Last year the UAE spent over half a million dollars to obtain and install spyware for the purpose of monitoring human rights activists and journalist.
The UAE is a country keenly concerned about its global image; the government has worked hard over the past 15 years to present the Emirates as a shining example of forward-thinking, development, and prosperity in the Middle East; but too often, this image acts as a curtain covering what is essentially an authoritarian state in which human rights violations, abuse, and substandard legal processes abound.
It is not surprising, therefore, that human rights activists would be viewed by the government as potential enemies; they discover and expose the less-than-pleasant realities which drastically contrast with the public image of the UAE -- the first country in the world to appoint a "Minister of Happiness". And, of course, journalists are a vital instrument for either sustaining, or undoing that public image.
Spying is a hostile act, it reveals the fundamentally antagonistic attitude of the government towards anyone who may be interested in investigating and publicising misconduct by the police, judiciary, or intelligence and security agencies of the state. The mere fact that such surveillance is taking place will inevitably have a censoring effect. Activist and journalists will hesitate to dig deeper into allegations of abuse, and will be reluctant to publish such information, for fear of retribution.
Human rights activists, and the journalists they work with, let's remember, are in fact, serving the best interests of the government and the society; they are not enemies of the state. Through their investigations and advocacy, they strive to improve conditions in the country, positively reform the mechanisms of government, and rid the state of the blemishes of abuse. When the government views such helpful people as foes, rather than viewing as foes those who commit abuses, one cannot help but feel that they are protecting those whom they should prosecute, and persecuting those whom they should protest and support.