CIVICUS

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United Arab Emirates

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Last updated on 29.10.2021 at 13:48

The Civic Space Developments

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CSOs expose hypocrisy of the UAE's attempts to project a positive self-image at the Dubai Expo

CSOs expose hypocrisy of the UAE's attempts to project a positive self-image at the Dubai Expo

In order to highlight the contradiction of promoting diversity of voices whilst UAE human rights defenders face trial and imprisonment for speaking their minds, on 14th October 2021, 28 human rights organisations launched the Alternative Human Rights Expo to “counter the narrative of “tolerance” and “openness” that the UAE claims to uphold and aims to feature at the Dubai Expo, and highlight the repression still happening in the country.” ; three human rights defenders and a researcher added to the government's terror list;

Expression

On 22nd October 2021, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Amnesty International, the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE), the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and ALQST for Human Rights delivered a letter to UAE embassies in Geneva and London in which 81 NGOs called for human rights defenders and other activists imprisoned in the UAE to be freed. The letter, which highlights imprisoned human rights defender and GCHR Board member Ahmed Mansoor was delivered on the occasion of his 52nd birthday.

On 1st October 2021, the Dubai Expo opened in the United Arab Emirates (the UAE). It is the first World Expo to be held in the region and, from 1st October 2021 – 31st March 2022, will explore issues including sustainability, mobility, opportunity, people and planet. However, the Dubai Expo’s purported mission to bring people together to create a better tomorrow lies in stark contrast to the UAE’s dismal record of oppressing and imprisoning peaceful human rights defenders.

In order to highlight the contradiction of promoting diversity of voices whilst UAE human rights defenders face trial and imprisonment for speaking their minds, on 14th October 2021, 28 human rights organisations launched the Alternative Human Rights Expo to “counter the narrative of “tolerance” and “openness” that the UAE claims to uphold and aims to feature at the Dubai Expo, and highlight the repression still happening in the country.” The event, which was hosted by Iyad El-Baghdadi and Weaam Youssef, featured human rights defenders, poets, artists, musicians, writers and filmmakers from a dozen countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and beyond. The work of imprisoned activists from the region including Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja in Bahrain, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee in Iran, and Alaa Abd El-Fattah and Sanaa Seif in Egypt, was read out and tribute was paid to the recently deceased human rights defender, Executive Director of ALQST for Human Rights and Senior Researcher at Wejha Centre for Studies, Alaa Al-Siddiq. Al-Siddiq tragically died in a car accident in the United Kingdom in June 2021. In honour of Mansoor, Executive Director of GCHR, Khalid Ibrahim, delivered a moving recitation of the human rights defender’s poetry.

On the day the Expo opened on 1st October, 81 human rights organisations sent a joint letter to the President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, calling on the authorities to release detained human rights activists ahead of the Dubai Expo. In addition, the organisations highlighted the UAE’s obligations to comply with international standards for prisoners by allowing regular family visits, consultations with lawyers, access to healthcare and an end to solitary confinement.

The organisations also highlighted the approaching tenth anniversary of the imprisonment of a group of pro-democracy activists known as the “UAE 94,” who remain arbitrarily imprisoned for signing an online petition calling for political reform. They are held in Al-Razeen prison, a maximum-security facility in the desert of Abu Dhabi, where activists, government critics and human rights defenders are commonly held. Sentenced to seven years in prison, four of these political prisoners reportedly remain imprisoned despite having completed their sentences. Abdullah Al-Hajiri, Omran Al-Radwan Al-Harathi and Mahmoud Hasan Al-Hosani completed their sentences in 2019, and Fahd Al-Hajiri’s sentence was completed in 2020. Instead of being released, these prisoners were transferred to a so-called “counselling centre” within Abu Dhabi’s Al-Razeen prison facility. Among the UAE 94 prisoners currently serving 10-year sentences are human rights lawyers Dr Mohammed Al-Roken and Dr Mohammed Al-Mansoori, and academic Mohammed Abdul Razzaq Al-Siddiq, the father of Alaa Al-Siddiq.

In support of the joint letter, the public is asked to sign a petition initiated by ICFUAE to help free Emirati human rights defenders.

In September 2021, the European Parliament adopted a resolution entitled "The case of human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor in UAE," calling for “the immediate and unconditional release of Ahmed Mansoor, Mohammed al-Roken and Nasser bin Ghaith as well as all other human rights defenders, political activists and peaceful dissidents." The resolution also "deeply deplores the gap between the UAE’s claims to be a tolerant and rights-respecting country and the fact that its own human rights defenders are detained in harsh conditions."

On 13th September 2021, the UAE Cabinet issued ministerial resolution number 83 of 2021 adding 38 individuals and 13 entities to the government's terror list. The list includes three exiled human rights defenders and a researcher - Ahmed Mohammed Al-Shaiba Al-Nuaimi, Mohammed Saqr Al-Zaabi, Hamad Mohammed Al-Shamsi and Saeed Nasser Al-Tenaiji. The additions were made at a time when authoritites had been harassing their families.

Condemning their addition to the list, The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) said:

“The Gulf Centre for Human Rights condemns in the strongest terms the inclusion of the names of the four Emirati citizens in the recent terrorism list issued by the UAE Cabinet, as it is a clear attempt to undermine them and an attempt to put a stop to their various activities in exile”.

In separate developments, two women activists remain in prison despite having completed their sentences. They are: Amina Al-Abdouli, who was arrested on 19th November 2015, and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. Her sentence expired on 19th November 2020; and Maryam Al-Balushi, who was arrested on 19th November 2015, and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. Her sentence expired on 19th November 2020.

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.