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Judicial corporal punishment by flogging

Commentary by C. Farrell

UAE flag UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Judicial and Prison CP updated

The UAE, founded in 1971, is a federation of seven small Gulf states, each with its own Islamic laws and practices, which apply in addition to the federal-level non-religious criminal law, which, however, is not fully applicable in two Emirates, Dubai and Ras al-Khaimah, whose courts function somewhat more independently.

 Courts in some states of the UAE regularly order floggings, for women as well as men, particularly but not exclusively for moral offences under Islamic law such as adultery and drinking alcohol. JCP has allegedly been abolished in Dubai but remains on the statute book in at least five of the other six Emirates.

 As far as can be ascertained, the normal practice is to apply a leather whip to the offender's upper back, though the use of straps and canes has been reported in some cases. Some reports refer to the shirt being removed in the case of men, while female recipients remain fully dressed.

 According to one anecdotal account in Dec 2000, prisoners in the UAE may also be flogged with a cane for internal prison infractions such as smuggling cigarettes. However, this report appeared in a not particularly reliable tabloid newspaper, and I have not yet seen this claim corroborated elsewhere.

 It is not clear whether floggings are still administered in public in the UAE. In 1977 it was reported that a man was given 100 lashes for rape in the central market of Abu Dhabi. This was said to be the first such case "since Muslim religious courts took over jurisdiction of criminal cases".

 An Amnesty International report in 1989 (not on line) stated that two youths aged 16 and 18 were sentenced to 550 lashes each for theft. "The sentences were carried out in public with the youths receiving approximately 40 lashes every Friday for three months."

 Reuters reported in 1995 that the Emirate of Ras al-Khaimah had extended the scope of flogging to include the not notably Koranic offence of dangerous driving. It was later claimed that this had been successful in reducing the road accident rate.

 A not altogether clear June 2006 news report stated that the penalty was no longer to be applied for petty crimes.

 In December 2006 the law was changed so that non-Muslims could no longer be flogged. It is possible that this was in part a response to embarrassing international publicity when an Estonian soldier, serving with a UN peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, was sentenced to be lashed for drinking alcohol during a stopover at Sharjah airport -- having been sold the drink by the airport's own duty-free shop. He was eventually freed without being flogged (Agence France Presse, 11 Apr 2006; Middle East Times, 19 Apr 2006).

This Feb 2007 news item clarifies that the punishment is to be carried out "moderately and not with force or with a thick whip" and that it is not supposed to cause bleeding.

 The best-known flogging case in the UAE is that of a teenage Filipina maid, Sarah Balabagan, originally sentenced in 1994 to death for killing her employer who had tried to rape her. Following an international outcry, this was commuted to a year in prison plus 100 lashes. She was duly flogged in 1996 with 20 lashes at a time on five separate days, privately in prison.

EXTERNAL LINKS: (these will open in a new window) Opens in new window

US State Department Human Rights Practices Report 1993
Here it is claimed that in 1993 the Federal Supreme Court ruled that Shari'a punishments such as flogging should not be imposed on non-Muslims, as they had been previously. (But see next item.)

US State Department Human Rights Practices Report 1994
This report described floggings of Muslims by Islamic courts in the UAE as "frequent", especially for adultery, prostitution and drunkenness, with sentences ranging from 80 to 200 lashes. The 1993 court ruling (see previous item) was clarified as meaning that non-Muslims are not required to be flogged, not that they must not be flogged. However, the report says that, although several non-Muslims had received JCP sentences, there was no indication that any of them had been carried out.

US State Department Human Rights Practices Report 1995
According to this, flogging in the UAE is administered in such a way as to prevent injury: "The individual administering the lashing traditionally holds a Koran under the arm and swings the whip using the forearm only". The document refers to certain individual cases, including floggings of non-Muslims, and in particular that of Sarah Balabagan (see main text above).

US State Department Human Rights Practices Report 1996
This report notes that there is no JCP in Dubai. It says a few floggings of non-Muslims were carried out in some other parts of the federation. (The reports for 1997 to 2000 inclusive repeat the same information.)

Imprisonment and Flogging for Marriage Across Faiths
1997 Amnesty report on a case in which a 30-year-old Christian man was sentenced to 39 lashes for marrying a Muslim woman.

Amnesty International Report 1997
Several flogging cases are mentioned.

Amnesty International Report 1998
Notes that JCP was extended to cover traffic offences in Ras al-Khaimah and also reportedly to begging. Several flogging sentences are discussed.

Amnesty International Report 1999
More flogging sentences were imposed but it was not clear whether they had been carried out.

Amnesty International Report 2001
At least 18 sentences of corporal punishment were handed down in 2000, 11 of them in the Emirate of Fujairah.

US State Department Human Rights Practices Report 2001
Mentions a case in which two foreigners, a man and his friend's housemaid, were found in the friend's house, convicted of "cohabitation" and sentenced to lashes and deportation. (The 2002 report adds nothing of substance.)

US State Department Human Rights Practices Report 2003
The report states that flogging was sometimes carried out "symbolically", but there had been at least one case in Abu Dhabi of the authorities using a leather strap to administer the sentence, which caused the recipient significant pain and left substantial bruising. Cases of JCP for adultery are mentioned. (The 2004 report adds nothing new.)

Amnesty International report (Dec 2004) about two women sentenced to flogging in the UAE for becoming pregnant outside marriage.

US State Department Human Rights Practices Report 2005
Having for years repeatedly told us that JCP was banned in Dubai, the USSD now announces, without further explanation, that the Dubai Shari'a court in March 2005 sentenced a pregnant housemaid to 150 lashes for adultery. Elsewhere in the UAE there were also floggings for drug abuse, consensual premarital sex, prostitution, and defamation of character. Some authorities used leather straps and canes to administer the punishment, leaving bruising and welts.

US State Department Human Rights Practices Report 2006
Mentions a UAE case in which a woman was jailed for five years plus 150 lashes for adultery. (The reports for 2007 through 2010 add nothing new.)

US State Department Human Rights Practices Report 2011 New!
A sudden change in the narrative: "There were no reports that flogging was employed as judicially sanctioned punishment."

US State Department Human Rights Practices Report 2012 New!
A man in Fujairah was sentenced to 80 lashes for consuming alcohol. Also, "The law provides for corporal punishment for sexual relations and pregnancy outside of marriage." (The reports for 2013 and 2014 add nothing new.)

US State Department Human Rights Practices Report 2015 New!
"Multiple Western consulates reported courts imposed flogging as a punishment in some of the northern emirates." (The reports for 2016 and 2017 add nothing of substance.)

US State Department Human Rights Practices Report 2018 New!
"Reports of flogging were rare and tended to be confined to only a few jurisdictions." (The report for 2019 contains nothing new.)

US State Department Human Rights Practices Report 2020 New!
The Federal Supreme Court upheld a sentence of 100 lashes in a case involving an unmarried Muslim man and woman who confessed to having illicit sex in one of the northern emirates.

US State Department Human Rights Practices Report 2021 New!
Flogging under the UAE federal penal code was abolished, according to this. However, sharia (Islamic) courts, which deal with criminal and family law cases, still impose flogging for adultery, defamation of character, and drug or alcohol charges. (The report for 2022 does not mention CP at all.)

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Page updated August 2019