United Arab Emirates: URGENT ACTION: UAE: Authorities must release human rights defender Osama-Al-Najjar who remains in arbitrary detention despite serving his sentence
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.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) believes that the arrest and ongoing detention of Osama Al-Najjar is solely related to the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression. 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.
Support the case of Osama Al-Najjar by:
- Joining our Twitter campaign on the case of Osama Al-Najjar at #FreeOsama; and
- Writing immediately in English, Arabic or your own language urging the UAE authorities to:
a) Ensure the prompt release of Osama Al-Najjar;
b) Guarantee the physical and psychological safety, well-being and integrity of all prisoners at Al-Razeen Prison and take measures to ensure that they are protected from torture and other ill-treatment and have access to lawyers, their families and to any necessary medical attention;
c) Release all human rights defenders detained solely as a result of their peaceful and legitimate human rights work;
d) Guarantee in all circumstances that on-line activists and all human rights defenders in the UAE are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.
Kindly send your letter in Arabic or English as soon as possible to:
1. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum
Prime Minister’s Office
PO Box: 212000
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Fax: +971 4 330 4044
2. Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al-Nahyan
Ministry of the Interior
Zayer Sport City, Arab Gulf Street, Near to Sheikh Zayed Mosque
PO Box: 398
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Fax: +971 2 402 2762 / +971 2 441 5780
3. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan
Crown Prince Court
King Abdulaziz Al-Saud Street
PO Box: 124
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Fax: +971 2 668 6622