The UAE authorities have again shown their intolerance for dissent by handing down a three-year prison sentence and hefty fine today to a 25-year-old man whose only “offence” was taking to social media to call for the release of his imprisoned father, Amnesty International said.
“With this vindictive conviction following a charade of a trial, the UAE authorities have again made crystal clear that when they don’t like the message, their first line of defence is to smear and silence the messenger,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.
In what national media has called a “terror trial” before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court, Osama al-Najjar was convicted of charges including “instigating hatred against” the state, “designing and running a website [with] satirical and defaming ideas and information” deemed harmful to UAE institutions, and “contacting foreign organizations and presenting inaccurate information”. The conviction cannot be appealed.
“The trial and conviction of Osama al-Najjar shows the hollowness of repeated government assertions that the UAE conducts fair trials,” said Said Boumedouha.
“All Osama al-Najjar did was to advocate peacefully for his father Hussain Ali al-Najjar al-Hammadi’s release and raise awareness about his shocking ill-treatment in prison. This should not be a crime, and Amnesty International has named both father and son as prisoners of conscience who must be released immediately and unconditionally.”
On 17 March 2014, Osama al-Najjar was arrested when 10 state security officers raided his home. The move came three weeks after he had tweeted to the UAE’s Minister of Interior, expressing concern about his father’s alleged ill-treatment in prison and seeking the Minister’s response to a letter that he had previously sent.
Following his arrest, Osama al-Najjar was held in solitary confinement at a secret location for four days, where he was denied contact with his family or a lawyer. His mother’s requests to the authorities for information went unanswered.
According to Osama al-Najjar, while detained there, security officials tortured and ill-treated him amid questioning that took place every day from early evening until after sunrise. He said they punched him repeatedly and beat him on his face, ears, and body, sometimes using a cable, which reopened a recent surgery wound on his leg. He said interrogators also made him hold a cable and threatened to give him electric shocks if he refused to “cooperate”, and threatened to detain his mother and younger siblings.
Hussain Ali al-Najjar al-Hammadi’s case was among those highlighted in Amnesty International’s recent report, “There is no freedom here”: Silencing dissent in the UAE. The report lifts the lid on the climate of fear that has taken hold in the country since 2011, with the authorities going to extreme lengths to stamp out any sign of dissent, criticism of the government, or calls for reform in the wake of popular uprisings in a number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa region.