The infamous UAE 94 trial.. 7 years on
Seven years on from the grossly unfair ‘UAE 94’ trial, only one prisoner has been released.
Given the United Arab Emirates' (UAE) reputation as a ‘world city’ and Middle Eastern economic hub, it may appear to many that the monarchy was unburdened in the wake of the Arab Spring in 2011. But it is in this context of political dislocation that the regime became acutely aware of the potential for dissent in the UAE, and reacted reflexively.
The UAE 94 were a disparate group of political activists who advocated increased democratic reform in the Gulf state in the wake of the Arab Spring. Loosely associated with political group Al-Islah, however, they were branded a national security threat and charged with attempting to overthrow the government. According to Gulf specialist Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, “the primary threat of Al-Islah lay less in its political demands” and more in its potential to spread discontent as a tool for mass mobilisation.
The accused were thus swiftly detained en masse, forcibly disappeared and held incommunicado for prolonged periods of time. Trials began on March 4th 2013 and concluded on July 2nd with the detention of sixty-nine of the ninety-four, many of whom showed visible signs of torture and ill-treatment - seventy-one of the defendants would later co-sign a letter outlining seventeen types of torture, in direct violation of the UN Convention against Torture which the UAE signed a year earlier, in 2012. Relying heavily on evidence acquired through forced confessions, the court sentenced five defendants to seven years in prison, fifty-six defendants to ten years, and eight defendants (tried in absentia) to fifteen years, whilst twenty-five were acquitted. The accused were tried in the Federal Supreme Court to ensure that they could not appeal to a higher court.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has criticised the trial for its use of arbitrary detention, signalling that these detentions were motivated by “the exercise of their rights to freedom of opinion and expression and to freedom of assembly and association.” Since the UAE 94 trial, freedom of expression in the UAE has been further restricted through the development of a sophisticated police state endowed with highly specialist surveillance equipment obtained from Western allies, including the United Kingdom. Ambiguous legislation such as the 2012 Cybercrime Law and 2014 Anti-Terrorism legislation have also proven to be a powerful legislative tool in cracking down on dissent.
Seven years on from this show trial only Abdul Rahman Bin Sobeih Al-Suwaidi, previously charged to ten years imprisonment, has been released after being forced to deny the torture he endured in prison and condemn his reform group on Sharjah TV, Abu Dhabi TV, and Emirates TV.