Dubai – Oil rich United Arab Emirates (UAE) harassed, arrested, and jailed activists, and disbanded the elected boards of two of the country’s most prominent civil society organizations, says Human Rights Watch (HRW) report “UAE: Free Speech Under Attack.” In issuing its World Report 2012 at a news conference in Dubai on 25 Jan., HRW added that the UAE during 2011 “muzzled the right of its citizens to express themselves and to form independent associations.” “In the year of the Arab Spring, the UAE headed in the opposite direction by criminally prosecuting Emiratis who dared to criticize the government,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. A Key U.S. ally in the Gulf region, the UAE is a federation of seven emirates (principalities), each governed by a hereditary emir, with a single national president. These are Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain. With a total population of some 8,3 million inhabitants, its oil reserves are ranked as the world’s sixth-largest.
The Arab Spring
In the 676-page World Report 2012, HRW assessed progress on human rights during the past year in more than 90 countries, including popular uprisings in the Arab world that few would have imagined. Given the violent forces resisting the “Arab Spring,” the international community has an important role to play in assisting the birth of rights-respecting democracies in the region, says HRW. “In the UAE, in early April authorities arrested five activists, known as the “UAE 5,” after they allegedly posted statements on the internet forum UAE Hewar, which authorities have banned.” None of the messages on UAE Hewar that have been attributed to the “UAE 5” went beyond peaceful criticism of government policy or political leaders, said Human Rights Watch and other rights groups that reviewed the posts. The state charged the five men in early June under articles 176 and 8 of the UAE penal code, which punish public “insults” of the country’s top officials. “During their trial, the Federal Supreme Court patently violated the activists’ fair trial rights and refused to grant them pretrial release. After their conviction on November 27 the UAE’s president commuted their prison sentences. While the men were freed, their passports have yet to be returned,” according to the report.
Clamping Dow on Freedom of Expression
UAE authorities further clamped down on freedom of expression by disbanding the elected boards of the Jurists Association and the Teachers’ Association after they and two other nongovernmental organizations co-signed a public appeal in April calling for greater democracy in the country, HRW reports. The decrees replaced elected board members with state appointees and said that the associations had violated the 2008 Law on Associations, which prohibits organizations and their members from interfering “in politics or in matters that impair state security and its ruling regime.” Al-Islah, an Islamist group, issued a statement in December saying the authorities had confiscated the citizenship documents of seven of its members, some of whom had signed a petition in March seeking political reforms, adds the report. “UAE authorities later acknowledged that a presidential order had stripped six of the men of their citizenship for “acts posing a threat to the state’s security and safety.” The authorities have not publicly commented on the seventh case.”
One of the men told Human Rights Watch that authorities had not shown him the presidential order or told him in detail the accusations against him. “He has had to surrender his national identity card and health insurance card. Since he no longer has any citizenship, immigration authorities have instructed him to obtain an immigration sponsor or face possible imprisonment.”
2012 Human Wrongs Watch
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