UAE: Bidun blogger forced to leave country, raising alarm after wave of arbitrary arrests

Forcing a stateless man born in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to choose between indefinite detention there or exile in Thailand heralds a further decline in the UAE’s human rights situation, Amnesty International said today after a new wave of arrests under state security provisions.Ahmed Abdul Khaleq, a 35-year-old blogger and activist from the UAE’s stateless Bidun minority, had been detained twice since last year when it was alleged he had links to the Reform and Social Guidance Association (al-Islah), a non-violent political group which has been engaged in peaceful political debate and discussion in the UAE for many years. Amnesty International previously named him a prisoner of conscience. His forced departure on Monday comes a day after Abu Dhabi’s Public Prosecutor announced an investigation into a group of people who allegedly plotted “crimes against state security”. Since that announcement, at least seven members of al-Islah have been arrested in the UAE.  Amnesty International believes they may be prisoners of conscience, held solely for their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and association.“Ahmed Abdul Khaleq should never have been forced to leave the country and this event sets alarm bells ringing regarding the fate of others held in the UAE in connection with alleged plots against state security,” said Ann Harrison, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International. “The UAE authorities simply must not force peaceful political activists out of the country and must allow Ahmed Abdul Khaleq to return unconditionally to his home.”The ‘UAE 5’Ahmed Abdul Khaleq was first arrested in April 2011 along with four other activists – known collectively as the ‘UAE 5’ – who were later tried and jailed on charges of “publicly insulting” the UAE President and other officials in an online forum which the authorities had blocked in 2010.  Amnesty International and other organizations have repeatedly said that there were no grounds for charging the activists and have pointed to grave procedural flaws in their trial, which failed to meet the minimum international standards for a fair trial. During the trial, the UAE authorities carried out a campaign to vilify the ‘UAE 5’. In November 2011, Abdul Khaleq was released, and on 21 May 2012 he was granted a Comoros passport. But he was re-arrested the next day and was not released until he was forced to leave the country on Monday. Last month, the UAE authorities reportedly gave the detained blogger a choice of remaining in detention in the Abu Dhabi or being released on the condition he went into exile in one of a list of countries. He chose Thailand despite having no personal ties to the country, and the authorities obtained a visa and booked him on a flight leaving Abu Dhabi early on Monday morning for Bangkok. A representative of the UN Officer of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was reportedly due to meet him upon his arrival. Crackdown on al-IslahAmnesty International has the names of seven individuals detained by the UAE authorities over the past two days. Several more have been arrested in different parts of the UAE in recent months for their alleged ties to al-Islah. Abu Dhabi’s Public Prosecutor has said that they are all under investigation for allegedly plotting “crimes against state security”, “opposing the UAE constitution and ruling system”, as well as ties to ”foreign organizations and agendas”. “Any detainee suspected of crimes against the UAE’s state security must be promptly charged with an internationally recognizable criminal offence and tried fairly, or be set free,” said Ann Harrison. “Based on our knowledge of trial proceedings in the UAE – including last year’s ‘UAE 5’ trial which was attended by an independent NGO observer – we have serious concerns that if these detainees are brought to trial, they will not be tried in accordance with international fair trial standards.”