Human rights groups asked three Gulf Arab states to lift bans on free internet calls to assist their massive migrant workforces to stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic. For a long time, Oman, Qatar and the UAE have blocked many voice and video calling apps to safeguard the commercial interests of state-owned telecoms.
The Rights Groups told that “This has caused serious problems for the people living in those countries, especially the majority of migrant workers and foreign national residents who need to connect and communicate with their families and communities overseas,”
Human Rights Groups urged Gulf states to lift bans on free internet calls amid coronavirus
A major portion of the estimated 17 million people residing in the three Gulf states is emigrant population. Among them, the majority are low paid workers from Asia.
In retort to the Coronavirus pandemic, the UAE and Oman have lifted restrictions on some calling apps but on a brief basis. They have unblocked applications that offer distance learning such as Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, Google Hangouts, and Zoom. Microsoft Teams and Zoom are also operational in Qatar.
State-owned telecom companies in the UAE have also launched a new app, UAE Voice, that enables free video and audio calls. Though famous apps blocked WhatsApp, Skype and FaceTime remain blocked, in spite of persistent calls for a change of policy to face the coronavirus pandemic.
Human Rights Watch and 28 other civil society groups said in a joint statement. “Denying the Gulf population access to these platforms puts people at serious risk, as this cuts them off from their communities abroad and the resources they need in times of such crisis,”
Although UAE wishes to become a major technological power but still has harsh cybercrime laws and keeps what civil society groups declare a high level of online restrictions and surveillance.