The United Arab Emirates Saturday (November 7) announced a slew of legal reforms relating to personal freedoms that seek to move the country away from its hardline interpretation of Islamic law.
As per the state-run Emirates News Agency (WAM) and The National, the overhaul includes changes in laws related to honour killings, alcohol restrictions, cohabitation of unmarried couples, divorce and succession.
The modernisation efforts have been announced before Expo 2020, the mega world event hosted by Dubai that is expected to bring in investments and around 2.5 crore visitors to the country. The Expo was to be held from this year October until April 2021, but has been postponed to October 2021-March 2022 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
So, what are the legal reforms that the Gulf nation seeks to implement?
Honour killings and harassment of women
Previously, under “honour crimes”, male relatives could evade prosecution or get lighter sentences for assaulting women who purportedly brought “dishonour” to the family by acts such as disobeying religious scriptures or promiscuity. Such incidents would now be treated as similar to any other assault, The National reported.
The report also said that there would be stricter punishments for men who subject women to harassment, including stalking and street harassment. The reforms also reiterate a law passed last year that recognised men as victims of harassment or stalking.
The rape of a minor or someone “with limited mental capacity” will be punished with execution, the report said.
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Consumption of alcohol
Drinking alcohol has been decriminalised for those above 21 years of age, and penalties for possessing or selling alcoholic beverages without an alcohol licence in authorised areas have been removed. As per an AP report, Muslims, who until now had been barred from obtaining licences, would be allowed to drink alcoholic beverages.
Earlier too, alcohol-related prosecutions in the Gulf nation were rare, but individuals drinking without a licence would get charged when arrested for a separate offence. Under the new reforms, this will not occur. Underage drinking, however, remains punishable.
Unmarried couples living together
“Cohabitation of unmarried couples” has been made legal for the first time. Previously, it was illegal for an unmarried couple, or even unrelated flatmates, to share a home in the UAE, The National said.
Although prosecutions in this category had been rare, the decriminalisation is meant to attract more people to move to the country.
Divorce and succession
In a major change, for couples who were married in their home country but want to get a divorce in the UAE, laws of the country where the marriage took place would apply.
As regards succession, in bitterly fought cases, local courts could apply UAE’s Sharia law to divide assets among family members. Now, the law of a person’s citizenship will determine how assets would be divided, unless there is a written will. However, property purchased in the UAE will continue to be administered according to Sharia law.
Suicide and “Good Samaritans”
The reforms decriminalise suicide and attempted suicide. Previously, a person who survived a suicide attempt could be prosecuted. However, this offence has now been removed and the courts and police are supposed to provide mental health support to vulnerable people.
Assisting a person in attempting suicide, however, remains a crime and can carry an unspecified jail sentence.
Also, previously, a person who offered aid (such as CPR or first aid) to someone could be held accountable for the latter’s injury or death. This provision has been removed. “If you want to give help or assistance in an emergency and that person gets harmed [as a result] you will not be punished,” the law reads as quoted by The National. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram
Courts have been mandated to provide legal translators for defendants and witnesses who do not speak Arabic.
Privacy laws have also been strengthened, and evidence related to alleged indecent acts will now have to be protected and cannot be publicly disclosed, The National reported.
However, other offences in the UAE that have affected expatriates, such as homosexuality, public displays of affection and cross-dressing, have so far not been addressed.
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