UAE antiquities law would impose up to Dh10m in fines and imprisonment

FNC discuses draft law that would provide for high fines and jail time for those who destroy antiquities or harm archaeological sites.

Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, was in attendance as the council got to work on examining some of the provisions of the heritage protection bill. Ravindranath K / The National
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ABU DHABI // Anyone who defaces or destroys an antiquity could face up to Dh10 million in fines and a minimum of two years in jail, according to a draft law discussed by the Federal National Council on Tuesday.

The council discussed the first seven articles of the law, which include a number of unprecedented penalties to help ensure that the UAE’s historic sights and artefacts are neither tampered with or destroyed.

Prior to the bill’s discussion, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister for Culture, Youth and Community Development, suggested forming a joint government committee to assess the articles with the FNC since there are many differing opinions on the council and the law is of great national importance.

Speaker Mohammed Al Murr said the bill would be discussed immediately.

It imposes fines of between Dh500,000 and Dh10m and jail time on anyone who is convicted of destroying, damaging or distorting an antiquity.

Also, anyone who builds, plants or changes the characteristics of an archaeological site, conducts archaeological digging without a permit, smuggles antiquities into or out of the country, or replicates a national or foreign antiquity to scam others will face the same penalties.

Those who violate licensing conditions for digs, or take, transfer or use archaeological ruins or stones without a licence, face fines between Dh100,000 and Dh300,000, and/or jail time.

Moreover, anyone in possession of an antiquity who does not properly register it, or who takes action regarding the antiquities without a permit, will face a minimum of two years in jail and/or a fine between Dh50,000 and Dh200,000.

The FNC suggested that rewards be given to residents who discover or report antiquities, but they did not discuss that article in depth because Sheikh Nahyan had to leave the session. The remaining articles will be discussed at a later session.

Article 8 of the draft law says whoever discovers or comes across an antiquity by coincidence must report it to the concerned authority or the nearest police station within 48 hours.

“Antiquities are to be identified as items of national interest and importance and the ownership of both portable and non-portable items are for the nation regardless of who has found it,” said the FNC committee that oversaw the draft law prior to the session.

The committee also suggested halving the time it takes to document antiquities to a year.

The committee’s report explained the bill is important because the UAE is a signatory to the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970, and in agreement with the GCC Centre for Antiquities. Working towards the preservation of antiquities will enrich national identity, which is in line with the UAE’s 2021 plan.

The law will help at times of national crises in preventing the damaging or theft of national antiquities as that is when they are at their most susceptible, added the committee.