International Women’s Day: The Case of Amina ‘Abdouli, Prisoner of Conscience in UAE Jails
“Tomorrow, the world will celebrate International Women’s Day… and we in the UAE celebrate the women as our partners in developments, maker of change and driving force in our community” (twitter posting, in Arabic, March 7 2017).
Thus were the words of Shaik Mohammed Bin Rashid al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), in a March 7 Twitter posting. On March 8, the United Arab Emirates will commemorate International Women’s Day, where UAE leaders and ministers will celebrate the role of women. However, the Emirati authorities’ continuous crackdown on freedom of expression coupled with enforced disappearances and torture of women, remain unresolved issues that still plague the Emirati society.
On International Women’s Day, we highlight the case of Amina ‘Abdouli, one of the female prisoners of conscience currently in UAE jail. Amina (33) is an Emirati teacher and mother of 5 who was sentenced to 5 years in prison for simply exercising her right to freedom of expression. Her case represents one of many cases of women who are detained in the UAE for their opinions and activism.
Amina was arrested on 19 November 2015 with her brother Mos’ab and her sister Moza. They were forcibly disappeared by State Security forces in plain clothes after they raided their house without warrant. Their oldest brother Waleed was later arrested after he publicly condemned the arbitrary detention of his siblings during Friday prayers. All four siblings were held in secret locations and had no access to a lawyer nor family visits, in contravention of international law.
Their father, Mohammed Ahmed 'Abdouli, was a former colonel of the UAE army and head of the banned Emirati Umma Party, and had been detained in 2005 for two years without a trial. He was killed in Syria in 2013 while fighting for the non-state group Ahrar Al-Sham.
In March 2016, Waleed was released without charge after 4 months of arbitrary detention. The first of a series of hearings for the siblings was Moza's trial in April 2016. 18 years of age at the time, Moza was tried for tweets she had published 3 years before, at the age of 15, which were deemed insulting to the UAE authorities and its institutions. Moza was finally acquitted in May.
Amina and Mos'ab appeared in front of the Supreme Federal Court on 27 June 2016 where they heard for the first time their charges. Amina was being held for her Twitter activity, which was deemed to "damage the reputation of the state" and "incite hatred" by criticising Saudi Arabia and Egypt's foreign policy. In fact, under the UAE's penal code, any criticism of the UAE government, the royal family, or their allies is criminalised and publishable through a jail sentence and fine. These laws starkly contravene international laws on freedom of expression, embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Arab Charter of Human Rights. They also violate the UAE's own constitution, which states in article 30 that "freedom of opinion and expression in speech and writing and all means of expression are guaranteed within the law".
In October, Amina was sentenced to 5 years in jail and 500,000 dirham fine (about £112,000). Amnesty International urgently called for her release "in regard to the charges she has been convicted of, which relate solely to the peaceful exercise of her right to freedom of expression" . Her brother Mos'ab was also sentenced to 7 years imprisonment for belonging to the Syrian armed group Ahrar Al-Sham like his father, charges he denied. The judgement, which came from the State Security Chamber, does not allow further appeal, in direct violation of international standards of fair trials.
This International Women's Day, we ask the UAE authorities to uphold the rights of women, including their rights to express their opinion freely without fear for their safety or that of their families. We ask the UAE authorities to release Amina 'Abdouli and all other prisoners of conscience, being detained for peacefully expressing their rights to freedom of speech and assembly.
Join our campaign to bring #Justice4Women this #International Women's Day
 Shaik Mohammed Bin Rashid al Maktoum's tweet https://twitter.com/HHShkMohd/status/839046790800355328
 Read more about Freedom of Expression in the UAE http://www.ic4jhr.org/en/activites/reports/23-report-on-freedom-of-expression-and-press-freedom-in-the-united-arab-emirates.html
 Read more about women's rights in the UAE: http://icfuae.org.uk/research-and-publications/womens-rights-united-arab-emirates