The ruler of the United Arab Emirates approved a new counter-terrorism law that strengthens existing laws against money laundering, while also expanding penalties to include the death penalty, life imprisonment and fines of up to $27 million, state media reported Wednesday.
The law, according to the state-backed The National newspaper, calls for establishing Saudi-style counselling and rehabilitation centres for people found “to be terrorism prone.” Impersonating a public figure could lead to life imprisonment, the paper said.
The official Emirates News Agency reported that Abu Dhabi ruler and UAE President Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan endorsed the law, but provided no further details. A draft of the law was approved in July by the country’s Federal National Council, which acts largely as an advisory body.
The draft law was not released to the wider public to discuss, though parts of the law have been publicized in local media. Dubai-based Gulf News also obtained a copy, which identified potential death-penalty cases as attempts to attack any royal family members or members of the Cabinet’s Supreme Council, and acts that lead to the death of a person such as recruiting people to join or joining a terrorist organization and attacking security forces.
The newspaper said the law defines a terrorist offence as “any action or inaction made a crime by this law and every action or inaction made a crime by any other law if they are carried out for a terrorist cause.”
The Emirates, a Western-allied federation of seven sheikdoms that includes Dubai, is concerned about the rise of extremist groups like the Islamic State group that’s surging in Syria and Iraq, as well as al-Qaida.
More immediately, though, UAE rulers have been concerned about the possible threat to their rule from the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Al-Islah group in the wake of Arab Spring uprisings. Rights groups say the UAE has locked up more than 130 people for charges related to their political activism. Political parties are banned in the UAE.
The UAE supports Egypt and Saudi Arabia’s decisions to label the Brotherhood a terrorist organization. The group’s candidate became Egypt’s first democratically elected president in 2012, but was ousted a year later by the military amid mass protests. As Cairo’s new leaders moved to crush the Brotherhood, the UAE and other Gulf countries rushed to boost Egypt with billions of dollars in aid.
Human Rights Watch’s Gulf researcher Nicholas McGeehan said he is concerned about the climate in which the counter-terrorism law was approved.
“It would be better if people could see these provisions before jumping straight to a law that could affect people aversely,” he told The Associated Press. “We have to study the law very carefully and hope that none of its provisions are vaguely worded in such a way that would criminalize peaceful dissent. We’ve seen that elsewhere in the region.”
There are also concerns about the independence of the judiciary. A United Nations special rapporteur said earlier this year that the UAE’s judiciary is under the “de facto control” of the executive branch and that there are credible claims of detainees being abused in prison — often before extracting confessions.