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Last updated on 22.06.2021 at 20:32

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Human Rights Organisations Mourn the Loss of Human Rights Champions

Human Rights Organisations Mourn the Loss of Human Rights Champions

The UAE has recently lost a human rights champion. On 19th June 2021, Emirati human rights defender Alaa Al-Siddiq, Executive Director of the human rights organisation ALQST and a Senior Researcher at Wejha Centre for Studies, died in a tragic car accident in the United Kingdom. Neither ALQST nor the police suspect any foul play. On 20th June 2021, ALQSTreleased a statement to mourn and pay tribute to “a friend, a colleague, and a sister to all of those around her” who “always did what she could to help others”.

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Alaa Al-Siddiq died in car accident in UK

The UAE has recently lost a human rights champion. On 19th June 2021, Emirati human rights defender Alaa Al-Siddiq, Executive Director of the human rights organisation ALQST and a Senior Researcher at Wejha Centre for Studies, died in a tragic car accident in the United Kingdom. Neither ALQST nor the police suspect any foul play. On 20th June 2021, ALQST released a statement to mourn and pay tribute to “a friend, a colleague, and a sister to all of those around her” who “always did what she could to help others”. Al-Siddiq, who left the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to continue her human rights work after her father was arbitrarily imprisoned, worked as a volunteer for ALQST before becoming Director of Diwan London and, finally, Executive Director of ALQST. This was evident in a published report written and researched by Wejha Centre for Studies and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) in March 2021, for a project funded by the European Union to address torture and accountability in the Gulf region. The report is entitled, “Torture in the United Arab Emirates: The Torture Charade”. GCHR has also mourned and paid tribute to Al-Siddiq, stating, “We would like to pay tribute to her unique courage, her kind heart, her wonderful personality, and her tireless work to defend human rights in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. We will remember the anniversary of her loss as the Day of the Gulf Women Human Rights Defenders.”

Ahmed Mansoor unlawfully arrested for peaceful human rights activities

On 7th June 2021, French human rights lawyer William Bourdon filed a complaint with the Prosecutor’s Office in Paris against Emirati Major General Ahmed Naser Al-Raisi, for the UAE’s unlawful arrest and torture of GCHR Board member Ahmed Mansoor. Mansoor, a prominent human rights defender, is serving a ten-year sentence in retaliation for his peaceful human rights activities. In January 2021, Human Rights Watch and GCHR detailed the government’s persecution of Mansoor, including indefinite solitary confinement and abhorrent detention conditions since his arrest in March 2017. He is held in a small cell with no mattress, bed, or access to reading materials. Bourdon, who filed the case on behalf of GCHR, used the doctrine of universal jurisdiction to ensure that Al-Raisi faces justices when he visits France later this year as part of his campaign for the presidency of Interpol. In a joint appeal on 5th May 2021, GCHR and Human Rights Watch warned that Al-Raisi’s candidacy for the presidency of Interpol may jeopardise the organisation’s commitment to human rights. Interpol will name its new president at its General Assembly in Lyon, France, being held from 23rd to 25th November 2021.

Emirati human rights defender found dead

On 26th May 2021, Artur Ligęska, a 40-year-old Polish citizen who has spoken out widely about torture and ill-treatment in Emirati prisons, was found dead in his apartment in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. GCHR and Human Rights Watch paid tribute to Ligęska who, following his release from Al-Sadr prison in May 2019, dedicated himself to seeking justice for the abuse he and his fellow prisoners suffered. Ligęska was particularly courageous in his steadfast support of Ahmed Mansoor. He first phoned GCHR staff in April 2019 to tell them that Mansoor was on hunger strike and following his release provided extensive details to GCHR and Human Rights Watch on the conditions in Al-Sadr prison.

Book recipient declines award over concerns for human rights

On 10th May 2021, 27 organisations called on the recipients of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award to decline the award and withdraw from the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair in light of the litany of human rights abuses perpetrated in the UAE. The organisations criticised the Book Fair for attempting to promote freedom of expression whilst scholars, human rights defenders and other dissenting voices remain wrongfully imprisoned for their non-violent activities in exercising their right to freedom of expression. Having previously declared his willingness to accept the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, the prominent German philosopher and sociologist, Jürgen Habermas, later turned it down, citing concerns about human rights in the UAE.

Association in UAE

Operating a civil society organisation in the UAE is extremely difficult. The authorities tightly control the registration and activity of most organisations. Although state funding is available, vaguely defined laws and sweeping powers for officials mean that CSOs cannot undertake public advocacy on most issues.

Operating a civil society organisation in the UAE is extremely difficult. The authorities tightly control the registration and activity of most organisations. Although state funding is available, vaguely defined laws and sweeping powers for officials mean that CSOs cannot undertake public advocacy on most issues. Participation in CSOs is also limited to Emirati citizens, a rule which effectively discriminates against 90% of the population in the UAE. In practice, most NGOs pursue economic, social and cultural objectives and have close ties to the UAE’s ruling families. Designed to increase intimidation, the authorities in the UAE also target family members of prominent critics, including through arrests and travel bans and the revocation of citizenship. Individual activists regularly face harassment and in recent years the authorities have carried out sweeping raids on large numbers of human rights and pro-democracy activists, including the mass arrest of 94 people who were accused of a plot to overthrow the government. Since 2014, people who disagree with the government and express their dissent publicly also face the prospect of being prosecuted as terrorists under repressive new legislation.

Peaceful Assembly in UAE

The Emirati Constitution guarantees the freedom to assemble peacefully but in practice protests are banned in the UAE.

The Emirati Constitution guarantees the freedom to assemble peacefully but in practice protests are banned in the UAE. Regulations do not clearly stipulate how and for what reasons a gathering should be disbanded. People must obtain permission from the authorities before they gather in public, a clear violation of international standards on the freedom of peaceful assembly. As a result, gatherings are extremely rare although there have been notable cases of workers’ protests in recent months. Spontaneous gatherings are prohibited and authorities have arrested numerous participants of public gatherings. Amendments in 2012 to the UAE’s cyber crime law now mean that people who use the Internet to organise ‘unauthorised’ public demonstrations can be severely punished.

Expression in UAE

Although free speech is constitutionally protected, individuals who publicly criticise the authorities in the United Arab Emirates are routinely arrested, harassed, tortured and disappear.

Although free speech is constitutionally protected, individuals who publicly criticise the authorities in the United Arab Emirates are routinely arrested, harassed, tortured and disappear. Prominent academics including Dr. Issa al-Suweidi and Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith have both been convicted and imprisoned as a direct result of their peaceful human rights advocacy and online commentary in support of a freer society. Speaking openly on social media can also have disastrous consequences, as demonstrated by the ten-year prison sentence imposed on Ahmed Abdulla al-Wahdi, who ran a social media account accused of insulting the UAE’s leadership. The UAE also uses strict blasphemy laws to stifle free speech. In May 2015 they sentenced a man to a year in prison after his Facebook post was deemed to have insulted Islam. Restrictions on free speech imposed by the Printing and Publications Law of 1980 have recently been strengthened through amendments in 2012 to the UAE’s cyber crime law. Under the revised law, users can be jailed if they post content online which criticises the country or its leaders. The authorities heavily censor and monitor online content and have in the past blocked websites, including that of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights in early 2015.