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UAE: Freedom of expression in danger after sentencing of human rights defender Abdullah Al-Hadidi to 10 months in prison for tweeting

2013-04-11

 

On 8 April 2013, the Abu Dhabi Court of First Instance sentenced Twitter activist and human rights defender Mr Abdullah Al-Hadidi to a ten-month jail term. This is the first conviction under the new cyber crime law and was based on the alleged publication of false information relating to the Supreme Court hearing of the case of the human rights activists known as the UAE94.

Access to the courtroom for the hearing of the UAE94 was restricted and many international observers and members of the media were denied entry.  However, Abdullah Al-Hadidi had access to the courtroom and documented what happened inside the courtroom, posting the events on his Twitter account. He was active also assisting defendants’ families in compiling defence evidence and documents for their cases.

On 22 March, in the early hours of the morning, Abdullal Al-Hadidi was arrested by plain-clothes policemen at his home in Sharjah with his wife and three children present. No warrant was shown for his arrest and he was taken directly to Sharjah police station. The officials at the police station told the family that he had been arrested for a financial offence and refused to allow them to bail him out.

The same day he was transferred to Abu Dhabi, reportedly because a court security official had filed a complaint against him based on grounds that he had used force against police personnel from the General Command of Abu Dhabi Police. This security guard was the official who had forcefully removed Abdullah Al-Hadidi from the courtroom during the most recent hearing of the UAE 94 detainees, which took place on 19 March 2013.

Abdullah Al-Hadidi was interrogated and asked about the postings he had made on his Twitter account relating to the case of the UAE 94. He maintained at all times that what he said was an accurate account of the events at the hearing.

Abdullal Al-Hadidi was brought before the office of the general prosecution of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and charged under Article 265 of the Penal Code and the recently enacted cyber crime law for publishing details of a public trial session “without probity and in bad faith. He was denied bail.

On 2 April 2013, the Court of First Instance allowed the defence to submit its documents before sentencing. In the next session held on 4 April 2013, the defence witnesses, all of whom are families of detainees of UAE94 case, testified that the human rights defender did not attack the policeman who removed him from the courtroom. The court examined the charge and found Abdullal Al-Hadidi not guilty. However, the defence witnesses were not questioned about the issue of reporting on Twitter and the human rights defender was convicted on the charge relating to these postings.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) expresses serious concern at the arrest and prison sentence handed down to Abdullah Al-Hadidi and notes that it is a grave attack on the right to freedom of expression in the UAE. The GCHR expresses further concern that the cyber crime law may be used in further cases to restrict freedom of opinion and expression and to target human rights defenders.  

The GCHR urges the authorities in the UAE to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release human rights defender Abdullah Al-Hadidi;
  2. Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Abdullah Al-Hadidi;
  3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in UAE are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment. 

The GCHR respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 6 (c) which states that: “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters” and to Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”