Nine peaceful government critics are believed to be suffering ill-treatment in an Abu Dhabi prison a year after a grossly unfair trial led to their incarceration, Amnesty International said as it called for their immediate and unconditional release.
“The only reason these nine individuals are behind bars is because they dared to call for peaceful democratic reform, which seems off-limits in the UAE. They are prisoners of conscience and they must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.
“World leaders must not prioritize business interests over human rights, by ignoring serious violations in the UAE. They should use their influence with the authorities to ensure all prisoners of conscience are released and their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are respected.”
The nine men include human rights lawyers, teachers, students, a judge and other prominent figures in the UAE. They were convicted on 2 July 2013 as part of a series of mass trials against government critics in Abu Dhabi and were found guilty of “founding an organization with intent to overthrow the government”.
In all, 94 activists were tried by the Federal Supreme Court in an unprecedented event that has sparked a series of grossly unfair trials. Sixty-nine of the defendants were eventually sentenced in the proceedings (now widely known as the “UAE 94” trial) to between seven and 15 years’ imprisonment – eight of them in absentia.
A few months later, 10 UAE nationals convicted in the original trial had new sentences imposed on them in a second mass trial.
These trials were grossly unfair, with judges accepting as evidence “confessions” allegedly extracted under torture, defendants being denied access to lawyers and some reporting their signatures had been forged on “confession” papers.
During trial proceedings, defendants described severe beatings; being suspended upside down; having their beard and chest hair and fingernails pulled out; exposure to continuous bright light during the day and night; being threatened with electric shocks, rape, and death; prolonged periods in solitary confinement; and denial of sleep for long periods.
The court ignored their allegations and failed to order investigations into the reports of torture and other ill-treatment.
Because the trials have been held in the Federal Supreme Court, none of the defendants have had the right to appeal their conviction, in flagrant violation of the UAE’s obligations under international human rights law.
On 23 June 2014, nine foreign nationals were convicted after a third mass trial on terrorism and cybercrime charges. As with the previous trials, defendants complained they had been ill-treated during incommunicado pre-trial detention.
The day after, on 24 June, a fourth mass trial of 17 individuals began. There is very little information about this trial at this stage but given the UAE’s recent record, Amnesty International is concerned that this latest trial will be characterized by a pattern of human rights violations similar to those that marred the previous mass trials.
“The time has come for the UAE to match its enthusiasm for economic development with progress on human rights. Releasing the peaceful government critics from the ‘UAE 94’ trial and investigating all reports of torture and other ill-treatment in jail would be an important first step,” said Said Boumedouha.
The nine prisoners of conscience are: professor of constitutional law and prominent human rights lawyer Dr Mohammed al-Roken; prominent human rights lawyer Dr Mohammed al-Mansoori; former teacher Saleh Mohammed al-Dhufairi; teacher Hussain Ali al-Najjar al-Hammadi; university professor and former judge Ahmed al-Zaabi; founder of Ittihad University Sheikh Dr Sultan Kayed Mohammed Al-Qassimi; university students Khalifa al-Nuaimi and Abdulla al-Hajri; and Dr Ali Hussain al-Hammadi.
In November 2013, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued its opinion, finding that the arrest and detention of the 61 individuals imprisoned resulted from the exercise of their right to freedom of opinion and expression and to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
The Working Group said that the UAE courts are not independent of the executive branch of government and that the defendants had been denied their right to a fair trial. It confirmed the arbitrary nature of the arrest and detention of the 61 prisoners and called on the UAE government to release them and provide them with adequate reparation.
On 5 February 2014 and after a visit to the UAE, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Gabriela Knaul expressed concern that the UAE judiciary remains under the de facto control of the executive branch of government.
She made a series of recommendations to the UAE government, including that it revise legislation to ensure the right of appeal in cases currently heard in first instance by the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court; establish an independent committee to investigate all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in detention; and ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Optional Protocols, as well as the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.