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A UAE court has sentenced two people, including a television journalist, to two years imprisonment over a “fabricated” report on the Covid-19 deaths of five members of one family, state media has reported.
An investigation into the report, aired on the Abu Dhabi Sports Channel, quickly determined that it was false, authorities said in August.
“This incident negatively affected society, afflicted members of the community and left them in a state of confusion and fear of the outbreak,” prosecutors said at the time.
According to official news agency WAM, “the Abu Dhabi federal court of appeal sentenced two defendants to two years in prison after convicting them of broadcasting a fabricated story about the death of five members of the same family from Covid-19”.
The channel’s correspondent, who is a resident in the United Arab Emirates, will be “expelled” at the end of his sentence, it added, without specifying his nationality.
The other defendant was not named, but newspaper reports said he was the interviewee in the story, which was widely shared on social media. His nationality was not specified either.
The United Arab Emirates, of which Abu Dhabi is the capital, has recorded more than 138,000 coronavirus infections, including 508 deaths.
The country, which prides itself on having managed the crisis decisively and effectively, regularly calls on the media to rely on official information and not spread “fake news” about the pandemic.
Abu Dhabi Media, a government agency that owns several channels, including the Abu Dhabi Sports Channel, was not available for comment when contacted by AFP.
Reporters Without Borders ranks the UAE 131st in its 180-country World Press Freedom Index, saying journalists face long jail terms for offences like “defamation, insulting the state or posting false information with the aim of damaging the country’s reputation”.