United Arab Emirates: Human rights defender Osama Al-Najjar finally released

09.08.19

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) has received reports confirming that human rights defender Osama Al-Najjar along with two other prisoners of conscience, Badr Al-Bahri and Othman Ibrahim Al-Shehhi, were released from Al-Razeen prison in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on 08 August 2019.

Osama Al-Najjar, an online activist, was due for release over two years ago, on 17 March 2017, but at the prosecutor’s request, the court labelled him a “threat” to national security and extended his detention indefinitely. Al-Bahri was supposed to be released on 12 April 2017 while Al-Shehhi was due for release on 23 July 2018. 

Al-Najjar was violently arrested on 17 March 2014, was not taken to court until 23 September that year. He was charged with allegedly belonging to Al-Islah, offending the State via Twitter, instigating hatred against the State via Twitter, and spreading lies about the torture of his father, Hussain Al-Najjar, for whom he campaigned publicly online.

His father, who is among a group of prisoners known as the UAE94, is currently serving an 11-year jail term for his human rights activities. The UAE94 include human rights defenders, lawyers and political activists who were tried in a mass trial, with 69 being convicted in July 2013.

On 25 November 2014, the State Security Court at the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi sentenced Osama Al-Najjar to three years in prison and 500,000 Emirati Dirham (approximately US$136,100). During a hearing which lasted only ten minutes, presiding judge Mohammad Al-Tunaigi also ordered the confiscation of the on-line activist’s electronic equipment and the permanent closure of all his social media accounts. There was no opportunity to appeal the sentence.

Osama Al-Najjar was due for release after having served three quarters of his sentence, according to the rights afforded to him by the UAE Punitive Installations Law.  Although he was not convicted of a terrorist crime, he was held at the Razeen Prison Counseling Center under the country’s anti-terrorism law.

The other two men released were prisoners of conscience Badr Al-Bahri, who was arrested on 22 April 2014 and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, and Othman Ibrahim Al-Shehhi, who was arrested on 23 July 2013 and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. Both cases were similar to Al-Najjar’s in that they had already served their full sentence but remained in prison.

Local sources confirmed that they are several other prisoners of conscience who served their full sentences but are still detained, which is a practice adopted by authorities in the UAE contrary to international human rights standards and country’s own laws.

While welcoming the release of Osama Al-Najjar, Badr Al-Bahri and Othman Ibrahim Al-Shehhi, GCHR further urges the authorities in the UAE to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release all detained human rights defenders and activists, including Ahmed Mansoor, Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith, and all members of the UAE94;
  2. Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of human rights defenders and other prisoners of conscience while they remain in detention;
  3. End the practice of holding prisoners indefinitely after they have served their sentences; and
  4. 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.