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On the second anniversary of the start of the mass “UAE 94” trial that imprisoned dozens of government critics and reform activists in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), including prominent human rights defenders, judges, academics, and student leaders, a coalition of 13 organizations calls on the UAE government to release immediately and unconditionally all those imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association following this grossly unfair trial, as well as those who remain detained or imprisoned for publicizing concerns about it. The organizations also call on the authorities to ensure that the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment that the individuals were subjected to prior to and following their trial are promptly, independently, impartially and thoroughly investigated, that those responsible are held to account, and that the victims have access to effective remedies and to reparation.
The organizations share the serious concerns raised since 2011 by several UN human rights bodies and human rights organizations regarding the UAE government’s continuing pattern of harassment, secret, arbitrary and prolonged incommunicado detention, torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearances, and unfair trials targeting activists and those critical of the authorities, as well as its increasing use of national security as a pretext to clamp down on peaceful activism and to stifle calls for reform.
The space for dissent in the UAE is increasingly shrinking. The repression has been entrenched with the enactment in 2012 of the cybercrimes law, which the government has used to silence social media activists and others who support and defend freedom of expression online, and the enactment of the 2014 counter-terror law. The vague and overly broad definition of terrorism in the 2014 law, which treats a wide range of activities, including those protected by human rights standards, as amounting to terrorism, may be used to sentence human rights defenders or critics of the government to lengthy prison terms or even death.
The organizations call on the UAE government, which currently is a member of the UN Human Rights Council, to adhere to its obligations to uphold human rights at home, including respecting the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and to freedom of association and peaceful assembly.
The anniversary of the mass trial, widely known as the “UAE 94” trial, coincides with the anniversary of the March 2011 petition from a group of 133 high-profile women and men addressed to the UAE President, which called for democratic reform. The petition elicited an uncompromisingly repressive response from the UAE authorities and many of its signatories, and their families, have been harassed, arbitrarily arrested, or imprisoned in the four years since they put their names to their call for reform.
The UAE 94 trial, which began on 4 March 2013 before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi, saw a total of 94 defendants, including eight who were charged and tried in absentia, stand trial en masse on the charge of establishing an organization that aimed to overthrow the government, a charge which they all denied. The trial failed to meet international fair trial standards and was widely condemned by human rights organizations and UN bodies, including the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The court accepted prosecution evidence that consisted largely of “confessions” made by defendants while they were in pre-trial detention. The court failed to require, before the admission of such evidence, that the prosecution prove beyond reasonable doubt that the “confessions” were obtained by lawful means and voluntarily from the accused. The court also failed to take steps to investigate, or order a prompt, independent, impartial and thorough investigation of the defendants’ claims that State Security interrogators had forced them, under torture or other ill-treatment, to make false “confessions” incriminating themselves and others during months when they were held incommunicado in secret locations and without access to lawyers or the outside world. The defendants were also denied a right of appeal to a higher tribunal; under UAE law, Federal Supreme Court judgments are final and not subject to appeal.
On 2 July 2013, the court convicted 69 of the 94 defendants, including the eight tried in absentia, and acquitted 25. The defendants included many people who had achieved prominence in the UAE in their respective fields in the law, education and academia, business, and as government advisers. The court sentenced to prison terms of between seven and 15 years many well-known figures including: prominent human rights lawyer and law professor Dr Mohammed Al-Roken, who has written a number of books and journal articles on human rights, freedom of expression, and counterterror laws; high profile lawyers Dr Mohammed Al-Mansoori and Salem Al-Shehhi; judge Mohammed Saeed Al-Abdouli; law professor and former judge Dr Ahmed Al-Zaabi; lawyer and university professor Dr Hadef Al-Owais; senior member of the Ras Al-Khaimah ruling family Sheikh Dr Sultan Kayed Mohammed Al-Qassimi; businessman Khalid Al-Shaiba Al-Nuaimi; Science teacher Hussain Ali Al-Najjar Al-Hammadi; blogger and former teacher Saleh Mohammed Al-Dhufairi; student leader Abdulla Al-Hajri; and student and blogger Khalifa Al-Nuaimi who, before his arrest, had kept an active blog which he used to express criticism of the human rights situation in the UAE and the heavy-handed approach of the State Security apparatus.
Others convicted at the trial include seven activists, known as the “UAE 7”, who had their citizenship arbitrarily withdrawn in 2011 and were told to leave the country. They are economist Ahmed Ghaith Al-Suwaidi; teacher Hussein Al-Jabri; former long-term employee of the Ministry of Presidential Affairs Hassan Al-Jabri; teacher Ibrahim Hassan Al-Marzouqi; former teacher Sheikh Mohammed Al-Sadeeq; Dr Shahin Abdullah Al-Hosni; and Dr Ali Hussain Al-Hammadi.
During the trial, the authorities took steps to prevent independent reporting of the proceedings. International media and independent trial observers were not permitted access to the court. Security authorities refused to allow an independent trial observer delegated by Amnesty International entry to the UAE immediately prior to the opening of the trial. Two independent observers sent by the International Commission of Jurists were turned away by plain-clothed security officials before they reached the Federal Supreme Court building. Another international observer mandated by the International Federation for Human Rights, the Gulf Center for Human Rights, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, was also denied access to the final trial hearing on 2 July 2013, despite an earlier indication by the UAE authorities that she would be allowed to attend.
In November 2013, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an Opinion on the UAE 94 case, concluding that the UAE government had deprived the defendants of their right to a fair trial, enshrined in Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that the arrest and detention of the individuals had resulted from the exercise of their rights to freedom of opinion and expression and to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, guaranteed under articles 19 and 20 of the UDHR, stating that the restrictions on those rights could not be considered to be proportionate and justified. It declared the arrest and detention of the 61 defendants who were imprisoned following the mass trial to be arbitrary and called on the UAE authorities to release them and afford them appropriate reparation.
Authorities also barred some of the defendants’ relatives from the courtroom; and others, who were permitted to attend, were harassed, detained or imprisoned after they criticized the proceedings and publicized torture allegations made by the defendants on the Twitter social media website.
In April 2013, a court sentenced Abdullah Al-Hadidi, the son of one of the UAE 94 who was convicted, Abdulrahman Al-Hadidi, to 10 months’ imprisonment on the charge of publishing details of the trial proceedings “without probity and in bad faith,” after he criticized the proceedings on Twitter. He was released in November 2013.
Blogger and netizen, Obaid Yousef Al-Zaabi, brother of Dr Ahmed Al-Zaabi, was arrested in July 2013 and again in December 2013, and was prosecuted on several charges based on his Twitter posts about the trial, including spreading “slander concerning the rulers of the UAE using phrases that lower their status, and accusing them of oppression” and “disseminating ideas and news meant to mock and damage the reputation of a governmental institution.” In June 2014, Obaid Yousef Al-Zaabi was acquitted of all charges but, despite this, the authorities continue to arbitrarily detain him, even though there is no legal basis for depriving him of his liberty. He remains in the prisoners’ ward of Sheikh Khalifa Medical City Hospital in Abu Dhabi, as he continues to suffer from advanced arthritis and rheumatism and has difficulty walking.
Osama Al-Najjar, netizen and son of Hussain Ali Al-Najjar Al-Hammadi, was arrested in March 2014 and prosecuted for charges based on messages he posted on Twitter defending his father, who is one of the UAE 94. In November 2014, he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and a heavy fine for charges including “designing and running a website on social networks with the aim of publishing inaccurate, satirical and defaming ideas and information that are harmful to the structure of State institutions”; “offending the State”; “instigating hatred against the State”; and “contacting foreign organizations and presenting inaccurate information” about the UAE 94 trial and living conditions inside Al-Razeen Prison. He had no right to appeal the verdict and is imprisoned in Al-Wathba Prison, Abu Dhabi.
The UAE 94 trial proved to be the centerpiece of the authorities’ broader crackdown targeting expression of dissent and advocacy of greater public participation in the governance of the UAE and other reform. At one stroke, the authorities removed from the public arena their most prominent critics and the country’s leading advocates of reform, while signaling to other potential dissenters that they will not tolerate open political debate in the UAE or any form of criticism of the government.
The coalition is very concerned about the lack of space for rights organizations to do their legitimate work and about the repeated attempts by the UAE authorities or their supporters to eliminate freedom of expression for its residents, not only in the traditional media, but also on social media networks. On 28 October 2014, for example, high profile human rights defender and blogger Ahmed Mansoor’s Twitter account, in which he publishes his personal thoughts and views, was hacked. On 15 February 2015, three sisters, Asma Khalifa Al-Suwaidi, Maryam Khalifa Al-Suwaidi and Alyaziyah Khalifa Al-Suwaidi, were subject to enforced disappearance and there are serious concerns for their safety. The three sisters have campaigned peacefully online for the release of their brother, one of the UAE 94 prisoners, Dr Issa Al-Suwaidi, highlighting his unfair trial and the human rights violations to which he was subjected at the hands of UAE authorities. Dr Issa Al-Suwaidi is a respected academic and was the General Secretary of the Red Crescent in the UAE between 1996 and 1998.
On 16 February 2015, government-owned newspaper The National reported that the UAE government had adopted 36 recommendations made by the Human Rights Department of the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs after it carried out a study of international reports on the country’s human rights performance. The online newspaper said one of the recommendations was that an independent committee be established to review all allegations of torture, which the coalition endorses. However, the report disappeared from The National’s website the day after it was published, which is discouraging.
The coalition urgently calls on the UAE authorities to implement recommendations by UN bodies and international human rights organizations to:
For more information please call Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa press officer Sara Hashah on +44 20 7413 5566 / +44 7778 472 126, or email: [email protected]
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
For more information, please email Rawda Ahmed, Deputy Executive Director and Head of Legal Aid Unit, on [email protected]
For more information, please contact David Diaz-Jogeix, Director of Programmes, on [email protected]
Gulf Centre for Human Rights
For more information, please call Khalid Ibrahim on +961 70159552, or email: [email protected] www.gc4hr.org
For media inquiries, please email Robert Herman, Vice President for Regional Programs, on [email protected]
Front Line Defenders
For more information, please call Jim Loughran, Head of Media and Communications on +353 (0)1 212 3750, or email [email protected]
Index on Censorship
For more information, please contact Melody Patry, senior advocacy officer, on +44 207 260 2660 or [email protected]
International Commission of Jurists
For more information, please contact Said Benarbia, Middle East and North Africa Programme, on + 41 22 979 38 17 or [email protected]
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
For more information, please contact Arthur Manet, Director of media relations, on +33 1 43 55 90 19 or [email protected]
Lawyers for Lawyers
For more information, please call Ms Adrie van de Streek, Executive Director on +31 (0)6 26 274 390 or email [email protected]
Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada
For more information, please call Gail Davidson, Executive Director, on +1 (604) 736 1175, or email [email protected]
For more information, please contact PEN’s Communications and Campaigns Manager Sahar Halaimzai on +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 or email [email protected]
Reporters Without Borders
For more information, please call Lucie Morillon, Programme Director on +33 1 44 83 84 71, or email [email protected]
 Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Front Line Defenders, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, UAE: Fear that Anti-Terrorism Law will be used to curtail human rights and target human rights defenders, 13 December 2014, http://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/850
 International Commission of Jurists, Mass Convictions Following an Unfair Trial: The UAE 94 Case, 4 October 2013, http://icj.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/UAE-report-4-Oct-2013smallpdf.com_.pdf
 A few days before his own arrest in July 2012, Khalifa al-Nuaimi wrote on his blog about the wave of mass arrests by the UAE’s State Security apparatus, saying “You do not have the right to take a son from his father…a father from his son…a teacher from his students…a preacher from his audience…and imprison them unlawfully.”
 International Commission of Jurists, United Arab Emirates: ICJ condemns blatant disregard of the right to a fair and public trial, 12 March 2013, http://www.icj.org/united-arab-emirates-icj-condemns-blatant-disregard-of-the-right-to-a-fair-and-public-trial/?_sm_au_=iVV7R4317ftBnjDP
 Doughty Street Chambers, UAE denies International Legal Observer access to verdict in show trial of UAE 94, 1 July 2013, http://www.doughtystreet.co.uk/news/article/uae-denies-international-legal-observer-access-to-verdict-in-show-trial-of-; The coalition released two judicial observation reports based on interviews conducted by British human rights lawyer Melanie Gingell with family members who attended the hearings, local human rights defenders and activists, as well as international and local media: International Federation for Human Rights, Gulf Center for Human Rights, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, United Arab Emirates: Criminalising Political Dissent, 27 August 2013, https://www.fidh.org/International-Federation-for-Human-Rights/north-africa-middle-east/united-arab-emirates/united-arab-emirates-criminalising-political-dissent-13879; Alkarama, Amnesty International, Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, International Federation for Human Rights, UAE: Unfair Trial, Unjust Sentences, 3 July 2013, https://www.fidh.org/International-Federation-for-Human-Rights/north-africa-middle-east/united-arab-emirates/uae-unfair-trial-unjust-sentences-13590
 United Nations General Assembly, Human Rights Council, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Opinions adopted by the Working Group on Arbitrary detention at its 68th Session (13-22 November 2013), UN Doc A/HRC/WGAD/2013/60.
 Amnesty International understands that during the first few weeks after his arrest, a senior State Security Prosecution official told Obaid Yousef Al-Zaabi that he would not be released even if he went to trial and a court found him innocent.
 Reporters Without Borders, Online activist gets three years for criticizing torture of detainees, 2 December 2014, http://en.rsf.org/emirats-arabes-unis-online-activist-gets-three-years-02-12-2014,47327.html;
 Amnesty International, There is no freedom here – Silencing dissent in the United Arab Emirates (MDE 25/018/2014), 18 November 2014 https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/MDE25/0018/2014/en/
 The National, “Government approval for 36 human rights ‘recommendations’, FNC hears”, 16 February 2015, http://www.thenational.ae/uae/government-approval-for-36-human-rights-recommendations-fnc-hears
Vice-President and Prime Minister
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum
Prime Minister’s Office
PO Box: 212000
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Fax: +971 4 330 4044
27th June 2017
RE: Urgent Appeal
On the 100th day since the detention of Mr. Ahmed Mansoor, we, the undersigned, would like to express our deepest concern for his current detainment and appeal to the United Arab Emirates government for Mr. Mansoor’s immediate and unconditional release.
According to our information, Ahmed Mansoor was arrested in his home in Dubai in the early hours of 20 March 2017, as ordered by the Public Prosecution for Cybercrimes. He is being investigated on charges of “promoting false and shaded information through the Internet and serving agendas aimed at spreading hatred and sectarianism”. Mr Mansoor is an internationally respected human rights campaigner, the winner of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2015 and a member of both the advisory committee of Human Rights Watch and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. These charges relate solely to his peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and therefore we consider him a prisoner of conscience.
The official statement by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MOFAIC) of 29th March 2017 states that “he has the freedom to hire a lawyer and that his family has full access to the place of confinement and is allowed to visit him”. However, we have received news that Mr. Mansoor currently has no lawyer representing him and that his family have only been allowed one visit, on 3 April 2017. We are also concerned to hear allegations that he is being held in solitary confinement. These practices are not only in violation of international human rights law but also contravene the UAE Penal Code, including Federal Law No. 43 of 1992 on Regulating Penal Institutions.
In a joint statement published on 28 March 2017 by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, various bodies condemned the arbitrary arrest and detention of Mr. Mansoor. Signatories included the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, on Enforced Disappearances, and the Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders, Mr. Michel Forst; on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. David Kaye; and on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Mr. Maina Kiai. Furthermore, they called on the government “to respect the right of everyone to freedom of opinion and expression, including on social media and the internet.” The EU Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights followed with a statement by its chair, Pier Antonio Panzeri, who affirmed that “all charges against [Ahmed Mansoor] should be dropped, as they appear to be motivated only by his legitimate and peaceful human rights work. Equally, his and his family’s total security and integrity should be guaranteed by the authorities and all his confiscated possessions be returned.”
We therefore call on the UAE government, as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, to adhere to its obligations to uphold human rights at home, including respecting the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and to freedom of association and peaceful assembly.
We urge the UAE authorities to:
The continuing detention of such a high-profile and internationally respected human rights campaigner is extremely damaging to the UAE government’s reputation abroad. Therefore, we urge you to address this issue without delay.
Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR)
Detained in Dubai
Index on Censorship
International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE)
International Center for Justice and Human Rights (ICJHR)
Martin Ennals Awards Foundation
Tom Brake, MP for Carshalton and Wallington
Andrew Byles, Garden Court North Chambers
Rt Hon Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland
Noam Chomsky, Professor
Ron Deibert, Director of the Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto
Jonathan Emmett, Author
Andy Fitzpatrick, Barrister, Garden Court North Chambers, Manchester
Councillor David Haigh, Solicitor, UAE torture survivor, Former MD of Leeds United Football Club
Chris Haughton, Author and illustrator
Miles Kenyon, Communications Officer, Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto
Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion
Michael Mansfield, QC
Bill Marczak, Senior Researcher, Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto
Fadi Al Qadi, Human Rights, Civil Society, Advocacy and Media Expert
Chris Riddell, Author, Illustrator and Political Cartoonist at the Observer
Andy Slaughter, MP for Hammersmith
Dr. David Wearing, School of Oriental and African Studies
Pete Weatherby, QC Garden Court North Chambers, Manchester
We, the undersigned NGOs, call on the authorities to immediately release human rights defender and professor of economics Dr Nasser Bin Ghaith, who remains in detention in an unknown location in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for his social media posts and human rights activities. He has been denied proper access to his lawyer or family since his arrest in August 2015, and reportedly subject to torture in custody. The continued detention and charges violate his human rights, including his right to free expression.
On 18 August 2015, security officers in civilian clothes arrested Dr Bin Ghaith in Abu Dhabi and searched his home and confiscated personal items including electronic memory sticks. He was held incommunicado until finally being brought to the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi on 4 April 2016, when he told the court he had been tortured and beaten in detention and deprived of sleep for up to a week.
On 2 May 2016, a second hearing took place to examine charges against Dr Bin Ghaith relating to his online postings. He stated that he is still being held in secret detention, a fact he had previously brought to the judge’s attention during his hearing on 4 April. The judge refused to listen to his complaints for a second time. Neither his family nor his lawyer knows where he is being detained, and his lawyer’s request to visit him has been denied repeatedly.
Dr Bin Ghaith is one of a group of men known as the “UAE5” who were imprisoned in 2011 and tried for “publicly insulting” UAE officials. That trial also breached international human rights law and was widely criticised by human rights groups, including signatories of this letter.
Charges in the current case against Dr Bin Ghaith include allegedly “committing a hostile act against a foreign state” in reference to statements he made on Twitter about the authorities and judicial system in Egypt. He was also charged with “posting false information in order to harm the reputation and stature of the state and one of its institutions” relating to other statements he made on Twitter claiming that he had not been granted a fair trial as part of the “UAE5” case.
A further charge brought against Dr Bin Ghaith of allegedly “posting false information about UAE leaders and their policies, offensively criticizing the construction of a Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi, and instigating the people of the UAE against their leaders and government” was related to a statement he made on Twitter intending to promote tolerance.
Dr Bin Ghaith was also accused of allegedly “communicating and cooperating with members of the banned Al Islah organization” referring to visits and meetings with members of the “UAE94”, a group of government critics and advocates of reform tried jointly in 2013 and sentenced to long prison terms. He was also accused of allegedly “communicating and cooperating with” the banned Emirates Ummah Party, based on a presentation he was invited to make on the Islamic Economy by a member of the Ummah party, in his capacity as a professor of economics.
At the latest hearing on 2 May, the court ordered the case to be adjourned until 23 May when the defence’s arguments will be heard.
We, the undersigned organisations, view Dr Bin Ghaith’s arrest, detention in an unknown location and without access to his family or a lawyer, and the baseless charges brought against him as a direct result of his human rights activities and non-violent expression. His conduct is protected under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is considered to be reflective of binding customary international law. These charges, taken in the context of other charges against non-violent political groups and human rights defenders, appears to be an attempt by authorities to stifle any criticism, dissent or activities promoting human rights in the UAE.
We call on the UAE authorities to:
Immediately and unconditionally release Dr Bin Ghaith and drop all charges against him;
Pending the above, immediately disclose his current location and ensure proper access to his family, counsel and any medical treatment he may require;
Ensure that if his case proceeds, that it does so in a manner consistent with the UAE’s obligations under international law, in particular internationally recognised standards of due process and fair trial;
Investigate reports of torture and ill-treatment in detention;
and provide justice for those responsible and effective redress to Dr Bin Ghaith;
Sign and ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and bring all national laws into compliance with international freedom of expression standards.
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Front Line Defenders
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Index on Censorship
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Scholars at Risk Network
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
On the third anniversary of the start of the mass trial of 94 individuals, including government critics and advocates of reform, 10 human rights organisations appeal to the government of the United Arab Emirates to release immediately and unconditionally all those imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly as a result of this unfair trial.
The human rights organisations deplore the UAE government’s disregard for its international human rights obligations and its failure to act on recommendations from United Nations human rights experts that it release activists sentenced at the unfair trial.
Dozens of the activists, including prominent human rights defenders, judges, academics, and student leaders, had peacefully called for greater rights and freedoms, including the right to vote in parliamentary elections, before their arrests. They include prominent human rights lawyers Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken and Dr. Mohammed Al-Mansoori, Judge Mohammed Saeed Al-Abdouli, student leader Abdulla Al-Hajri, student and blogger Khalifa Al-Nuaimi, blogger and former teacher Saleh Mohammed Al-Dhufairi, and senior member of the Ras Al-Khaimah ruling family Dr. Sultan Kayed Mohammed Al-Qassimi.
The organisations urge the UAE government to end its continuing use of harassment, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment, and unfair trials against activists, human rights defenders and those critical of the authorities, and its use of national security as a pretext to crackdown on peaceful activism and to stifle calls for reform.
The 10 human rights organisations urge the UAE government, which is serving its second term as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, to demonstrate clearly that it engages with UN human rights bodies by implementing recommendations by UN human rights experts to protect the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and to freedom of association and peaceful assembly.
Speaking to the UN’S Human Rights Council (HRC) on 1 March 2016, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash asserted that “we are determined to continue our efforts to strengthen the protection of human rights at home and to work constructively within the [Human Rights] council to address human rights issues around the world.”
As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, the UAE government must observe its pledge to the Council to uphold international human rights standards and must spare absolutely no effort in implementing human rights recommendations effectively; to do otherwise puts into question the UAE government’s commitment towards the promotion and protection of human rights at home.
The 10 human rights organisations further call on the UAE to mount an independent investigation into credible allegations of torture at the hands of the country’s State Security apparatus, including by immediately accepting the request by Juan Méndez, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, to visit the UAE in the first half of 2016.
In her May 2015 report to the UN Human Rights Council, Gabriela Knaul, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, recommended that an independent body composed of professionals with international expertise and experience, including in medical forensics, psychology and post-traumatic disorders, should be established to investigate all claims of torture and ill-treatment alleged to have taken place during arrest and/or detention; such a body should have access to all places of detention and be able to interview detainees in private, and its composition should be agreed upon with defendants’ lawyers and families.
On 4 March 2013, the government commenced the mass, unfair trial of 94 defendants before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi. Those on trial included eight who were charged and tried in absentia. The government accused them, drawing on vaguely worded articles of the Penal Code, of “establishing an organisation that aimed to overthrow the government,” a charge which they all denied. On 2 July 2013, the court convicted 69 of the defendants, including the eight tried in absentia, sentencing them to prison terms of between seven and 15 years. It acquitted 25 defendants, including 13 women.
On 18 December 2015, the government of Indonesia forcibly returned to the UAE Abdulrahman Bin Sobeih, one of the defendants tried in absentia. He had intended to seek asylum but is now a victim of enforced disappearance in the UAE and at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.
The UAE 94 trial failed to meet international fair trial standards and was widely condemned by human rights organisations and UN human rights bodies. The court accepted as evidence “confessions” made by defendants, even though the defendants repudiated them in court and alleged that State Security interrogators had extracted them through torture or other duress when defendants were in pre-trial incommunicado detention, without any access to the outside world, including to lawyers. The court failed to order an independent and impartial investigation of defendants’ claims that they had been tortured or otherwise ill-treated in secret detention. The defendants were also denied a right of appeal to a higher tribunal, in contravention of international human rights law. Although the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court serves as a court of first instance, its judgements are final and not subject to appeal.
During the trial, the authorities prevented independent reporting of the proceedings, barring international media and independent trial observers from attending. The authorities also barred some of the defendants’ relatives from the courtroom; others were harassed, detained or imprisoned after they criticised on Twitter the proceedings and publicised torture allegations made by the defendants.
Blogger and Twitter activist Obaid Yousef Al-Zaabi, brother of Dr. Ahmed Al-Zaabi, who is one of the UAE 94 prisoners, has been detained since his arrest in December 2013. He was prosecuted by the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court on several charges based on his Twitter posts about the UAE 94 trial, including spreading “slander concerning the rulers of the UAE using phrases that lower their status, and accusing them of oppression” and “disseminating ideas and news meant to mock and damage the reputation of a governmental institution.” Despite his acquittal in June 2014, the authorities continue to arbitrarily detain him, even though there is no legal basis for depriving him of his liberty.
On-line activist Osama Al-Najjar was arrested on 17 March 2014 and prosecuted on charges stemming from messages he posted on Twitter defending his father, Hussain Ali Al-Najjar Al-Hammadi, who is also one of the UAE 94 prisoners. In November 2014, he was sentenced by the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court to three years’ imprisonment on charges including “offending the State” and allegedly “instigating hatred against the State.” He was also convicted of “contacting foreign organisations and presenting inaccurate information,” a charge which followed his meeting with the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers during her official visit to the UAE in February 2014. Like all defendants convicted by this court, he was denied the right to appeal the verdict.
In his March 2015 report, Michel Forst, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, expressed serious concern about the arbitrary arrest and detention of Osama Al-Najjar. He expressed concern that his arrest and detention may have been related to his legitimate activities in advocating for justice and human rights in the UAE and the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of opinion and expression, as well as his cooperation with the UN and its human rights mechanisms. The Special Rapporteur called on the government to ensure that human rights defenders can carry out their legitimate activities in a safe and an enabling environment, including through open and unhindered access to international human rights bodies such as the UN, its mechanisms and representatives in the field of human rights, without fear of harassment, stigmatisation or criminalisation of any kind.
The 10 human rights organisations also express concern at the introduction of retrogressive legislation and amendment of already repressive laws, thereby further suppressing human rights. In July 2015, the authorities enacted a new law on combating discrimination and hatred with broadly-worded provisions, which further erode rights to freedom of expression and association. The law defines hate speech as “any speech or conduct which may incite sedition, prejudicial action or discrimination among individuals or groups… through words, writings, drawings, signals, filming, singing, acting or gesturing” and provides punishments of a minimum of five years’ imprisonment, as well as heavy fines. It also empowers courts to disband associations deemed to “provoke” such speech, and imprison their founders for a minimum of 10 years, even if the association or its founder have not engaged in such speech. The highly repressive 2012 cybercrime law, used already to imprison dozens of activists and others expressing peaceful criticism of the government, was amended in February 2016 to provide even harsher punishments, including by raising fines from a minimum of 100,000 Dirhams ($27,226) to 2 million Dirhams ($544,521).
Increasingly, the UAE authorities are using these laws and others simply as a means to silence peaceful dissent and other expression on public issues, and to sentence human rights defenders or peaceful critics of the government to lengthy prison terms.
The 10 human rights organisations urgently call on the UAE government to:
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Index on Censorship
International Commission of Jurists
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)