Dear Secretary Clinton,
We are writing to draw your attention to some disturbing human rights developments in the United Arab Emirates, where the authorities have launched a campaign of arrest, arbitrary detention and deportation to repress and intimidate peaceful political activists.
Since late March, the authorities there have arrested at least 50 Emirati civil society activists and human rights defenders. In recent weeks there has been a marked escalation in the crackdown on those advocating political reform in the UAE, with two prominent human rights lawyers, Mohammed al-Roken and Mohammed Mansoori, amongst those detained in a spate of arrests and detentions.
Although none of those arrested have been formally charged with any offence, there are strong indications that the detentions are being linked to issues of national security. A July 15 statement by the UAE's official news agency said Attorney General Salem Sa'eed Kubaish had ordered the arrest and investigation of "a group of people for establishing and managing an organization with the aim of committing crimes that harm state security". The statement also accused this group of having connections with "foreign organizations and outside agendas" and promised to "expose the dimensions of the conspiracy."
Al-Roken, 50, is a prominent human rights lawyer in the Emirates, and has provided legal assistance to al-Islah members detained without charge since March, including a group that authorities stripped of their citizenship. In 2011 he served as co-defense council for two of the five activists known as the "UAE 5" who were imprisoned for seven months and tried in 2011 after allegedly posting statements on an internet forum critical of UAE government policy and leaders.
Mansoori is the deputy chairman of al-Islah and a former president of the Jurists' Association. The UAE authorities dismissed him from his position as a legal advisor to the government of Ras Al Khaimah in January 2010 after he gave a television interview in which he criticized restrictions on freedom of speech in the country. They have barred him from traveling since October 2007 and have refused to renew his passport since March 2008.
On July 24 the Abu Dhabi Court of First Instance sentenced a former judge and Professor of Law at the University of Sharjah, Dr Ahmed Yousef Al-Zaabi, to 12 months' imprisonment for fraud and assuming another person's identity. Al-Zaabi's conviction was based on the fact that his passport still registered his profession as "judge" after his public support for political reform in the UAE had resulted in him being forced into retirement. The authorities' targeting of lawyers has discouraged members of the Emirati legal profession from offering their services, thereby denying the detained men legal assistance.
On June 16, the UAE deported Ahmed Abd al-Khaleq, an advocate for the rights of stateless residents known as Bidun.He had been held in detention without charge or explanation since May 22 and was informed that he would be indefinitely detained if he did not agree to leave the UAE.Abd al-Khaleq is one of the UAE 5.UAE authorities charged the UAE 5 in early June 2011 under articles 176 and 8 of the UAE Penal Code, which criminalise "public insults" of the country's top officials. They were detained throughout a seven-month pretrial and trial process. The Federal Supreme Court convicted them on November 27 and sentenced them to between two and three years in prison. Shortly afterward, Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE president, commuted the sentences and they were released. However, the events of recent days have again revealed the lengths to which the UAE is prepared to go to curb dissent.
In the early days of the Arab Spring, you spoke ofthe courage that was on display in the streets of Tunis and the squares of Cairo: 'we will support citizens working to make their governments more open, transparent, and accountable.' One year on from that speech, the jail cells of the UAE are being filled daily with citizens displaying the courage you praised,and calling for the reforms you pledged to support.
We urge you and the US government to raise these issues at the highest levels with the UAE authorities as it does with other governments who deny people their basic freedoms and democratic governance, and to criticize publicly the repression of free speech and free association, the harassment of members of the legal profession, and to call for the immediate release of the detained activists.
Rachid Mesli, Director, Legal Department, Alkarama Foundation
Mary Lawlor, Executive Director, Front Line
Khalid Ibrahim, Acting Director, Gulf Centre for Human Rights
Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director, Middle East and North Africa, Human Rights Watch
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