UAE passes laws to further restrict civic space


In October, the United Arab Emirates government passed Federal Law Decree 7/2016, which amended the country's criminal code. The new amendments further undermine respect for the freedom to form and operate civil society organisastions, which is already severely restricted in the UAE.

According to the new decree, anyone found guilty of establishing an organisation aimed at 'overthrowing the government' or 'fighting against constitutional principles' will face the death penalty or life imprisonment. Organisations that endanger state security are also outlawed. Civil society organisations are extremely concerned that this law will be also used to silence peaceful assemblies in the UAE.


Newly introduced amendments to the criminal code also threaten the freedom of expression in the UAE by punishing anyone who 'insults the president of the UAE' with between 15 and 25 years in prison. The Emirates' authorities have also continued to restrict the freedom of expression by targetting human rights defenders and other individuals speaking up or using the media for their work. According to Amnesty International, on 31st October the Supreme Federal Court  ruled against Amina ‘Abdouli, who was then sentenced to five years in prison for opening and running two Twitter accounts and publishing information allegedly aimed at inciting hatred against the state and disturbing public order. She was also accused of mocking and damaging the reputation of state institutions; publishing 'false' information about Saudi Arabia and making derogatory remarks about an Egyptian official with the alleged purpose of endangering the country’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Ahead of the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi, Amnesty International renewed its calls for the release of a group of peaceful human rights defenders and dissidents – known as the UAE94 - who have been imprisoned since 2012. The organisation's Middle East Deputy Director of Campaigns, Samah Hadid, said:

'This weekend, as sports fans around the world turn their eyes to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, which is hosting the season finale of the Formula 1 Grand Prix, the country’s appalling human rights record continues to escape scrutiny.

Do spectators know that behind the glamorous façade, people are being arrested and tortured for voicing criticism of the government? Or that enforced disappearances go unchecked, with families often going months without knowledge of their loved ones’ whereabouts? Or that over 60 political prisoners remain behind bars following unfair trials?

The show of fast cars and celebrities is nothing more than a distraction from an ongoing human rights crisis.'

On 5th December, a court in the UAE transferred the case of Emirati academic Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith to the Federal Appeal Court. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights reports that, while the human rights defender remains in prison and has been denied release on bail, the transfer of his case means that he now enjoys the right to appeal. No date has yet been set for his hearing at the Federal Appeal Court.