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International Centre for Justice and Human Rights

UAE: Executions without fair trial guarantees and criminalization of

the right to freedom of opinion and expression in the new amendments of the Penal Code


Geneva, December 28, 2016


The United Arab Emirates authorities have added significant amendments to the Emirati Penal Code under the Federal Law number 7 for the year 2016 and the modifications included 130 articles, making it one of the huge changes that affected the UAE Penal Code.

Therefore, regarding these amendments, the International Centre for Justice and Human Rights would like to note that the UAE authorities have expanded the execution of the death penalty to a wide array of crimes including articles 149 and 149 bis (1) and 149 bis (2), 150, 151, 152, 153, 154, 155, 158,159, 160, 161, 164, 167, 175, 179, 180, 181, 187 and Article 332 of the Penal Code.

The crimes covered by the death penalty are too vague and open to interpretation which puts the UAE officials into a conflict with the International Efforts that aim at putting an end to the death penalty and are promoting its abolition since it is contrary to the right to life.

Indeed, the ICJHR expresses deep concern over the inclusion of the death penalty in more than one article of the Penal Code especially since there are no fair trials in the UAE or respect for relevant international standards in addition to the restrictions that are imposed on the detainees when interacting with their lawyers and the extraction of confessions under torture and the lack of judicial independence and transparency within the UAE. All of this was monitored by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Ms. Gabriela Knaul, during her visit to the UAE in 2014 when she confirmed the absence of separation between the executive and the judicial powers and the chairing of the Minister of Justice of the Supreme Council of the federal judiciary in clear violation of the basic principles on the independence of the judiciary, adopted by United Nations General Assembly resolutions 40/32, dated November 29, 1985 and 40/146 of 13 December 1985.

The ICJHR has also noticed the criminalization of the right to freedom of opinion and expression after the addition of a new article under the number 182 bis which states that: “a person shall be punished by imprisonment for a term not less than ten years, when he takes advantage of religion in promoting orally, in writing or in any other way ideas that may harm the unity or the social peace of the state." 

In fact, the ICJHR considers the amendment of Article 182 bis of the Penal Code as a violation to the right of freedom of opinion and expression, the right to freedom of thought and belief and the right to broadcast and receive ideas and opinions without any interference.

Consequently, UAE authorities did not ensure or protect the right to freedom of opinion and expression, which is one of the fundamental human rights adopted by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Arab Charter of Human Rights and the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam and the principles of Johannesburg on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information adopted by a group of experts met in South Africa on 1 October 1995 E / CN.4 / 1996/39.

Moreover, Emirati officials have deliberately amended the Articles of punishment and criminalization in a vague and general way so they can be able to prosecute politicians, activists and bloggers and imprison them for long periods; indeed, the modification of Article 182 bis lacks precise formulation that abides by the international standards adopted in democratic societies while restricting freedoms, mainly the standards of proportionality, subsidiarity and the legitimate objective.

In fact, there is no logic behind the use of some terms such as "sedition", "harming the unity" and "social peace" that could criminalize freedom of expression and opinion and open the door to arbitrary interpretation and abuse.

UAE authorities also control the public prosecution and the Emirati judiciary which enabled them to prosecute bloggers, human rights activists and politicians for blog posts and tweets on social networking sites after they were arbitrarily arrested and forcibly disappeared by the state security apparatus as well as subjected to torture and ill-treatment.  They were later tried before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court without having the necessary guarantees to defend themselves such as the cases of blogger and human rights activist Osama Najjar, blogger Mohammed Al Zomr, blogger Waleed Al Shehhi, blogger Saeed Klib, Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith, and the three sisters Asma, Mariem and Alyaziyah Al Suwaidi, Mozah Alabdouly and many others.

The International Centre for Justice and Human Rights in Geneva therefore calls upon the authorities of the United Arab Emirates to:

  1. Review the amendments added to the UAE Penal Code which may hinder the freedom of expression and refrain from the excessive use of the death penalty.
  2. Review Emirati legislations especially those that impair the basic rights and freedoms and make them consistent with international human rights standards and the Johannesburg Principles on National Security and Freedom of Expression.
  3. Implement an independent, fair and impartial judiciary that will include the public prosecutors and the judges and will work in conformity with the basic principles on the independence of the judiciary and the Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors and put it under the supervision of an independent judiciary.
  4. Promptly fulfill the pledges made by the United Arab Emirates following the Universal Periodic Review before the Human Rights Council in 2013, including the establishment of an independent national human rights institution and strengthening the UAE's cooperation with international human rights mechanisms, as well as accepting international human rights accountability mechanisms.


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