United Arab Emirates

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United Arab Emirates 2022

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) put into effect new laws that significantly curtail freedom of expression and assembly. The authorities extended the arbitrary detention of tens of mass trial victims past the end of their prison terms, and subjected one human rights defender and one dissident to extended ill-treatment. The government renewed its stance against recognizing the rights of refugees.


In May, Mohamed bin Zayed became president after his brother, President Khalifa bin Zayed, died and the Federal Supreme Council, consisting of the rulers of the country’s seven emirates, appointed Mohamed to replace him.

The UAE continued to participate in the military coalition committing frequent and serious violations of international law in Yemen (see Yemen entry).

Freedom of expression, association and assembly

The government exercised control over expression, at times censoring content in the media or cinema deemed to be immoral. At least 26 Emirati prisoners remained behind bars because of their peaceful political criticism.

In January, the Office of Public Prosecution announced that it had summoned “a number” of people who had posted videos online simply reporting rocket attacks on the UAE by Yemen’s Huthi militia, warning that any reporting of such incidents on social media violates the country’s laws.

In June, the Media Regulatory Office banned Lightyear, a US-produced film because it depicted a same-sex kiss.

Also in June, the newspaper Al Roeya, which is published by a company owned by Deputy Prime Minister Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, fired almost all its journalists and editors because the paper had reported on how Emiratis were reacting to the rising price of energy. The print newspaper then ceased publication, with the website kept online by a skeleton staff and publishing only business news.

In August, the Media Regulatory Office and Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority instructed Netflix to remove same-sex content from its services in the UAE or face prosecution.

The new Code of Crimes and Punishments, which went into effect on 2 January, brought in some reduction of sentences but retained overly broad provisions that criminalize free expression and assembly, and added a new clause punishing unauthorized transmission of governmental information. Article 178, a new provision, forbids transferring “without a licence” any official “information” to any “organization”, which taken literally criminalizes most transmission of governmental information. Article 184 decreased the punishment for “anyone who mocks, insults, or damages the reputation, prestige or standing of the state” or “its founding leaders” from 10-25 years to a maximum of five years. Article 210 decreased the punishment for participating in any public gathering “tending to damage public security” from up to 15 years to a maximum of three years.

Article 26 of the new Law on Combating Rumours and Cybercrimes, which also went into effect on 2 January, imposes up to three years’ imprisonment on anyone who uses the internet to encourage a demonstration without prior permission from the government.

Arbitrary detention

The UAE was responsible for dozens of new and ongoing arbitrary detentions. The authorities refused to release at least 41 prisoners who completed their sentences during the year, bringing the total number, including those from previous years, to 48. All 41 were part of the “UAE-94” mass trial of 2012-2013. The government characterized such detentions as ongoing “counselling” for those who have “adopted extremist thought,” a procedure authorized under Article 40 of the 2014 counter-terrorism law. The law requires the Office of Public Prosecution to obtain a court order for such detentions, but does not give the detainee the right to challenge their continued detention.1

Torture and other ill-treatment

In July, in its first review of the UAE, the UN Committee against Torture stated its “concern that reports received detail a pattern of torture and ill-treatment against human rights defenders and persons accused of offences against state security.”

Authorities held human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor in solitary confinement for the entire year and deprived him of glasses, books, a bed, mattress and pillows, and personal hygiene items.2 Such prolonged solitary confinement, especially in combination with the degrading and inhuman treatment, rises to the level of torture.

In one case, authorities denied Mohamed al-Siddiq, imprisoned since 2012 for exercising his right to freedom of expression, all phone calls with his nuclear family who live abroad.


The authorities continued to deny members of the UAE’s native-born stateless population, who have ancestral origins in East Africa, South Asia and the Arabian Peninsula, the state-paid healthcare and education provided to nationals. Stateless Emiratis must pay to receive education and healthcare through the private market. Stateless people also had to find “sponsors” to obtain temporary residence permits, without which they are considered “illegal residents”, and are ineligible to work in the higher-paid government sector.3

LGBTI people’s rights

In September, the government directed schools across the UAE to ensure that teachers “refrain… from discussing gender identity, homosexuality or any other behaviour deemed unacceptable to UAE society” in classrooms. UAE law criminalizes consensual same-sex relations between adults.

Failure to tackle climate crisis

The UAE raised oil production, contrary to the UN conclusion that countries must begin reducing production to meet their obligations under the Paris Agreement on climate change, to which the UAE is a party. According to World Bank data, the UAE has one of the world’s top five highest levels of per capita carbon dioxide emissions.

Women’s and girls’ rights

In July, the CEDAW Committee, in its concluding observations, found that UAE law discriminates against women in the transmission of nationality to children, and that the government maintains reservations to the CEDAW that are incompatible with the purpose of the treaty.

Refugees’ and migrants’ rights

In July, cabinet regulations revising immigration laws once again did not recognize the right of refugees to claim asylum.

  1. “UAE: Dissidents who served sentences still behind bars”, 30 May
  2. United Arab Emirates: Dissidents Imprisoned and Migrants Racially Targeted, 25 October
  3. United Arab Emirates: Dissidents Imprisoned and Migrants Racially Targeted, 25 October