A programme set up by the British government awards one youth journalist living in the UAE, a country where there are severe limits on press freedom.

The British government has been criticised for launching a journalism award to celebrate the UAE’s Year of Tolerance.

Announced by London’s embassy in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, organisers of the UAE Young Journalism Award lavish praise on the Gulf state for creating “an appetite for storytelling and news that has paved the way for the establishment of various news organisations including The National.”

It rewards one winner with a day’s work experience at the UAE-based National newspaper, as well a day at the British Embassy.

To enter, participants are asked to submit a 600-word article but are urged “to follow the laws of the UAE” when doing so.

Hiba Zayadin of Human Rights Watch said the UK was "helping whitewash" the UAE government.

"It is not just ironic to host such an initiative in one of the world's most repressive countries, but downright irresponsible," Zayadin told the UK-based Middle East Eye.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranks the UAE at 133 on its Press Freedom Index and notes that journalists have been arrested and imprisoned after falling foul of the authorities there. It adds that articles that criticise the country’s rulers are subject to censorship.

The UAE is frequently criticised by foreign media outlets for human rights abuses, its foreign policy, as well as heavy surveillance of citizens and residents alike.

On social media, the UK’s initiative was slammed for ‘whitewashing’ the UAE’s rights record.

“#UK is not only selling arms to #UAE to commit #HumanRights violations and #WarCrime but also doing its PR work & promoting 'tolerant' UAE through #journalism contest while activists are jailed over tweets!” The Association For Victims Of Torture In UAE wrote on Twitter.

The UK is one of the Gulf state’s strongest allies, with strong economic and military cooperation between the two.

Over the past three years, British arms companies have secured export licenses worth £462m ($575m).

Abu Dhabi and six other emirates secured independence from the UK in 1971, going on to unite as a federation.

Source: TRT World