HRD Osama Al-Najjar released but many others remain in detention past their release dates


On 8th August 2019, human rights defender Osama Al-Najjar, along with two other prisoners of conscience - Badr Al-Bahri and Othman Ibrahim Al-Shehhi, were released from Al-Razeen prison. Osama Al-Najjar, an online activist, was due for release over two years ago, on 17th March 2017, but at the prosecutor’s request the court labelled him a “threat” to national security and extended his detention indefinitely. Al-Bahri was supposed to be released on 12th April 2017 while Al-Shehhi was due for release on 23rd July 2018.

Al-Najjar was violently arrested on 17th March 2014, and was not presented to court until 23rd September that year. He was charged with allegedly belonging to Al-Islah, offending the State via Twitter, instigating hatred against the State via Twitter, and spreading lies about the torture of his father, Hussain Al-Najjar, for whom he campaigned publicly online. His father, who is among a group of prisoners known as the UAE94, is currently serving an 11-year jail term for his human rights activities. The UAE94 include human rights defenders, lawyers and political activists who were tried in a mass trial, with 69 being convicted in July 2013.

On 25th November 2014, the State Security Court at the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi sentenced Osama Al-Najjar to three years in prison and a 500,000 Emirati Dirham fine (approximately US$136,100). During a hearing which lasted only ten minutes, presiding judge Mohammad Al-Tunaigi also ordered the confiscation of the online activist’s electronic equipment and the permanent closure of all his social media accounts. There was no opportunity to appeal the sentence. Although he was not convicted of a terrorist crime, he was held at the Razeen Prison Counselling Centre under the country’s anti-terrorism law.

The other two men released were prisoners of conscience. Badr Al-Bahri, was arrested on 22nd April 2014 and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, and Othman Ibrahim Al-Shehhi, was arrested on 23rd July 2013 and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.

Local sources confirmed that there are several other prisoners of conscience who have served their full sentences but are still detained, which is a practice adopted by authorities in the UAE contrary to international human rights standards and the country’s own laws.

Separately, human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor remains in prison where he has been held in conditions which violate international standards, since his arrest in March 2017. As previously reported on the Monitor, he was convicted and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment on 29th May 2018 on charges related to freedom of expression and remains in solitary confinement in an isolation ward in Abu Dhabi's Al-Sadr prison. His appeal was rejected on 31st December 2018. In the more than two years since he was arrested he has been kept in an isolation cell with no bed and no running water, and allowed outside to the prison sports yard only once, according to GCHR, which published a detailed look inside his prison cell, which a fellow prisoner described as “medieval”. In April of this year, he went on hunger strike for three weeks to protest his unjust imprisonment and poor conditions. Considered the most famous human rights defender in the UAE, Mansoor is on the advisory boards of GCHR and Human Rights Watch and won the Martin Ennals Prize in 2015.