CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

United Arab Emirates

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Last updated on 15.11.2018 at 09:57

UAE Overview

The United Arab Emirates is today one of the world’s most repressive environments for civil society activists, as the substantial economic development of recent decades and close relations with many western democracies failed to coincide with increasing respect for fundamental freedoms.

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European Parliament condemns detention of Ahmed Mansoor & other HRDs

European Parliament condemns detention of Ahmed Mansoor & other HRDs

prominent HRD Ahmed Mansoor set to appeal his conviction, as the European Parliament condemns his detention

Human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor who has been detained since March 2017, is appealing his 10 year prison sentence, according to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. As reported previously in the CIVICUS Monitor, Mansoor was sentenced to ten years imprisonment in May 2018, after a year of pre-trial detention, for using his twitter handle to call for the release of detained human rights defenders, and to expose human rights violations in Yemen and Egypt.

On 4th October 2018 the European Parliament issued a resolution condemning Mansoor's imprisonment and called upon the Emirati authorities to release him from Al Sadr prison. The resolution strongly condemned the harassment, persecution and detention of Ahmed Mansoor and expressed grave concern at reports that he had been subjected to torture and ill treatment. The resolution also expressed concern about the persecution of other human rights defenders in the UAE and called upon the UAE authorities to amend the 2012 Cybercrimes Law and other laws, the Counter-Terrorism Law, and Federal Law No 2/2008, which it said “are repeatedly used to prosecute human rights defenders and used to persecute human rights defenders.”

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.