Humanists UK at UN calls on UAE to repeal blasphemy and apostasy laws

3 November, 2023

Geneva, Switzerland – July 11, 2014: Geneva is the seat of the European headquarters of the United Nations. 

In an intervention at the UN Human Rights Council, Humanists UK has called on the Government of the United Arab Emirates to protect all religious and non-religious minorities by upholding the rights to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression in line with international human rights law. Humanists UK urged the UAE to repeal its blasphemy and apostasy laws, as these intrinsically contravene these rights.

Speaking via a video intervention during the Universal Periodic Review of the UAE’s human rights performance, Humanist UK’s representative Blend Ademi stated:

‘Article 31 of the United Arab Emirates Constitution establishes that the freedom to hold religious ceremonies shall be safeguarded, but it does not protect non-religious views. This limited interpretation of the rights to freedom of religion or belief is also broadly qualified as it can only be exercised ‘in accordance with established custom’ and ‘provided that such ceremonies are consistent with the public policy and with public morals’. So-called ‘blasphemy’ is criminalised by Federal Decree Law No. 2 of 2015 and prosecutions are fairly common. In 2019, a man was fined for insulting God in a workplace and in 2020, three Sri Lankan workers were fined and deported after being found guilty of offending religion in social media posts.

We are also concerned by provisions in the new Federal Crime and Punishment Law, that came into force in January 2022. This new law retains many provisions from the old penal code that are not human rights-compliant including the criminalisation of so-called blasphemy. It also adds further restrictions or harsher punishments on existing provisions. We note that the UAE states that the death penalty is reserved for serious crimes, yet articles 155 and 174 of the new penal code provide for death sentences for vaguely worded crimes relating to acts that intentionally ‘compromise the sovereignty of the state or its independence, its unity or its territorial integrity’ and acts that ‘could harm political relations’. We note that the UAE government has previously used national security as a pretext to detain its critics and human rights defenders under the 2012 Cybercrime Law and 2014 Terrorism Law. In 2020, Ahmed Etoum, was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison, solely for posting peaceful criticism of the Jordanian royal family and government.’


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Kathy Riddick at or phone 020 3675 0959.

Read the full intervention.

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Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 110,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.