UAE targets activists as clampdown widens

The arrest of six civil society activists and the government’s takeover of a rights organization in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are part of a worrying clampdown on dissent in the country, Amnesty International said today.Five of the activists were among more than 100 signatories of a recent petition calling for democratic reforms in the UAE, according to local media reports.At the same time, a lawyer for three of the detainees has said that he has received anonymous threats via Facebook and by way of text messages.The UAE authorities also dissolved the board of the Jurists Association, a leading civil rights organization after it joined a call for greater democracy alongside three other civil society organizations. Board members have been replaced with state-appointees for a six-month period.“These recent arrests and the government’s takeover of the Jurists Association fly in the face of international standards on freedom of expression, assembly and association,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director.“They are a reminder that the UAE still has far to go when it comes to upholding human rights. “The UAE authorities must immediately release these activists if they are being detained for the peaceful expression of their beliefs.”The five activists  who are currently detained include Ahmad Mansoor, a blogger associated with the Hewar online political forum, who was arrested in Abu Dhabi on 8 April; and Nasser bin Ghaith, an economist, university lecturer and advocate of political reform, who was arrested on 10 April in Dubai. The others are Fahad Salim Dalk, Ahmed Abdul Khaleq and Hassan Ali al-Khamis. Fahad Salem al-Shehhi, head of al-Shohooh National Heritage Association, one of the three other organizations that signed the call for greater democracy, was detained on 10 April in Ajman Emirate but is reported to have been released seven days later. He too is associated with the Hewar online political forum which is blocked by the UAE authorities.“Two years ago the UAE government told the UN Human Rights Council that it was committed to improving dialogue with civil society organizations,” said Malcolm Smart. “The government’s recent actions, however, suggest that it may now be reneging on that promise.“This worrying trend must be halted immediately and the rights to freedom of expression and association must be protected in the UAE.”