Dubai: The United Arab Emirates issued new legislation aimed at combating intolerance on Monday, outlawing actions that stoke religious hatred and discriminate based on religious or ethnic background.
The law's introduction comes amid growing alarm in the Emirates and other oil-rich Gulf Arab states over the rise of militant extremists, particularly the Islamic State group.
The legislation bars discrimination based on "religion, caste, creed, doctrine, race, color or ethnic origin," according to official state news agency WAM. It also criminalizes any action that encourages religious hatred or insults religion, and calls for punishing those who label other religious groups as infidels or unbelievers.
"The law is intended to provide a sound foundation for the environment of tolerance, broadmindedness and acceptance in the UAE," the report said.
The law was decreed by the president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Among other things, it targets actions that are considered hate speech or promote discrimination or violence in all forms of media.
Penalties include six months to more than 10 years in prison and fines up to 2 million dirhams (USD 545,000). Authorities held out the possibility of amnesty for those who proactively turn themselves in.
The Emirates is a Western-allied, seven-state federation that includes oil-rich Abu Dhabi and the Mideast commercial hub of Dubai.
Home to the second largest Arab economy, it has emerged as a multicultural trade and tourism center. Its native population is overwhelmingly Muslim, though foreign residents of many faiths far outnumber locals.
It last year designated dozens of Islamist groups including the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists, lumping them together with extremists such as the Islamic State group.
Authorities last week executed a woman with links to Islamic extremists who was found guilty of murdering an American teacher in Abu Dhabi in December.