Hate speech: UAE announces law criminalising religious hatred

Stoking religious hatred is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of Dirhams 50,000 to 2m

Sundar Waqar July 27, 2015
The law prohibits any act that would be considered as insulting God, his prophets or apostles or holy books or houses of worship or graveyards. PHOTO: REUTERS

KARACHI: United Arab Emirates (UAE) has enacted an anti-discriminatory law criminalising insulting and stoking religious hatred making anyone guilty of the acts punishable for up to 10 years in prison and a fine of 50,000 Dirhams to two million Dirhams.

The Middle East paper reported that the anti-discriminatory law, issued following a decree by President Sheikh Khalifa, criminalises all forms of discrimination on the grounds of religion, caste, creed, doctrine, race, colour or ethnic origin on social media or otherwise.

The law covers speech and the written word, books, pamphlets via online media and also includes provisions for punishing anyone for terming other religious groups or individuals as infidels, or unbelievers, according to state news agency Wam.

The law is intended to provide a “sound foundation for the environment of tolerance, broad” mindedness and acceptance in the UAE and aims to safeguard people regardless of their origin, beliefs or race, against acts that promote religious hate and intolerance?.

Violation of the law entails penalties such as jail terms ranging from six months to more than 10 years and fines from Dh50,000 to Dh2 million.

The law prohibits any act that would be considered as insulting God, his prophets or apostles or holy books or houses of worship or graveyards. It also has provisions to fight discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of religion, caste, doctrine, race, colour or ethnic origin.

The law condemns actions that would comprise hate speech or the promotion of discrimination or violence against others using any form of media, including online, print, radio or visual media.

“Strict action will be taken against any form of expressions of hatred or incitement to hate crimes spread in the form of speech and published media,” Wam reported.

Further it said, “The law also criminalises any act that amounts to abuse of religion or vandalism of religious rituals, holy sites or symbols, and takes a serious view of violence on the basis of religious doctrines.”

“The law prohibits any entity or group established specifically to provoke religious hatred and recommends stringent punishments for groups or supporters of any organisations or individuals that are associated with hate crimes.”

Further, the law bars any kind of events such as conferences and meetings within the UAE organised with the sole purpose of sowing seeds of discrimination, discord or hatred against individuals or groups on the basis of faith, origin or race. Receiving financial support for such activities is also punishable under the new law.

The law encourages anyone involved in any activity that violates the law to voluntarily submit themselves before the authorities and has provisions allowing the courts to waive penalties in such cases.

Deportation for taking pictures without consent Earlier, it was reported that expatriates in the UAE have been warned that they may face deportation if they possess on their electronic devices pictures of people taken without their consent, The National reported.

“Simply possessing on an electronic device a photo taken without the subject’s consent is an offence for which expatriates could be deported,” a leading prosecutor said.

Further, head of the family prosecution service in Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Al Dhanhani, said more people were being ordered to leave the UAE because they had insulted their spouse on messaging platforms such as WhatsApp.

“We have received 10 such cases since the beginning of the year,” he said.

Dhanhani said previous law covered only photos taken in private places but now it has been extended and if any person in any place claims a photo was taken without their consent, there can be a prosecution.

The new law also specifies automatic deportation for any expatriate convicted of breaking it, even if the accuser withdraws the complaint. “If the judge does not issue a deportation order, the verdict is considered invalid and public prosecution appeals it,” Dhanhani said.

However, prosecutors do not automatically accept an accuser’s claim that a photo was taken without their permission. “During investigations it becomes obvious if the person agreed to it or not.”

Dhanhani said many people were unaware of how the law applied to photos. “If I took a picture and sent it to my friend via WhatsApp, for instance, and he saved it on his phone, he could be prosecuted even if he did not do anything with it.”

The 2012 cybercrime law has been brought into limelight once again following the deportation of an Australian woman from Abu Dhabi after being sent to jail for cybercrimes after “writing bad words on social media.”

Jodi Magi, 39, had posted a photo on Facebook in February of a car illegally parked across two disabled spots. The picture was allegedly accompanied by “insulting, degrading remarks.” The complaint was made by the vehicle’s owner, a European. Magi admitted to having posted the photo, but denied having written the incriminating text.

However, while some support the law others oppose it. Head of social media at the advisory company Al Sayegh Media, Hussein Abdullah, said, “I see these cases are being blown out of proportion and this is the first case I have heard so much of since social media started here.”

The 2012 law says that breaching someone’s privacy by copying, saving or publishing their photo or personal data using an electronic device is an offence punishable by at least six months in prison and/or a fine of up to Dh500,000, even if the photo was taken in a public place.

Recently the UAE’s Vice-President and Prime Minister and the Ruler of Dubai Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum attended a workshop titled “Social Media Networks: Culture of Use and Limits of Responsibility” organised by Dubai Press Club, according to Gulf News.


Ven | 8 years ago | Reply Does these laws apply to people who insult other religions too or just islam?
Pakistani Sindhi | 8 years ago | Reply ...and I am pretty much sure that the UAE laws on Hate-speech will be (already) the toughest, given, how the country is generally ruled with iron-fist.
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