Fours Years On, the 'UAE 94' Still Seek Justice
Today marks the 4th anniversary of the verdict of the infamous 'UAE 94' trial which saw prominent human rights lawyers, academics, and students incarcerated for signing a petition calling for democratic reforms in the UAE. Four years on from the trial, repression still dominates the Emirati landscape with arbitrary arrests, torture, and heavy restrictions on freedom of speech still prevalent.
In 2011, a group of 94 activists, which included human rights lawyers, academics, student leaders, and teachers, who would infamously come to be known as the 'UAE94', signed a petition calling on the UAE authorities to institute democratic reforms. Signatories were subjected to enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture at the hands of UAE state authorities for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of speech and assembly.
On 2 July 2013, UAE courts handed down sentences ranging from 7-15 years to 69 of the 94 defendants, whilst acquitting the other 25. The trial, which was mired in controversy, drew heavy condemnation from UN bodies and human rights organisations for failing to meet the international standards of fairness. In an overtly political trial the defendants were charged with plotting to overthrow the government, with evidence resting on the political beliefs of the defendants and membership of some to the locally based group Al-Islah.
The trial gained international media attention and was heavily condemned by organisations such as Amnesty international and Human Rights Watch who accused the UAE authorities of contravening international law and violating basic human rights. Both launched international campaigns calling for the immediate release of the detained. In a similar vein, the International Commission of Jurists produced a damning report of the trial that highlighted the UAE's judicial failings. The report, published in October 2013, cited the use of torture, unfair trials and the overall failure of the UAE authorities to live up to the commitment it made to the Human Rights Council to “place human rights at the top of its priorities”. On the fourth anniversary of the verdict, those convicted in 2013 remain incarcerated to this day and are denied any right of appeal in direct contravention to international law.
A substantial number of 'UAE 94' prisoners are detained in Al-Rezin prison, a facility notorious for its degrading conditions and oppressive treatment of inmates. It is reported that the 'UAE 94' group are often kept in solitary confinement, subjected to raids and beatings by the prison warders, denied family visits or access to adequate health care. A 'UAE 94' prisoner, Imran Radwan, is currently engaged in an open-ended hunger strike in protest against the degrading conditions inmates face in the prison. Almost a month into the strike, sources close to him have revealed that he is suffering sharp weight loss and frequent fainting as he becomes unable to move.
The 'UAE 94' trial forms part of a much broader narrative when considering the UAE's attitude towards freedom of speech and assembly within its borders. According to Emirates Media and Studies Centre, around 300 people were detained in 2016 alone for voicing opinions on social media that authorities deemed critical of the state.
The ICFUAE reiterates its calls to the UAE authorities to abide by international human rights law by immediately and unconditionally releasing prisoners of conscience solely imprisoned for exercising their rights to freedom of speech, association and assembly.