Thousands of people in the UAE are believed to be using illegal satellite decoders Image Credit: © XPRESS / Ahmed Ramzan

DUBAI: Passports of residents using illegal decoders are being confiscated in a crackdown on satellite TV piracy, sending shivers down the spine of many Asian residents who have Dish TV at home, XPRESS has learnt.

A few days before the crackdown, warnings were posted at the entrances of some buildings in Bur Dubai and Karama, though not all the building residents were aware of the magnitude of the offence and the penalties.

Passports and Dish TV decoders of at least two Indian expatriates were confiscated in one building in Bur Dubai, XPRESS can confirm. "We were not aware that this would cause us big trouble," said the resident who confirmed his passport was confiscated, but requested that his name remain anonymous.

"My husband is now under a lot of pressure because of this," said a housewife in Bur Dubai. "He's really depressed about the whole thing. We are simple families. My husband had been told he needs to get a clearance from the courts to have his passport back, but at this point, we really don't know what will happen next."

Another family member on Wednesday said the passports were seized ten days ago, adding: "We don't know who seized the passports. We just gave it. They said a call will come."

It is not clear who confiscated the passports as both the police and Department of Economic Development (DED) denied they had anything to do with the sweep. "Dubai Police did not confiscate any passports, and it did not initiate any crackdown of this sort," said Major Rashid Bin Safwan, the head of CID media. "DED staff didn't confiscate Dish boxes in two flats in Bur Dubai," a DED spokesperson e-mailed XPRESS. Tens of thousands of homes in the UAE, especially among people from India and Pakistan, are believed to be tapping signals using illegal satellite TV decoders.

Illegal set-top boxes allow viewers access to Dish TV, Tata Sky, Sun Direct and similar services that include about 200 television channels — at a much cheaper cost than licensed services in the UAE. A cable TV industry estimate shows six in 10 South Asian families tap "overspill" TV signals from India, using boxes such as Dish TV. These operators offer their signals at a fraction of the cost of those offered by UAE-based providers such as eVision, ePehla, Arab Digital Distribution (ADD) and Orbit Showtime Network.

Many residents here bring their own boxes or decoders from India and pay subscription fees online. Facebook and Google throw up online ads for UAE residents to renew Dish TV subscriptions.

Earlier last year, about 50 buildings in Al Ghusais were raided by intellectual property enforcers as part of a drive to smoke out satellite TV piracy. Several people were arrested at that time.

It appears that the anti-piracy drive against illegal satellite TV is being conducted ahead of the forthcoming Euro 2012, the world's second-biggest soccer championship after the World Cup, when many will want to watch the matches.

Star Sports, ESPN, TEN Action are some of the channels which show these matches live to Indian audiences in the sub-continent through Dish TV.

In the past, raids on buildings and shops that use or sell illegal satellite TV receivers have pushed the business underground.

"If deportation is the penalty, half of this town will be gone at the end of this crackdown," said one resident who confirmed his passport had been taken by a anti-TV piracy team. Authorities had earlier warned of serious "consequences" — including a Dh20,000 fine and deportation — for both consumers and operators who rig cables to allow people to skip payments to watch premium channels

— With inputs from Habiba Abd Elaziz