Middle East

UAE’s legal reforms are ‘consolidating repression’

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticised the wide-ranging legal changes introduced by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in late 2021, saying they fail to address the longstanding and systematic restrictions on citizens’ and residents’ civil and political rights.

“The new laws maintain previous provisions and include new ones that pose grave threats to fundamental human rights,” HRW said in a statement yesterday.

According to the rights group, the legal changes introduced in November cover amendments to over 40 laws including on crime and punishment, cybercrimes and drugs, aiming “to strengthen economic, investment and commercial opportunities, in addition to maximising social stability, security and ensuring the rights of both individuals and institutions.”

“While the changes allow for a moderate broadening of personal freedoms, the new legal framework retains severe restrictions on the rights to free expression, association, and assembly,” it added.

The statement quoted HRW’s Deputy Middle East Director, Michael Page, as saying: “While the UAE government and its state-controlled media outlets trumpeted these new legislative changes as a massive step forward for economic and social freedoms, they will further entrench government-imposed repression.”

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“The UAE government has chosen to squander an opportunity to improve freedoms across the board and instead has doubled down on repression,” he added.

The laws continue to prohibit criticism of rulers and speech that is deemed to create or encourage social unrest, imposing severe penalties for vaguely defined charges, HRW explained, adding that they maintain provisions that “criminalise defamation and both verbal and written insults, whether published or made in private, as prosecutable offences.”

New provisions criminalise “false” and “misleading” information, sharing information with foreign groups or countries, and “offending foreign states.” Protests and demonstrations are still prohibited, it explained.

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