The UAE authorities must stop their cruel campaign of harassment against the families of prisoners convicted on vague “national security” charges, Amnesty International said ahead of a second trial against 10 of the prisoners that is set to resume tomorrow.
Some relatives of the 69 government critics, who were jailed after a mass trial in July, told Amnesty International they have been bullied, threatened and stigmatized by the authorities in a bid to silence their pleas for justice.
“These prisoners were jailed following a grossly unfair trial in which there was no right of appeal, and now their families are also being targeted in their daily lives,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
“The UAE authorities must end this shameful and vindictive campaign of persecution. Prisoners’ families must not be punished for seeking justice for their relatives.”
Sixty-nine men, including lawyers, judges, university professors and student leaders, were convicted in July of plotting to overthrow the state in what became known as the “UAE 94” trial. Their prison sentences ranged from seven to 15 years.
Ten of those convicted, including the prominent lawyer and prisoner of conscience Dr Mohammed al-Mansoori, face an extension of their jail terms in a new mass trial resuming tomorrow, in which they will appear alongside 20 Egyptians before the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi.
All 30 men are charged in connection with their alleged links to a UAE-based, international branch of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood political movement.
During a visit to the UAE from 18 to 23 November 2013, Amnesty International documented 12 cases in which family members of prisoners who were convicted in the “UAE 94” trial had been subjected to various forms of harassment. The organization was told that many other families were experiencing similar treatment.
Family members have been threatened by State Security officials, prevented from travel and refused security clearance for jobs, according to Amnesty International’s research.
Several family members have received threatening tweets, either from named individuals believed to be connected with State Security or from anonymous Twitter accounts.
Prisoners’ families have been vilified by the largely pro-government national media. Similarly, a documentary about the “UAE 94” screened in Dubai last month ignores human rights concerns about their trial.
Meanwhile, at least two family members have been turned away at the airport from flights leaving the UAE – without explanation – since their relatives were arrested.
Some family members also told Amnesty International that State Security was refusing to give them security clearance and thereby vetoing job appointments at the final hurdle after they had passed initial tests and interviews. No reasons have been given for such refusals.
The harassment even extends to the prisoners’ families’ friends, some of whom have been phoned by people saying they are State Security officials and warned against interacting with the families or threatened with being denied jobs if they maintain the friendship.
“The prisoners and their families are victims of what seems to be a sophisticated smear campaign,” said Philip Luther.
“Their ordeal highlights the disparity between the progressive image the UAE government wants to show the world and the reality of increasing repression in the country.
“The UAE authorities must allow the prisoners’ families to express views on human rights issues and to seek information from government officials without fear of harassment or intimidation.”
The harassment is exacerbated by the fact that many of the prisoners’ families are struggling financially because of judicial measures that have been in place since the investigation into their relatives’ cases.
Some had their bank accounts suspended, while others had their assets stripped or trade licences removed.
The relatives interviewed asked Amnesty International not to reveal their identities for fear of further reprisals by State Security officials.
A small section of UAE society has called for reform in the wake of the uprisings that have taken place across the Middle East and North Africa since 2010. They have been repressed in a widening crackdown on freedom of expression and association.
The ongoing mass trial of 20 Egyptian and 10 UAE nationals has violated international fair trial standards in a similar way to the unfair trial that convicted 69 people in July. It has included allegations of torture, long-term solitary confinement in secret detention and denial of access to a lawyer during pre-trial detention. Despite the trial nearing its conclusion, the detainees have still not been allowed to meet their defence lawyer.
At the “UAE 94” trial, at least four prisoners of conscience – prominent lawyers Dr Mohammed al-Roken and Dr Mohammed al-Mansoori, physicist Hussain Ali Alnajjar Alhammadi and former teacher Saleh Mohammed al-Dhufairi – were sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment.
Amnesty International considers they have been imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association, including their right to peacefully form and join in associations with others or, in the case of Mohammed al-Roken, for working as a defence lawyer and advocating respect for the human rights of the defendants.
Amnesty International has launched a campaign calling for their immediate and unconditional release.