The United Arab Emirates has introduced ground breaking legislation with the issue of a new law against any form of discrimination on the basis of religion, caste, creed, doctrine, race, colour or ethnic origin. The move is in line with the country’s stance of encouraging religious tolerance in Emirati society, which is predominantly Muslim.
The new law criminalises any act that may stoke religious hatred or which insult any creed of religion, through speech, the written word, or online media. The law includes provisions for punishing anyone terming other religious groups or individuals ‘infidels’, or ‘unbelievers’.
The law is intended to provide a sound foundation on which to continue to nurture an environment of tolerance and acceptance in the UAE and aims to safeguard all people regardless of their origin, beliefs or race, against acts that promote religious hate, bigotry and intolerance.
Speaking to The Middle East Online a Roman Catholic priest of the collective Christian churches situated in Abu Dhabi explained that the UAE has a policy of tolerance and transparency towards allowing the celebration of mass. “Christians, Jews and Muslims are all regarded as part of a time honoured network of religious beliefs and their views are respected here”, the priest confirmed.
Penalties for violation of the various provisions of the law include jail-terms of between six months and more than 10 years, as well as fines of between AED50,000 to AED2 million ($13,600-$545,000). Although an Islamic state, the UAE is a strong advocate of allowing believers of different religions to practise their faith unhindered and is home to a number of Christian churches.
Writing in The National newspaper, Peter Hellyer noted: “The new ‘Law against Hate Crimes and Discrimination’ is to be welcomed. It will not prevent people from holding intolerant and discriminatory views, but it will make the public expression of them subject to the full force of the law. At first glance, it resembles the first Race Relations Act in Britain, passed in 1965, which outlawed discrimination in public places, though the UAE law has much stronger penalties. Intolerant views are still held in Britain, but the public expression of them is subject to legal action and tolerance is widely accepted as being the norm. Perhaps over time that will come to be the case in the UAE. In the meantime, cracking down on intolerance and discrimination through the courts is an important step”.