Emirates Leaks

Amnesty International: lack of freedom for civil society in the UAE


Amnesty International published its annual report on human rights in the world, citing the human rights situation in the UAE in 2018. The state has witnessed a lack of freedom of opinion and expression in the country.

According to the report, Space for civil society remained nearly non-existent in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with the country’s most well-known human rights activist behind bars and high levels of fear dissuading victims of human rights violations and dissidents from speaking out.

“Arbitrary detention of foreign nationals was frequently reported. Women continued to face discrimination in law and in practice. The authorities introduced several labor reforms likely to be of benefit to migrant workers, but other policies left them vulnerable to exploitation,” The report stated.

The report pointed out that the UAE authorities continued to deny nationality to thousands of individuals born within the UAE’s borders, effectively rendering them stateless. Some detainees were held incommunicado and in undisclosed locations for weeks or months.

“Criticism of the government continued to be stifled by the prosecution and imprisonment of peaceful dissenters. On 29 May, Ahmed Mansoor, the last human rights defender in the UAE publicly documenting and speaking out against human rights violations in the country, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for comments posted on his social media accounts. This followed over a year in detention during which he was mainly held incommunicado in an unknown location.”

“His trial was conducted in virtual secrecy, with no information published until after the verdict. According to the UAE’s closely controlled press, Ahmed Mansoor was convicted of “publish[ing] false information, rumors and lies about the UAE,” confirming, as had previous government statements, that the prosecution was based on the exercise of his right to freedom of expression. On 31 December the Federal Supreme Court, sitting as the State Security Court, upheld the conviction and sentence, rendering them final.”

Academic and prisoner of conscience Nasser bin Ghaith remained incarcerated on speech-related charges, as did human rights lawyer and fellow prisoner of conscience Mohammed al-Roken. Nasser bin Ghaith went on hunger strike (while still taking fluids) on 7 October, protesting against medical neglect and irregular family visits in al-Razeen prison

“He had been deprived of the medications he took pre-imprisonment for high blood pressure and other ailments. His health was in a critical state at the end of the year.”

The report of the International Organization of the United Nations repeated cases of arrests of foreign nationals in the UAE.

“Arbitrary detention of foreign nationals was frequently reported. UK national Matthew Hedges, a student carrying out academic research in the UAE, was detained at Dubai International Airport in early May as he was about to leave the country. He was held, mainly incommunicado and in degrading and inhumane conditions, until October, when he faced an unfair trial on charges of spying for the UK government. On 21 November he was convicted and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment. Five days later he was pardoned and released,” the report said.

Several Lebanese nationals working in the service sector were arbitrarily detained in early 2018 and held throughout the year without due process. They were denied access to legal representation and were not informed of any charges against them.

In September, Abudujilili Supi, a Chinese national of Uighur ethnicity, was detained without charge and held for a month before being allowed to leave the UAE for Turkey.

The Amnesty report confirmed that the UAE had taken no steps to eliminate torture and ill-treatment during detention.

Amnesty International documented eight cases in 2018 in which detainees were held incommunicado in unknown locations for weeks or months, increasing the risk of human rights violations.

In some cases, detainees were held in humiliating conditions, denied access to personal hygiene items or the opportunity to shower, or they were threatened with excessive violence.

“The UAE continued to deny nationality to at least 15,000 individuals who were born within its borders and had no other nationality, effectively rendering them stateless. This deprived them of a range of state services, such as free education provided for citizens, and made it difficult for them to find employment in state-supported industries that require a security clearance,” The report said.

Most of the indigenous UAE residents locked into statelessness were from the northern emirates such as Ajman and Sharjah, which are considerably poorer than Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

As in previous years, some of those who had obtained five-year Comorian passports were left stateless again after their passports expired and they could no longer renew them, due to the Comorian government having ended the program.