Activist arrested for tweeting in defence of free expression in the UAE

Expression

On 16th January, academic and activist Abdulkhaleq Abdulla was arrested by the UAE's state security apparatus, as reported by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR). Dr. Abdulla is a prominent political science professor and human rights defender. His arrest and detention were believed to be a reaction to postings he had made on Twitter in which he promoted free expression in the UAE. He was eventually released ten days later, on 26th January.

Other human rights defenders and journalists arrested for their opinions still remain in detention. Among them is  Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith, who was arrested during a raid on his home on 18th August 2015. The charges against him are based on comments he made on Twitter and include allegedly “committing a hostile act against a foreign state,” “posting false information in order to harm the reputation and stature of the state and one of its institutions” and “posting false information about UAE leaders and their policies”. Following his arrest, Dr. Bin Ghaith was held in solitary confinement in an undisclosed location for nine months, and was eventually transferred to Al-Sader jail, where he is currently being subjected to ill treatment and denied medical attention. Dr. Bin Ghaith briefly appeared before the Federal Appeal Court on 18th January, but his request for bail was denied. During the next hearing for his case, scheduled for 22th February, the defence statement will be heard. Up to date, the judicial process has failed to meet basic international standards for a fair trial.

Another case that illustrates the severe restrictions on the right to free expression in the UAE is that of Tayseer Al-Najjar, a Jordanian journalist detained on 13th December 2015, apparently over three Facebook posts in which he criticised Egypt, Israel, and Gulf countries. He faces charges of offending the state and has been held in detention ever since. Mr. Al-Najjar appeared in court on 1st February, as reported by the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE. Regarding his case, Human Rights Watch's deputy Middle East director Joe Stork stated:

“The UAE should release Tasyeer al-Najjar immediately and Jordanian authorities should be making public calls to that end and to have his rights respected. [...] There is no justification for throwing a journalist, or anyone else, into prison for expressing an opinion.”

Violations of the right to freedom of expression by UAE authorities were also highlighted in Human Rights Watch’s 2017 Global Report, where grave concerns were expressed about the aggressive pursuit of anyone who “doesn’t toe the party line.” The report also drew attention to the increasing use of electronic surveillance to target human rights defenders, journalists and dissidents.

Along with other civil society organisations, the GCHR has repeatedly urged the authorities of the UAE to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith as his arrest and detention are solely related to his peaceful human rights activities;
  2. Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith while he remain in detention;
  3. Immediately and unconditionally release and drop all charges against all human rights defenders who are being detained as a result of their legitimate human rights activities and the exercise of their right to freedom of expression; and
  4. Guarantee in all circumstances that 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.