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The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"Lee Ashurst has now lost his job, company flat and car, and faces charges that could land him in jail"
 real 28k

Monday, 26 June, 2000, 16:33 GMT 17:33 UK
Dubai 'hacker' denies all
Habib Mulla and Lee Ashurst
Lee Ashurst and his lawyer questioned at a news conference
A British man charged with hacking into the United Arab Emirates' internet system has denied the allegations against him.

Lee Ashurst, a 21-year old computer programmer from Manchester in England, says he is suing the local telecommunications company, Etisalat, for defamation and damages.


I have no idea what they are talking about, I am being used as a scapegoat

Lee Ashurst

Mr Ashurst has been charged with sabotaging the UAE's internet network and misusing equipment provided by the state-run telecommunications company.

Mr Ashurst is suspected of being part of a gang of hackers who penetrated Etisalat - the sole internet provider in the UAE - causing it to crash for long periods over the past three weeks.

Scapegoat

The Briton has denied trying to circumvent a firewall used by the UAE's internet provider to prevent people accessing pornography and other sites the authorities deem sensitive.

Etisalat logo
Etisalat is the sole internet provider in the UAE
"I have no idea what they (Etisalat) are talking about, I am being used as a scapegoat," Mr Ashurst told a news conference in Dubai.

"I have lost my job, my company car and apartment as a result of these accusations and I am suing Etisalat for defamation and damages."

Exactly what he did to fall under suspicion is not yet clear.

Making an example

The chief of police in Dubai, General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, has been quoted in local newspapers as saying that an example might be made of the suspected hacker to deter other acts of computer piracy.

If charged and convicted, Mr Ashurst could be sentenced to six months in prison or a 10,000 dirham ($2,700) fine under a 1991 law which relates to misuse of Etisalat's equipment, services and facilities.

The authorities in the UAE have been embarrassed by the case, which has given ammunition to local critics of the state's monopoly on telecommunications.

The UAE is also due to launch an internet city later this year, which will provide a free-trade zone for internet businesses.

A committee of independent experts is now reported to have been set up to help investigate the case.

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See also:

21 Jun 00 | Middle East
Suspected hacker arrested in Dubai
05 May 00 | Middle East
World's first e-mail divorce
30 Oct 99 | Middle East
Dubai launches cybercity
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