United Arab Emirates: Release prisoners of conscience who have completed their sentences

10.06.22

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is protesting in the strongest terms the authorities' continued and deliberate failure to release prisoners of conscience and to hold them for a long period after the end of their sentences. On 29 March 2022, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Ministry of Justice published on its website news that the Head of State had issued orders "to release 540 inmates from correctional and penal facilities who have been sentenced in various cases, on the occasion of the blessed month of Ramadan." These pardons for convicted prisoners are a tradition that has been in place since the founding of the state in 1971. Unfortunately, prisoners of conscience have never benefitted from these pardons, showing a lack of tolerance by the authorities.

Human rights defenders treated worse than criminals

The authorities in the UAE, under the guidance of their highest officials, follow a policy of systematic targeting against women/human rights defenders, including arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, and issuing long and unfair sentences against them on charges related to their legitimate civil and human rights, including expressing their opinions online or offline, and forming and belonging to associations.

The systematic targeting does not stop with the detention of human rights defenders in prisons, but continues strongly after their imprisonment. Prisoners of conscience suffer from widespread violations of their rights in almost complete contradiction to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules).  This includes the lack of appropriate health care, the lengthy spacing and irregularity of family visits, and the fact that phone calls are not allowed to a number of prisoners for a very long periods of up to many years.

These violations have been documented by human rights organisations, including GCHR, which issued in February 2022 an important report entitled, "Patterns of Torture in the UAE”.

In May 2022, GCHR and over a dozen NGOs led by the Emirates Detainees Advocacy Centre (EDAC) issued a joint appeal to the new President to release prisoners of conscience when he became leader.

Inhuman targeting of families of prisoners of conscience

The families of prisoners of conscience, due to their peaceful and legitimate work in the field of human rights, have paid a heavy price, which included many types of direct reprisals such as confiscation of financial assets and deprivation of various sources of income, deprivation of public jobs, as well as revocation of their nationality and the obligation to leave the country or remain in it deprived of any of the rights mentioned.

Prominent human rights defender Alaa Mohammed Al-Siddiq, who was killed in an unfortunate car accident in the United Kingdom on 19 June 2021, summarises in this fact-rich video the suffering of her family, which included having property confiscated, being deprived of jobs and not being allowed to complete their studies, having the citizenship revoked of their Emirati children, and media campaigns carried out to discredit them.

Another example of this continuous targeting was documented by GCHR on 23 May 2022, of direct and indirect targeting of woman human rights defender Jenan Al-Marzooqi, daughter of prisoner of conscience and member of the group of prisoners known as the UAE94, Abdulsalam Mohammed Darwish Al-Marzooqi. She has been threatened for many years and continues to face threats to this day even after leaving the country. In November 2013, her father's citizenship was withdrawn, and in 2017, the citizenship of his children was also withdrawn.

Using unjust laws to keep prisoners of conscience in prison

Although they are peaceful prisoners of conscience who have committed no crime, the authorities have used Article 40 of Law No. 1 of 2014 on Combating Terrorism Offences, which includes a vague and broad definition of terrorism, to keep prisoners of conscience who have completed their sentences detained indefinitely. This article states in its second paragraph that, “If a person appears to pose a terrorist threat, he/she shall be sent to Munasaha (counselling) Centres, by virtue of a judgment issued by the Court and upon request of the prosecution.”

Also, Article (9) of Law (28) of 2019 regarding the establishment of the National Counselling Centre gives the Public Prosecutor the power to subject any prisoners he/she wants to the counselling program.

There is no doubt that it is not permissable under international law to apply the Law on Combating Terrorism Offences to them nor to hold them under the counselling programme, because it is known to all that they are not terrorists and do not hold deviant or extremist ideologies, and presented their best experiences and efforts to the nation with efficiency and sincerity.

It is worth noting that the arrests and detentions of prisoners of conscience were mostly arbitrary, without any specific charges being brought, and without any judicial warrant for arrest, house searches and confiscation of electronic devices, in violation of the applicable Criminal Procedural Law in the UAE. These are illegal practices that have become systematic and established by members of the State Security Apparatus.

State Security Apparatus and the prisoners of conscience bargaining process

According to multiple reliable local reports received by GCHR in the past years, the UAE, under the direct supervision of the State Security Apparatus, has developed a process of coercive bargaining with prisoners of conscience, including forcing them to appear in the official media to denounce their human rights work, and to express remorse in exchange for their release. The same reports confirmed that most prisoners of conscience rejected this offer outright.

GCHR previously documented that a few prisoners of conscience agreed to appear in the media in exchange for their release. However, informed local sources confirmed that they are still under house arrest, and that they must wear an electronic ankle bracelet so that the authorities can track their movements. They are not allowed to hold a public job, appear in the media, use social media, nor travel outside the country. It could be said that they moved out of a small prison into a larger one.

Reform Petition

At the forefront of the reasons for targeting most of the prisoners of conscience currently being held was the Reform Petition that most of them signed, among 133 citizens, including men and women from the different intellectual, legal, legal and political spectrums of the UAE. This was one of the main reasons for targeting the UAE94 group. It is a petition submitted on 03 March 2011 to the President of the State. The members of the Supreme Council are the rulers of the seven emirates. The petition demanded, "The election of all members of the Federal National Council by all citizens, as is the practice in democratic countries around the world." They also called for "amending 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 were prominent human rights defenders Ahmed Mansoor, Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken, Dr. Mohammed Al-Mansoori, Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith, and Alaa Al-Siddiq.

The response of the Emirati authorities to this reform petition was a brutal, cruel and inhuman response, reflecting their intolerance for other opinions and their lack of respect for the civil and human rights of citizens. False charges were laid against them, in addition to revoking the citizenship of a number of them, confiscating their property and assets, and dismissing them and their families from jobs, as mentioned above.

Citizenship of prisoners of conscience and family members revoked

For many years, the State Security Apparatus has used revocation of citizenship, in isolation from the judiciary and in arbitrary and unaccountable measures, as a weapon against other opinion-holders, dissidents, civil society activists, as well as members of their families.

On 16 January 2012, GCHR documented the revocation of citizenship from seven prisoners of conscience, namely, Sheikh Mohammed Abdulrazzaq Al-Siddiq, Dr.  Hussain Ali Al-Najjar Al-Hammadi, Dr. Shaheen Abdullah Al-Hosani, Hassan Munif Al-Jabri, Hussain Munif Al-Jabri, Ibrahim Hassan Al-Marzouqi, Ahmed Ghaith Al-Suwaidi.

There is no doubt that the decisions to revoke citizenship explicitly contradict Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone has the right to enjoy a certain nationality, and stipulates that no person may be arbitrarily deprived of his or her nationality or denied the right to change it.

UAE94 prisoners not released

Reliable reports received by GCHR confirmed that the higher authorities have taken a decision not to release any of the members of the UAE94 group at the end of their sentences, and to refer them to the Counselling Centre, which means continuing their detention for an indefinite period unless they agree to the aforementioned conditions for their release. Many of them were sentenced to ten years in prison in 2013 and are due for release this year, ten years after they were arrested throughout 2012. Ten of them were due for release in April and May 2022 already, and other are due for release this July. Four of them were sentenced to seven years in prison and were due for release in July 2019 and March 2020.

The UAE94 group includes a number of prominent human rights defenders, judges, academics, and students, who have been imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and freedom of association.

Prisoners of conscience detained despite completing their sentences

Many prisoners of conscience are held after their sentences have been served on the grounds that they allegedly pose a threat to state security and are in need of rehabilitation. Prisoners scheduled for release are transferred from Al-Razeen Prison to the Munasaha (Counselling) Centre, which despite its name signifying tolerance, is simply another building in the same prison which is isolated from the other wings.

Currently, 17 prisoners of conscience, are languishing in the Munasaha (Counselling) Centre buildings of the prisons, despite having completed their sentences and having passed the actual date of their release. The Emirati authorities refuse to release them, claiming that they pose a threat to national security and are in need of rehabilitation.

According to reliable sources, prisoners of conscience who are scheduled to be released in the coming months until next September have been informed that they will not be released but will be subject to the so-called counselling programme. The authorities make use of all their capabilities, including the politicised judiciary and vague laws, in order to keep prisoners of conscience detained despite the completion of their sentences. One of the new methods that the authorities are currently using is to file new false charges against them to ensure that they remain in prison for many years to come.

Additional sentences handed down to women prisoners of conscience

Two women, who are listed below, are prisoners of conscience who have completed their original sentences, and in order to keep them in prison in reprisal for speaking out about their terrible conditions, a new fabricated charge was brought against them in an unfair trial:

1. Amina Al-Abdouli

She was arrested on 19 November 2015, and on 31 October 2016, she was sentenced to five years in prison. Her sentence expired on 19 November 2020.  New false charges were brought against her.

2. Maryam Al-Balushi

She was arrested on 19 November 2015, and on 22 February 2017, she was sentenced to five years in prison. Her sentence expired on 19 November 2020. New false charges were brought against her.

On 28 April 2021, the Federal Court of Appeal issued a three-year prison sentence for Al-Abdouli and Al-Balushi in case no. 61 of 2021, on the charge of allegedly “publishing false information disturbing public order”.

List of prisoners of conscience whose detention is ongoing

The names of prisoners who have completed their sentences but remain in prison in the Munasaha Centres are as follows:

1. Abdullah Ibrahim Al-Helou

He was arrested on 22 April 2014, and on 13 June 2016, he was sentenced to three years in prison. His sentence expired on 22 April 2017.

2. Abdulwahed Hassan Al-Badi Al-Shehhi

He was arrested on 26 March 2013, and on 03 March 2014, he was sentenced to five years in prison. His sentence expired on 26 March 2018.

3. Khalifa Rabia

He was arrested on 23 July 2013, and on 10 March 2014, he was sentenced to five years in prison. His sentence expired on 23 July 2018.

4. Abdullah Abdulqader Al-Hajri

He was arrested on 16 July 2012, and on 02 July 2013, he was sentenced to seven years in prison. His sentence expired on 16 July 2019. He is a member of the UAE94 group.

5. Mahmoud Hassan Al-Hosani

He was arrested on 16 July 2012, and on 02 July 2013, he was sentenced to seven years in prison. His sentence expired on 16 July 2019. He is a member of the UAE94 group.

6. Imran Ali Al-Radwan Al-Harthy

He was arrested on 16 July 2012, and on 02 July 2013, he was sentenced to seven years in prison. His sentence expired on 16 July 2019. He is a member of the UAE94 group, and the authorities have also revoked the UAE citizenship of his wife, Asmaa Al-Siddiq.

7. Fahad Abdulqader Al-Hajri

He was arrested on 02 March 2013, and on 02 July 2013, he was sentenced to seven years in prison. His sentence expired on 02 March 2020. He is a member of the UAE94 Group.

8. Ahmed Ghaith Al-Suwaidi

He was arrested on 26 March 2012, and on 02 July 2013, he was sentenced to ten years in prison. His sentence expired on 26 March 2022. He is a member of the UAE94.

09. Ahmed Al-Zaabi

He was arrested on 26 March 2012, and on 02 July 2013, he was sentenced to ten years in prison. His sentence expired on 26 March 2022. He is a member of the UAE94 group.

10. Sheikh Mohammed Abdulrazzaq Al-Siddiq

He was arrested on 09 April 2012, and on 02 July 2013, he was sentenced to ten years in prison. His sentence expired on 09 April 2022. He is a member of the UAE94 group.

11. Dr. Sultan bin Kayed Al-Qasimi

He was arrested on 20 April 2012, and on 02 July 2013, he was sentenced to ten years in prison. His sentence expired on 20 April 2022. He is a member of the UAE94 group.

12. Ibrahim Hassan Al-Marzouqi

He was arrested on 26 March 2012, and on 02 July 2013, he was sentenced to ten years in prison. His sentence expired on 26 March 2022. He is a member of the UAE94 group.

13. Dr. Shaheen Abdullah Al-Hosani

He was arrested on 26 March 2012, and on 02 July 2013, he was sentenced to ten years in prison. His sentence expired on 26 March 2022. He is a member of the UAE94 group.

14. Hassan Munif Al-Jabri

He was arrested on 09 April 2012, and on 02 July 2013, he was sentenced to ten years in prison as his sentence expired on 09 April 2022. He is a member of the UAE94 group.

15. Hussain Munif Al-Jabri

He was arrested on 09 April 2012, and on 02 July 2013, he was sentenced to ten years in prison as his sentence expired on 09 April 2022. He is a member of the UAE94 group.

16. Dr. Hussain Ali Al-NajjarAl-Hammadi

He was arrested on 09 April 2012, and on 02 July 2013, he was sentenced to ten years in prison as his sentence expired on 09 April 2022. He is a member of the UAE94 group.

17. Salem Abdullah Al-Suwaidi

He was arrested on 30 April 2012, and on 02 July 2013, he was sentenced to ten years in prison as his sentence expired on 30 April 2022. He is a member of the UAE94 group.

Recommendations

GCHR calls on the international community, especially governments that have influence in the Emirates, such as the United States of America, Great Britain, Canada and the members of the European Union, in addition to all United Nations mechanisms including the concerned special rapporteurs, to intervene immediately to seek an end to  these grave violations and to visit all detainees listed in this appeal, to ensure their health and physical safety, and obtain their immediate and unconditional release.

GCHR also calls on the authorities in the UAE to:

  1. Close so-called counselling wings or centres in the UAE and release all detainees who are being held past the end of their sentences, in flagrant violation of their civil and human rights and without legal basis;
  2. Repeal the text of Article 40 of the Anti-Terrorism Law No. 7 of 2014, which allows people to be detained without charge or court rulings and for indefinite periods.

Act now!

Please circulate widely news about the condition of prisoners of conscience detained despite the expiration of their sentences and tweet an appeal to the UN Special Procedures to request their intervention:

Contact Information:          

- United Nations Special Rapporteurs: @UN_SPExperts

- UAE government:

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the State: @BrothersBinZayed

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE: @HHShkMohd

- Please also contact your country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or your country's embassy or consulate in the UAE. Check out the list here and then find it on Twitter:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_diplomatic_missions_in_the_United_Arab_Emirates