On World Human Rights Day, we call for the release of all prisoners of conscience in the UAE
Today, December 10th, is World Human Rights Day, a day on which we mark “the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a milestone document that proclaimed the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being.
In the UAE, however, human rights and fundamental freedoms are not a reason to celebrate. Since the Arab Spring swept through the MENA region in 2011, the Gulf State has undertaken a widespread and systematic crackdown on civil society through repressive Cybercrime and Anti-Terrorism laws that has seen the imprisonment of a myriad of lawyers, journalists and academics who criticized the regime online. With the help of extensive surveillance technology imported from the UK, the UAE authorites have used ‘the fight against terrorism’ as a pretext to suppress civil and political activism on social media. Reporters Without Borders ranked the UAE 133rd out of 180 countries in their 2019 Press Freedom Index, deeming the Gulf state “the masters of online surveillance.”
In a 2013 land-mark trial, known as the ‘UAE 94’ case, a disparate group of 94 academics was arrested and charged with “plotting to overthrow the government.” In truth, they were persecuted simply for signing an online petition in favour of democratic reform. 69 of the accused were eventually sentenced to between 7 and 15 years of imprisonment, with only one released since.
World renowned human rights lawyer Mohamed al-Roken, former lecturer at the Dubai branch of the Paris-Sorbonne University Nasser bin-Ghaith, and Ahmed Mansoor, member of the advisory board at Human Rights Watch, have all fallen victim to the authorities’ extensive crackdown on freedom of speech. Al-Roken was convicted in the aforementioned UAE 94 trial whilst Mansoor was imprisoned for “defaming the UAE through social media channels”. Though not convicted until 2017, Nasser bin-Ghaith was charged with “committing a hostile act against a foreign state” that “intended to harm the reputation and stature” of the UAE following tweets critical of the Egyptian and Emirati regimes. All have been sentenced to ten years for seeking democratic reform and speaking out against human rights violations.
For those who languish in detention, torture and ill-treatment are commonplace. Al-Roken has been subject to music torture and solitary confinement, whilst bin-Ghaith was denied urgent access to medical care, eventually leaving him unable to stand. Ahmed Mansoor, meanwhile, has been in solitary confinement for over two and a half years.
In May of this year, cancer-stricken Alia Abdul Nour died whilst chained to her bed in custody at Tawam hospital after years of being denied adequate medical care, despite calls from international bodies like the EU Parliament to release her on compassionate grounds.
In 2018, British PhD candidate Matthew Hedges was subject to psychological torture and daily interrogations whilst detained, eventually signing a confession under duress.
Not only are political prisoners tortured, but the UAE also consistently fails to release detainees past their release date. Since 2012, at least twelve prisoners have been held indefinitely without due process.
Migrant workers, too, who make up 88% of the Emirati population are at increased risk of exploitation; those who work as manual labourers are especially at risk. Though worker fatality numbers in the UAE are not publicly disclosed, according to data from the Indian government, 5,185 Indian nationals died between 2012–2017 in the UAE. In 2017, 70% of recorded deaths amongst blue collar workers were designated as heart attacks - many of these were attributed to heat stress resulting from exhaustive construction.
“It is shameful to be witnessing the outright failure of UAE’s self-proclaimed ‘Year of Tolerance’. Political prisoners continue to wither behind bars and be subject to torture in abysmal conditions, whilst migrant workers continue to be terribly exploited in the run up to Expo 2020. These actions constitute devastating blows to freedom of expression in the country and fundamentally contradict the notion of tolerance.
On World Human Rights Day, the ICFUAE calls for the immediate and unconditional release of the UAE 94 and all other remaining political prisoners. It is of the highest priority that the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms becomes a daily reality of Emirati life.”