Sherif Osman ©Saija Virta

UAE: Don’t deport Egyptian-American dissident to Egypt where he will face torture

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) must not forcibly return Egyptian-American political dissident and video blogger Sherif Osman to Egypt where he would be at real risk of torture and other human rights violations including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and unfair trial, Amnesty International said today.

Sherif, who is Egyptian-American and has lived in the United States since 2004, has posted several videos online critical of the Egyptian government. In a video posted a week before his arrest on 6 November, he called for protests during last month’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Egypt.

Sherif had travelled to the UAE for a visit with family, when on 6 November Emirati security forces in plain clothes arrested him from a restaurant in Dubai. They did not present an arrest warrant or explain to him or his distraught family the reasons for his arrest. He was taken away in an unmarked car. Emirati officials told his lawyer a month later that they acted in response to a request from Egypt.

Sherif’s family vacation to the UAE has turned into a nightmare following his arbitrary arrest during a family meal. For a month now, his family and lawyer have been given the run-around.

Amna Guellali, Amnesty International.

“Sherif’s family vacation to the UAE has turned into a nightmare following his arbitrary arrest during a family meal. For a month now, his family and lawyer have been given the run-around, and despite their efforts have yet to obtain any official documents confirming his arrest and detention or information on any charges he may be facing or the ‘evidence’ against him,” said Amna Guellali, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“The UAE authorities must halt any plans to forcibly return Sherif to Egypt where he would be at real risk of torture and other ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, and unfair trial, due to his vocal opposition to the Egyptian government. Sending him to Egypt for expressing his views peacefully online would be a grave violation of the UAE’s obligations under international law, and send an ominous message that peaceful opponents of the Egyptian government are not safe, even outside its borders.”

The Emirati authorities did not permit Sherif to sign a power of attorney document until a month after his arrest, and still have not allowed him to meet with his lawyer. He has been allowed to speak by phone with his family and tell them he is detained at al-‘Awir prison since 8 November.

Saija Virta, his fiancée, has shared with Amnesty International her notes on the calls she has had with Sherif and the Emirati authorities and correspondence with US consular officials. She said:

“We have no documents at all from any Emirati authority. We don’t have any reason as to why he’s being detained. We have been given no reason why he hasn’t been allowed to meet with a lawyer for 32 days.”

In the lead up and during this year’s UN Climate Change Conference the Egyptian authorities arrested hundreds of people in connection to calls for protests. Demonstrations in Sharm-El-Sheikh, where COP27 was held, were heavily restricted. These latest arrests came amidst the Egyptian authorities’ unrelenting crackdown on all forms of peaceful dissent, with thousands of critics or political opponents detained arbitrarily in dire conditions.

In December next year the world’s attention will be on COP28, which will be held in Dubai, one of the UAE’s seven emirates. There are growing concerns that the UAE will repeat the restrictions on civic space and protests seen at last month’s meeting in Egypt.

“The treatment of Sherif Osman does not bode well for the next UN Climate Conference. His arrest took place during this year’s COP in the state where the next will be held, at the request of this year’s COP host country. He appears to have been detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression. He should be immediately and unconditionally released and the extradition case against him dropped. Emirati authorities must also commit to protecting the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly during COP28,” Amna Guellali said.