Human rights center urges the UAE to release activist Osama Al-Najjar
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) calls on authorities in the UAE to immediately and unconditionally release him and all those detained as a result of carrying out their peaceful human rights activities.
Human rights defender and on-line activist Osama Al-Najjar remains in prison in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), even though he was scheduled for release on 17 March 2017 after serving his full three-year prison sentence. He has been jailed solely for the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression, including through his advocacy behalf of his unjustly imprisoned father.
In January 2017, Al-Najjar was transferred from Al-Wathba Prison to Al-Razeen Prison, a maximum-security jail in the middle of the Abu Dhabi desert where dozens of activists are held. He remains in arbitrary detention.
Despite having completed his prison sentence, the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court has decided to extend his detention at the request of the Public Prosecution on the pretext that he is a “threat” and must be imprisoned in the Counselling Center, an area within the prison. The authorities have failed to specify the term of this arbitrary and unlawful detention, which constitutes a flagrant breach of Al-Najjar’s human rights.
By keeping Osama Al-Najjar in prison after the completion of his sentence, the UAE authorities are following a dangerous precedent set in 2014 when they continued to arbitrarily detain blogger Obaid Yousef Al-Zaabi, even though he was acquitted of speech-related charges in June 2014. Al-Zaabi remains in detention, even though the authorities have no legal basis for depriving him of his liberty.
The UAE authorities are acting contrary to international law, as well as the UAE’s own laws, by keeping individuals who have served their sentences in prison beyond their release dates. It appears that the authorities are using the pretext of national security by labelling human rights defenders and Internet activists as a "threat" to the state in order keep them imprisoned.
Osama Al-Najjar was arrested on 17 March 2014 by ten state security officers during a raid on his home. He was kept in solitary confinement at an undisclosed location for four days without access to his family or lawyer. He has said that, during this time, he was tortured and otherwise ill-treated: he was punched in the face and hit with a cable on his body until a wound on his leg, caused by surgery he had received the day before his arrest, began bleeding.
He was brought before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi on 23 September 2014 and charged with offences including “offending and instigating hatred against the State”, and “spreading lies” about his father, Hossain Al-Najjar, who was one of the UAE94 human rights activists put on mass trial in 2013, and who is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence. The charges related to postings Osama Al-Najjar had made on Twitter where he expressed concern at the ill-treatment of his father in prison and called for him to be released.
On 25 November 2014, following a grossly unfair trial, Osama Al-Najjar was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of 500,000 Emirati Dirham (approx. USD$136,100). He was denied the right to appeal the verdict. Under Article 44 of Federal Law No. 43, Concerning the Regulation of Punitive Facilities, he was entitled to be released in August 2016, having served three quarters of his sentence, but only if his family paid the fine of 500,000 Dirham, which they were unable to do.