United Arab Emirates: Authorities continue ill-treatment of detained human rights defenders, including refusing to release those who served their full sentence

17.12.18

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is concerned about ongoing ill-treatment of imprisoned human rights defenders in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the failure to release Osama Hussein Al-Najjar and seven other prisoners who have completed their sentences. In addition, GCHR is concerned about the health of prominent academic and economist Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith, who has reportedly been on a partial hunger strike in Al-Razeen prison for 50 days.

According to local reports, detained human rights defenders continue to be treated poorly, including being deprived of proper access to their families, proper medical care and books.

Reliable report also confirmed that Dr. Bin Ghaith is still on a partial hunger strike, demanding his immediate release following the pardon of British academic Matthew Hedges on 26 November 2018 a week after he was sentenced to life in prison on spying allegations. It is difficult to ascertain when Dr. Bin Ghaith’s latest hunger strike began, but it may have been going on for seven weeks.

Dr. Bin Ghaith, who was sentenced on 29 March 2017 to ten years in prison for critical comments he made online about human rights violations in the UAE and Egypt, has undertaken several previous hunger strikes. On 02 April 2017, he began a hunger strike to protest his sentence, which violated his rights to freedom of expression and fair trial. On 25 February 2018, he began another hunger strike to protest poor conditions in Abu Dhabi’s notorious Al-Razeen prison. Al-Razeen is a maximum-security prison in the desert used to hold activists, government critics, and human rights defenders. He ended that hunger strike due to threats from the authorities to restrict visits after news of his protest became known.

In addition, the authorities continue to hold human rights defenders beyond their expected release date, including Al-Najjar, a young blogger arrested for protesting the sentencing of his father in a case in which he was tried along with 94 other Emiratis (known as the UAE94). Al-Najjar was due for release in March 2017, following the end of his three-year sentence.

Another seven prisoners of conscience also remain in prison beyond their release date. Emirati authorities refuse to release them, claiming they are a risk to national security and need rehabilitation. This is not only contrary to international human rights law but also to the Penal Code of the UAE itself. Normally, convicted prisoners are released after serving two thirds of their sentences.

The names of the prisoners who have completed their sentences but remain in Al-Razeen prison are:
1. Osama Hussein Al-Najjar: arrested on 17 March 2014 and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.
2. Abdelwahid Hassan Al-Badi: arrested on 26 March 2013 and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.
3. Saeed Al-Buraimi: arrested on 26 March 2013 and sentenced to five years' imprisonment.
4. Abdullah Al-Helu: arrested on 22 April 2014 and sentenced to three years' imprisonment.
5. Badr Al-Bahri: arrested on 22 April 2014 and sentenced to three years' imprisonment.
6. Ahmad Mohammed Al-Mollah: arrested on 01 May 2014 and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.
7. Khalifa Rabiaa: arrested on 23 July 2013 and sentenced to five years' imprisonment.
8. Othman Ibrahim Al-Shehhi: arrested on 23 July 2013 and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.

GCHR is concerned about Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith, Osama Al-Najjar and other detained human rights defenders, including Ahmed Mansoor, GCHR’s Advisory Board member, who have experienced poor treatment and torture in prison, contrary to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

GCHR calls on the UAE authorities to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith, Ahmed Mansoor, Osama Al-Najjar and other prisoners of conscience who were arrested and detained solely for their peaceful human rights activities;
  2. Pending their release, ensure that Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith, Ahmed Mansoor, Osama Al-Najjar and other prisoners of conscience are treated in line with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, including being allowed proper access to their families, proper medical care and books; and
  3. Allow UN experts or international NGOs access to visit Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith, Ahmed Mansoor and Osama Al-Najjar, as well as other human rights defenders, who are detained in Emirati prisons.