Disturbing report in today’s The National newspaper about the laws in Abu Dhabi that allow tourists to be arrested for taking pictures in the wrong places. Here’s one tale:

An Iranian visitor to the UAE, RAS, was sentenced to a month in prison last week for taking a photo close to the Presidential Palace in Ras al Akhdar, near the Corniche. He told the court he had not seen any warnings against photography.

When The National visited the area yesterday there was a sign on the wall of the palace. The red placard, about half a metre wide, was placed on a wall behind trees. The sign reads: “No trespassing, no photography”, in Arabic.

According to his cousin, RAS had been visiting relatives in Sharjah and was advised to visit Abu Dhabi, especially the Corniche area. He was walking behind the Emirates Palace hotel towards the beach, his cousin said, and was taking photographs along the way. It was hard for him to notice the sign, the cousin said.

Prosecutors say RAS took the photograph from the roundabout between the hotel and the Presidential Palace. He has been in jail since he was arrested about three months ago.

Well, that’s not exactly tourist-friendly. Efforts to turn Abu Dhabi into a tourist destination appear to conflict with these archaic and nebulous photography laws. The article noted that a judge told prosecutors that the government needed to make it more clear where exactly it’s illegal to snap pictures. Sounds like a good idea.

JOURNALISTIC QUIBBLE: The UAE has tough libel laws that allow suspects in a crime to sue for libel is they’re later exonerated. This leads most crime reports to use initials rather than names. Given that the cousin of “RAS” is speaking to the newspaper, there seems to be no reason for his identity to be shielded.