United Arab Emirates: Free members of UAE94 and all prisoners of conscience

03.07.21

On the eighth anniversary of the verdicts in the mass trial of prominent human rights defenders, judges, academics and students known as the UAE94, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) calls on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all those convicted following a trial that lacked the most basic international standards necessary for a fair trial and due process.

They were imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and freedom to form or belong to an association. In addition, other prisoners of conscience and Internet activists were imprisoned for denouncing this unfair trial and defending all those who were arbitrarily targeted. GCHR notes the failure of the UAE judiciary to conduct an independent, impartial and comprehensive investigation into the allegations that members of the UAE94 were subjected to torture and ill-treatment before and after their trial, and to bring those responsible for these violation to trial and provide redress and compensation to their victims.

On 02 July 2013, the Abu Dhabi Federal Supreme Court issued verdicts convicting 69 of the 94 defendants, including eight of those convicted in absentia, and acquitted 25 of them. Prison sentences ranged between seven and 15 years. Among those convicted are many prominent figures in Emirati society, including prominent human rights lawyer Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken, a professor of constitutional law and the former president of the UAE’s Jurists Association; renowned lawyers and human rights defenders Dr. Mohammad Al-Mansoori and Salem Al-Shehhi; and human rights defender Sheikh Mohammed Abdul Razzaq Al-Siddiq, whose children were left stateless after their citizenship was revoked by the authorities and they were left without identification documents.

The defendants included also Judge Mohammed Saeed Al-Abdouli, a board member of the Fujairah Charitable Society; professor of law and former judge Dr. Ahmed Al Zaabi; human rights lawyer and university professor Dr. Hadef Rashid Al-Owais; Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Kayed Al-Qasimi, a senior member of the ruling family in Ras Al-Khaimah; Director of the Association for Guidance and Social Guidance, Khaled Al Shaiba Al Nuaimi; science teacher Hussain Ali Al-Najjar Al-Hammadi; former blogger and teacher Saleh Mohammed Al-Dhafiri; Abdullah Al-Hajri, a student leader; and student and blogger Khalifa Al-Nuaimi, who had an active blog where he expressed his criticism of the human rights situation in the UAE and the harsh methods practiced by the state security apparatus.

Human rights lawyer and former judge Mohammed Saqr Al-Zaabi, a former president of the UAE’s Jurists Association, was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison.

Their signatures on the reform petition, among 133 men and women from across the UAE’s intellectual, legal, human rights and political spectrum, was one of the main reasons the UAE94 were targeted. It’s a petition submitted on 03 March 2011, to the President of the State and members of the Supreme Council, who are the rulers of the seven Emirates. They demanded the following: "The election of all members of the Federal National Council by all citizens, as applied in democratic countries around the world;" and "amendments to the constitutional articles related to the Federal National Council to ensure it has full legislative and oversight powers."

Among the signatories to this historic petition are prominent human rights blogger and defender Ahmed Mansoor, currently serving a ten-year prison sentence, and courageous human rights defender Alaa Mohammed Al-Siddiq, who recently passed away after an unfortunate incident.

The response of the Emirati authorities to this reform petition was repressive, reflecting their rejection of other opinions and their disrespect for the civil and human rights of citizens. Many of its signatories were subjected to all kinds of direct targeting, including arbitrary arrest and detention, and unfair prison sentences after sham trials on false charges, in addition to having their citizenship revoked and their property and assets being confiscated, and being dismissed from their jobs, along with their family members.

The UAE authorities continue their systematic policies that include a well-known pattern of violations represented by secret detention, enforced disappearance, torture, and unjust sentences using the Cybercrime Law adopted in late 2012 and the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2014, which includes a vague and broad definition of terrorism. Activists and prisoners of opinion are kept in prison despite the completion of their sentences and in contravention of international human rights principles. Throughout, the role of the state security apparatus stands out as a repressive body that holds the actual power in the Emirates, using the UAE judiciary as a tool to silence and imprison dissidents, leading to a loss of reputation and independence.

GCHR urges the UAE authorities to fulfill their human rights obligations, and to show true tolerance, the first step being to release all imprisoned human rights defenders and other prisoners of conscience, and this alone will give meaning to the Ministry of Tolerance that was created in 2016. The government should also respect the public freedoms of citizens.