United Arab Emirates: UAE: Arrest of young human rights defender as on-line activists continue to be targeted


At approximately 4pm on 17 March 2014, a young Emirati activist, Osama Al-Najjar was stopped by state security officials in unmarked cars and arrested as he returned home from visiting his father in Arazeen jail.  Osama Al-Najjar is a 25-year old Architectural Engineer from Ajman, whose father is Hossain Al-Najjar one of the UAE94 who is currently serving an 11-year jail term for his human rights activities.

After they had arrested Osama Al-Najjar, the officials reportedly searched his house for around two hours without producing a warrant and confiscated personal electronic equipment, including computers. They then brought the human rights activist to an undisclosed location, although reports have been received that he may be in detention in the State Security Apparatus in Abu Dhabi.

The precise reason for his arrest remains unclear. However, he has been active on Twitter since 2012 and has been followed by State authorities on more than one occasion in the past. His postings on Twitter have related to the unfair trial of the UAE94 and the conditions in which they were tried and are being detained.

Less than 24 hours before his arrest he commented on an interview given on radio by the Ruler of Sharjah who said that the families of those detained should not ‘fill their children with hate and malice against the country’. He allegedly posted the following in response: “Your Highness, we do not hate our country and do not forget the injustice of the oppressor even if our mothers do not tell us. The people responsible for imprisoning and harassing my father for the past 20 months owe him.”

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) expresses concerns for his security and his health.  Particularly as the State Security Apparatus in Abu Dhabi is notorious for the administration of torture and ill-treatment and furthermore, he recently had surgery on his leg and was scheduled to have a follow up medical consultation in a couple of days.  

The arrest of Osama Al-Najjar forms part of a recognised trend, as on-line activists in the UAE continue to be targeted by State Security forces as they discuss and draw attention to the human rights situation in the country. The GCHR has issued previous appeals relating to the arrest of such activists.  On 20 November 2013 the GCHR issued an appeal relating to the continued campaign of judicial harassment against on-line activists (http://gc4hr.org/news/view/542), it issued a further appeal on 27 December 2013, on the case of human rights defender Mohammed Salim Al-Zumur sentenced to 3 years in prison for his on-line human rights activities (http://gc4hr.org/news/view/567).

The GCHR views this latest arrest as another example of the restriction on the rights to freedom of opinion and expression and is evidence of the on-going trend of targeting and harassing on-line activists and those who strive for the promotion and protection of fundamental human rights. 

The GCHR urges the authorities in the UAE to: 

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release Osama Al-Najjar as his arrest is solely related to his peaceful on-line activities;
  2. Immediately disclose his whereabouts and grant him unfettered access to a lawyer and his family;
  3. Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Osama Al-Najjar as he remains in detention;
  4. Immediately and unconditionally release and drop all charges against all human rights defenders, including the UAE94 and Mohammed Salim Al-Zumur who are being detained as a result of their legitimate human rights activities;
  5. 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. 

The GCHR respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to article Article 6 (b and c): “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (b) As provided for in human rights and other applicable international instruments, freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms; (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters”, and to Article 12 (1 and 2): (1) Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. (2) The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.