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United Arab Emirates: New Law Banning Discrimination

(July 22, 2015) On July 20, 2015, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) issued a law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion or ethnic identity. The law also bans discrimination on the grounds of caste, doctrine, color, or race. (Steven Wildberger, UAE Issues Religious Tolerance Law, PAPER CHASE (July 21, 2015).)

The Attorney-General of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi (one of the components of the UAE), Ali Mohammed Al Balushi, described the law as attempting to prevent divisions in the UAE’s diverse society and to protect all the people of the UAE in a manner consistent with international human rights law as well as with Arab civilization and Islamic civilization. (Anti-Discriminatory Law to Thwart Any Attempt to Sow Seeds of Division in Country’s Cohesive, Diverse Society, Says Abu Dhabi Attorney-General, WAM (Emirates News Agency) (July 20, 2015); United Arab Emirates, WORLD FACTBOOK (last updated July 15, 2015).)

The new law, issued by UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, makes it a crime to spread religious hatred or to insult religion, whether through speech, written media, or online. It punishes forms of hate speech that include calling other religious groups or persons infidels. In addition, it penalizes vandalism aimed at religious rituals, holy sites, and symbols. (Anti-Discriminatory Law to Thwart Any Attempt to Sow Seeds of Division in Country’s Cohesive, Diverse Society, Says Abu Dhabi Attorney-General, supra.) The penalties that may be imposed for all the actions considered crimes in the law include imprisonment for from six months to over ten years and fines of from AED50,000 to AED2 million (about US$13,600-$544,500). (UAE Law Combats Religious and Ethnic Intolerance, STAR (July 20, 2015); New UAE Law: 10 Years’ Jail for Hate Crimes and Discrimination, GULF NEWS (July 21, 2015).)

The law also targets groups or other entities designed specifically to provoke hatred and provides for punishment of such groups or their supporters if they are associated with hate crimes. Meetings and conferences of any kind that are set up solely to encourage discrimination or hatred based on religion, ethnic origin, or race are prohibited; receiving funds to support such events may also be punished. Penalties may be waived by the courts if an individual involved in activities banned by the law comes forward voluntarily. (New UAE Law: 10 Years’ Jail for Hate Crimes and Discrimination, supra.)

The issuance of the new legislation follows growing concern in the country about the actions of the Islamic State and other extreme groups. (UAE Law Combats Religious and Ethnic Intolerance, supra.) In June of this year, in another show of opposition to extremists, the UAE sentenced Ala’a Badr Abdullah al-Hasemi to death in response to her killing of an American teacher; she was executed in the second week of July. (Wildberger, supra.)