The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has passed a new "anti-hate law", that seeks to clamp down on hate crimes, discrimination, and more importantly, extremism, especially in the light of Sunni Islamist groups targeting people of other faiths as "infidels".
The law, which was decreed by UAE President Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Monday, threatens punishment for those "terming other religious groups or individuals as infidels or unbelievers" with jail term ranging from six months to over 10 years.
The new anti-hate law includes provisions to "safeguard people regardless of their origin, beliefs or race, against acts that promote religious hate and intolerance" and also "makes it illegal to discriminate against individuals or groups on the basis of religion, caste, doctrine, race, colour or ethnic origin", as listed out by Gulf News citing the state news agency.
The UAE's push for a new law can be seen in the light of GCC countries working to increase security following several attacks by Isis militants on Shia Muslims over recent weeks.
However, while safeguarding its people from discrimination and hate crimes, the new law also restricts free speech and expression by criminalising acts considered as an insult to 'God' or religion.
As per the new "anti-hate law", a person can be punished for "any act that insults religion through any form of expression, be it speech or the written word, books, pamphlets or online', and 'any act that would be considered as insulting God, his prophets or apostles or holy books or houses of worship or graveyards".
The UAE's scholars and experts have reportedly hailed the law, with the chairman of the board of directors of Emirates Human Rights Association (EHRA), Mohammad Salem Al Kaabi, telling Gulf News that the law allows the people of 200 nationalities in the country to "live in peaceful co-existence".
However, human rights organisations have often highlighted that the UAE uses laws against terrorism and extremism to limit free speech, according to Reuters.