Abu Dhabi: With more than 200 nationalities successfully co-existing in the UAE, the anti-hate speech law, decreed by President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, will safeguard the country and its people against bigotry and hatred speech that leads to extremism and violence,” Dr Mohammad Bin Howaidin, chairman of the political science department at the UAE University, said.
Dr Bin Howaidin stressed that religions are practised freely in the UAE and the Government works hard to prevent extremism and warn people about its dangers — and this legislation comes in that context.
The law criminalises any acts that stoke religious hatred or that might insult religion through any form of expression, be it speech or the written word, books, pamphlets or in online media platforms.
The law, which will be enforced a month after it is published in the official gazette, also includes provisions for punishing anyone for terming other religious groups or individuals as infidels or unbelievers.
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.
Penalties for violation of the various provisions of the law include jail terms of six months to over 10 years and fines ranging from Dh50,000 to Dh2 million.
Dr Bin Howaidin said criminalising speech that insults, defames or incites hatred, discrimination or violence on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, disability or sex is a remarkable testimony to the strength of belief and hope the UAE holds in the face of bigotry and violence — a goal towards which the international community should seek to contribute.
He argued that condemning and containing bigotry and hate speech at the same time is key to preventing terrorism.
“The law comes at a time when racism and hatred of foreigners are all rising in an unbearable way in the troubled Middle East and across the world,” Dr Bin Howaidin said.
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, however, 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.
The law condemns actions that 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 expression of hatred or incitement to hate crimes spread in the form of speech and published media.
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. It also 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 new law does not contradict any other existing laws meant to protect specially privileged groups in the society such as women, children and individuals with disabilities or others.
Dr Theodore Karasik, a UAE-based geopolitical analyst, said the UAE is a moderate, advanced, peace-loving nation where its inhabitants practise cosmopolitanism.
“This new anti-hate law serves as a model for the rest of the world at a time when hate is spreading across the region and the globe,” Dr Karasik said. “It is necessary and innovative as it halts the etiology of cultural, racial and religious differences.”
Dr Karasik stressed the UAE anti-hate law is well-timed and far-reaching.
“Not only does the new law enforce tolerance on those who harbour hate but also puts the UAE ahead of any other country in the world in terms of stifling anger over ‘those who may be different’ through stereotypes. There is no space in the UAE for this type of behaviour because the phenomena is counterproductive, hurtful, and demeaning,” he told Gulf News.
Dr Karasik said other countries suffer daily from hatred which can take many forms, either through violence, voice, or cyberspace in terms of cyber-bullying and posts on social media.
The law, he said, brings the concept of social security to a new level that protects everyone in the UAE.
“The proliferation of hate groups is testimony to the trend accompanied by a lacklustre response in key countries to fight this scourge,” Dr Karasik said. “Hate is a driver of social destruction not only in terms of race and ethnic relations, but also between religions. Hate is intense, long-lasting, and demands retaliation or redress. Hate, in other words, clouds reason. Clearly, hatred leads to extremism which manifests itself across a broad spectrum of belief systems and cultures. But the UAE inhabitants don’t have time for this type of discourse. Besides, it’s shameful,” he said.