Five political activists known as the “UAE 5” were pardoned last November by Emirati president Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, but their story is still far from over. The men were initially imprisoned in April after posting messages critical of political figures and government policy on the now banned UAE Hewar forum. After eight months in prison, and a trial riddled with inconsistencies, the group still face challenges from authorities.
“My freedom is not there in a complete manner,” said Ahmed Mansoor, a blogger and engineer and one of the released activists. While the men were pardoned, their records were not expunged, leaving them with criminal records. Mansoor told Index that the group has made many attempts to obtain a full copy of the pardon, but that the attorney general failed to provide it. If they were to be issued a “complete” pardon, the blogger insisted that their “records should be expunged”.
With a criminal record, the five are unable to move on, since it prevents them from obtaining a “certificate of good conduct”, necessary to work, study or even get married in the UAE. Mansoor said that without the certificate it makes life “much more difficult, especially with dealing with authorities”.
Some of the activists have also been unable to retrieve their passports, as well as other belongings confiscated by authorities. When Mansoor went to reclaim his belongings, he was told that returning his passport would be “no issue”, and he would only need to meet with the chief prosecutor before receiving it. The meeting never took place, despite Mansoor’s efforts. He was later told by the registrar that he would be unable to retain his passport. He gave no explanation for this decision.
Much like a certificate of good conduct, a passport is necessary for resuming life in the UAE. Mansoor said that without a passport, simple tasks such as opening a bank account become complicated. He also added that authorities are most likely to attempt to prevent them from travelling — which would make work in the cosmopolitan nation difficult.
Mansoor considers such inconveniences to be “indirect harassment” and part of attempts to place the activists “under pressure” in order to show that they are still under the control of authorities.
Lawyers working on the case of the UAE 5 have also faced difficulties from authorities. Mansoor said that the office of Abdulhameed al Kumaiti, a prominent human rights lawyer working on the case, has experienced harassment. Mansoor, who is concerned about his own security, also said that official complaints about death threats and a smear campaign against him have fallen on deaf ears.
The activists are now working with their lawyers to plan their next steps in expunging their records and obtaining their confiscated personal belongings — including computers and other equipment unrelated to the case. While attempting to move forward, Mansoor said that because “state security is arbitrary” the process will be challenging, leaving him “hopeless”.
Sara Yasin is an editorial assistant at Index on Censorship
To read more about the UAE5 and Index’s advocacy work on the case, click here