UAE waging ‘sustained assault’ on human rights ahead of Cop28, groups warn

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UAE’s President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan arrives to deliver a speech at Cop27 climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on 7 November 2022 (AFP)

Forty-two organisations are calling on UAE to “immediately and unconditionally” release jailed human rights defenders, activists and political dissidentsThe UAE is continuing its “sustained assault” on human rights and is using the criminal justice system as a “tool” to eliminate the human rights movement, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and 40 other organisations said in a joint statement. 

The statement, released on 1 May, comes ahead of the Cop28 UN climate change conference which the UAE will host in late November.  

“We express our deep concern over the human rights situation in the country, particularly the severe restrictions imposed by the authorities on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” the statement said, “which seriously undermine the work of civil society and the space for political dissent in the country.”

UAE authorities have “unjustly” detained at least 60 Emirati human rights defenders, activists, and political dissidents who were arrested in 2012, the statement reads. Many of them were jailed following a controversial mass trial known as the “UAE 94”. They should have been released on 16 July 2019.

The UAE 94 case was a mass trial in 2013 involving 94 people who were charged with trying to overthrow the Emirati government, a charge they denied.

While more than three-quarters of the prisoners have completed their sentences, they still remain in arbitrary detention because authorities refuse to release them. 

The UAE has also jailed Nasser Bin Ghaith, a prominent economist and human rights defender, over tweets that criticised Egypt, a key ally of the Gulf country. 

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He was sentenced to ten years in prison at the Federal Appeal Court in Abu Dhabi in 2017 for “communicating with secret organisations” and “offensive online posts”, an Emirati state news agency reported.

The joint statement also highlighted the 2021 Cybercrime Law, saying this was issued to “restrict online activism and dissent”.

The 42 organisations called on the UAE to “immediately and unconditionally” release all those jailed solely for the exercise of their human rights, close all secret detention centres and amend all “repressive” laws that violate human rights, among other recommendations.

“The UAE government could try to use its COP28 presidency to cynically promote an image of openness and tolerance, despite the UAE’s failure to respect the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly,” the statement said.

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