The UAE's Al-Roeya newspaper has sacked employees en masse following the publication of a story this summer in the paper's print edition over the rising fuel prices in the country and its impact on Emirati citizens.
Within days of the story, senior editors were interrogated and within weeks there were dozens of layoffs with the paper's print edition declared dissolved, according to AP.
The incident raises fresh concerns over censorship in the country which is already known for its strict press laws. In spite of this, the newspaper's editors deemed the story about high fuel prices as safe.
According to Al-Roeya's publisher, the Abu Dhabi-based International Media Investments (IMI), the newspaper was shut down because it was being transformed into an Arabic language business outlet with CNN. IMI is owned by Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the brother of UAE's President Mohammed Bin Zayed.
"Al Roeya interviewed Emiratis who had resorted to cost-saving measures. A few citizens living near the border with #Oman, where drivers pay half as much for fuel as in the #UAE due to government subsidies, told Al Roeya they crossed into the sultanate to fill up their cars." https://t.co/wfKn6nJVGY
— Giorgio Cafiero (@GiorgioCafiero) September 13, 2022
However, eight people said to have direct knowledge of the mass firings informed AP that the layoffs were a result of the seemingly controversial article on fuel prices.
Some of the journalists who spoke with Lebanese news website Raseef22, which was one of the first outlets to reveal the mass sacking last week said that Emirati officials were displeased with the report. One of them disclosed that some 60 people lost their jobs, while AP claims as many as 90 journalists were laid off.
The UAE, unlike its Gulf neighbours, has phased out fuel subsidies, noted AP yesterday. This has reportedly affected Emirati citizens used to cheap fuel and "cradle-to-the-grave welfare".
Al-Roeya interviewed Emiratis who had resorted to cost-saving measures, some of which included crossing the border to the sultanate of Oman to fill up their cars while others even got extra fuel tanks fitted on their vehicles.
"The UAE touts itself as liberal and open to business while continuing its repression," Cathryn Grothe, a Middle East research analyst at the Washington-based group Freedom House told the AP.
"Censorship is rampant, online and offline … It limits the work that journalists are able to do."
The UAE ranks 138 out of 180 countries in the world press freedom index published annually by Reporters Without Borders.