Joint statement: Freedom to all prisoners of Conscience in United Arab Emirates
Today, the 2nd of July, marks two years since 94 Emirati nationals, including 13 women, were convicted on national security charges after the highly politicized trial, known as the “UAE 94” case, before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court (FSC).
The 94 defendants were charged with founding, organizing and administering an organization aimed at overthrowing the government, based on article 180 of the penal code. The offences carried a maximum sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment. At the conclusion of the trial on 2nd July 2013, 69 defendants were convicted and 25 acquitted. Many were sentenced to 10 years and others to 7 years imprisonment. The group tried in absentia received the maximum 15 years imprisonment.
The large group of defendants includes prominent human rights lawyers, academics, judges, teachers and student leaders, among them:
- Sheikh Sultan Ben Kaid Al-Kasimi, President of al-Islah (Reformation) Association;
- Justice Mohamed Al-Abduli, a judge;
- Hadef Al-Oais, law professor and lawyer;
- Mohamed Al-Mansoori, Legal Adviser to the ruler of Ras Al-Kaima Emirate, and law professor and Lawyer Dr. Mohammed al-Roken. Both are prominent human rights advocate;
- Ahmed Al-Zaabi, retired judge, and
- Saleh Mohammed al-Dhufairi and Khalifa al-Nuaimi, bloggers.
They are all UAE citizens who demanded social and political reforms. Many are members of a local group, the Reform and Social Guidance Association (Al-Islah).
The Court failed to investigate allegations that some defendants were tortured during months of pre-trial incommunicado detention to obtain forced confessions that formed the basis of the prosecution case against them, and which the court accepted as evidence. The defendants were denied a right of appeal, in breach of international fair trial standards.
During the trial, observers, foreign lawyers, international media, human rights organizations, and many of the defendant’s relatives were barred from the proceedings, which is a grave violation of Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In fact, in her last report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, has also expressed her concerns, about the lack of transparency during both the investigation phase and court proceedings in UAE, particularly with regard to criminal cases heard before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court. The report highlights cases where hearings were held in closed sessions or with limited public access, such as “UAE94”, in addition to cases where lawyers faced serious difficulties in accessing information, especially investigation files.
The “UAE94” group were put in Rezin prison, known as “UAE’s Guantanamo” which is one of the most ill reputed prisons in UAE. Despite international appeals to improve the situation of its prisoners, Emirati authorities paid no heed to any of these appeals. In fact, authorities in Rezin Prison continue their repressive practices with the prisoners of conscience and in particular the “UAE 94” group. They inflict severe sanctions and deprive them of their most basic rights for trivial reasons. Prisoners are subjected to a series of persecution including:
- Solitary confinement in inhumane conditions, without beds or blankets for days;
- Systematic searches without any respect for prisoners’ decency and dignity;
- Policy of starvation by giving little food to political prisoners and forbidding them to buy from canteen;
- Ban visits to disabled relatives of prisoners;
- Block access to newspapers and information;
- Continuous insults and humiliation;
- Lack of ventilation in cells, which creates unsafe and unhealthy conditions; and
- Some detainees had severe poisoning caused by eating rotten meat, which led to the deterioration of their health, diarrhea and vomiting without allowing the prison administration to provide any medical treatment to them.
Besides, families of prisoners are subjected to various kinds of punishments and harassments such as travel ban, barring from work and higher education as well as restrictions on their properties, pensions, birth certificates and travel papers.
We, the undersigned organizations, condemn these heinous and inhumane practices and human rights violations and therefore call on the UAE authorities to:
- Order the immediate release of those imprisoned as a result of this unfair trial and all prisoners of conscience;
- Provide an independent investigation into the allegations of torture and inhumane treatment;
- Insure the publicity of hearings and the transparency of the proceedings;
- Implement the recommendations made by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers;
- Abolish all special courts;
- Ensure all fair trial guarantees including the independence of the judiciary;
- Refrain from restricting freedoms of expression and opinion;
- Ratify the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Optional Protocol to United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and
- Stop the collective punishment imposed on families of prisoners of conscience and grant them their full rights.
- The International Center for Justice and Human Rights, Geneva
- European Alliance for Human Rights, Paris
- International Federation for Rights and Development, Roma
- Free Voice, Paris
- Human Rights Solidarity, Geneva
- AFD International department Mena, Brussels
- Association for the victims of Torture in Tunisia, Geneva
- ICFUAE – International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE, London