture caught his fancy, was reportedly arrested and taken to the state security court. Last May, three others also landed in jail after taking pictures of the Iraqi and Iranian missions.

Mustafa said: “Ignorance of the law in such cases is no defence. When a person is arrested, the plea that he is ignorant of the law will not stand in the state security court. But admitting a mistake can be considered a ground for a pardon depending on the circumstances of the case. Judges use their discretionary powers here. Article 98 of the Penal Code says if the judge finds the circumstances of the crime or those of the offender require mercy, he may reduce the punishment.”

He said the level of punishment depends on the charges. “If in an extreme case it is death, it can be reduced to life or temporary imprisonment. Similarly, if the penalty is six months confinement, it can be reduced to three months. Or if the punishment defined is three months’ confinement and a fine, the court may impose one of the two penalties.”

Zafeer said such provisions are not unique to the UAE. “Taking pictures of sensitive buildings is prohibited in all countries and cannot be taken lightly due to security concerns.”

The Travel.state.gov website, a service of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, US State Department, also states: “Taking photographs of potentially sensitive UAE military and civilian sites or foreign diplomatic missions — including the US Embassy or Consulate General — may result in arrest, detention, and/or prosecution by local authorities. In addition, engaging in mapping activities, especially mapping that includes the use of GPS equipment, without coordination with UAE authorities, may have the same consequences.”



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