UAE accused of torture and suppression of opponents

UAE accused of torture and suppression of opponents
Amnesty International report says authorities have jailed at least 60 "prisoners of conscience" in an effort to stifle dissent.
3 min read
18 November, 2014
Amnesty said there was an 'ugly reality' behind the glamour of the UAE [AFP]
The United Arab Emirates has been accused by Amnesty International of using harassment, detention and torture to silence dissent.

In a report released a week before Abu Dhabi hosts a Formula 1 Grand Prix, the human rights organisation said there was an "ugly reality" behind the country's facade of glamour.

According to Amnesty, UAE authorities have since 2011 gone to "extreme lengths" to stamp out dissent, criticism and calls for reform.

The organisation said the targets were often lawyers, university professors and civil society activists associated with the Reform and Social Guidance Association, al-Islah, which the government says has links to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

The UAE rejected Amnesty's report, saying it was "firmly committed to the promotion and protection of human rights both and home and around the world". 

"In its short 42 years of existence, the UAE has made impressive progress in developing its governance institutions and building a tolerant and multicultural society," it said, adding that the promotion of human rights was an "ongoing process".

The Amnesty report said that the UAE's clampdown began in March 2011 after a petition from a group of 133 people called for the right to vote. More than 100 activists have been prosecuted since then, with 60 still in prison serving sentences up to 14 years, Amnesty said.

Drewery Dyke, a researcher for Amnesty, said those deemed close to al-Islah formed the "lion’s share" of those arrested and tried by the state. 
     More than 100 activists have been prosecuted since the crackdown began in 2011.

'Prisoners of conscience'

"But it is not exclusively them," he said. "It is quite arbitrary who the government targets among those who have the temerity to criticise them."

Dyke said no appeals option existed for those sentenced, and that Amnesty viewed those jailed as "prisoners of conscience".

Dr Mohammed al-Roken is among those prisoners Amnesty says should be released. As a prominent human rights lawyer, he has come under pressure from the authorities for years because of his criticism of the UAE's human rights record and his advocacy for democratic reforms. He is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence following a mass trial of 94 activists before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court - widely known as the "UAE 94" trial. Amnesty claims the trial was "deeply flawed".

In another emblematic case, 25-year-old activist Osama al-Najjar was arrested in March 2014 after he expressed, in comments posted on Twitter, concern over the ill-treatment of his father, Hussain Ali al-Najjar al-Hammadi, and other political prisoners held at al-Razeen Prison in Abu Dhabi. After his arrest, he was held in solitary confinement where he says he was punched and beaten repeatedly all over his face and body and threatened with electric shocks.

Amnesty said the country's courts appeared to act as little more than a "rubber stamp" for the executive.

The UAE government disagreed, saying the independence of the judiciary was guaranteed in its constitution, as was freedom of opinion and expression.

Amnesty called on the UAE called for an urgent overhaul a cyber-crimes law and an anti-terrorism law passed in August, and take effective measures to prevent torture and other ill-treatment.

Al-Islah's ideology of political Islam is regarded as a major threat by the UAE, which bans all forms of political parties. Al-Islah acknowledges that its ideology has common ground with the Brotherhood but denies any organisational links.

The UAE embassy in London did not reply to al-Araby al-Jadeed’s request for an interview.

Amnesty did, however, have a written correspondence with UAE authorities. 

Dr Abdulrahmin Yousif al-Awadi, the assistant foreign minister of legal affairs, told the orginisation: "The UAE remains committed to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms and to engaging constructively with international human rights mechanisms to strengthen their implementation."