Pope must raise human rights violations with UAE: Amnesty

Pope must raise human rights violations with UAE: Amnesty
Amnesty International has urged the head of the Catholic Church to raise the issue of detained human rights activists during his widely-publicised visit to the UAE.
3 min read
03 February, 2019
Pope Francis is due to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed on Monday [Corbis]

Amnesty International has called on Pope Francis to raise the cases of jailed human rights defenders during his visit to the UAE.

The rights group's statement comes amid efforts by the Gulf state to present a positive international image by promoting its national 'Year of Tolerance'.

"The UAE authorities are trying to brand 2019 as the 'year of tolerance' and are now seeking to cast the Pope's visit as proof of their respect for diversity. Does this mean they are ready to reverse their policy of systematic repression of any form of dissent or criticism?" said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International's Middle East Research Director.

"Since 2011, the authorities have systematically cracked down on their critics, including activists, judges, lawyers, academics, students and journalists by way of arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearance, torture and other-ill-treatment".

The pope kicked off his visit to the UAE on Sunday, marking the first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula as part of an effort to boost the Vatican's outreach to Islam.

In his first public appearance during the tour, the pope called for urgent "respect" for a ceasefire accord in Yemen to allow humanitarian aid through in the conflict-weary country.

Amnesty have said that the papal visit should not be used as an opportunity to mask over human rights violations taking place within the UAE.

"It will take more than symbolic meetings to gloss over the UAE's appalling human rights record. The fanfare around Pope Francis’ visit will be missed by the many human rights defenders, including Ahmed Mansoor, Nasser bin Ghaith and Mohammed al-Roken, who are serving lengthy prison sentences simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression. We are calling on Pope Francis to raise the issue of their incarceration with his hosts, and urge their immediate and unconditional release," said Maalouf.

Last month, the UN's human rights commissioner pulled out of a literary festival in Dubai over the detention of Emirati rights activist Ahmed Mansoor, due to take place in March.

"If the Emirati authorities are really serious about reform, they should repeal laws and end practices that perpetuate discrimination, and release all prisoners of conscience," Maalouf added.

Pope Francis, who has made strengthening ties between the two largest religions a cornerstone of his papacy, is due to meet with the UAE's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, on Monday.

On Tuesday, he will hold an open-air mass for 135,0000 worshippers.

Human Rights Watch also urged the pope to speak out against UAE abuses of prisoners and civilians in the bloody Yemen war - which has cost at least 13,000 lives - and domestic rights abuses.

"Despite its assertions about tolerance, the UAE government has demonstrated no real interest in improving its human rights record," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

"But the UAE has shown how sensitive it is to its image on the global stage, and Pope Francis should use his visit to press UAE leaders to meet their human rights obligations at home and abroad."