Exiling of blogger to Thailand is part of wider crackdown in UAE

Amnesty International has condemned the exiling of a prominent blogger in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and is warning of a decline in human rights in the UAE after a new wave of arrests in the country.

Ahmed Abdul Khaleq, a 35-year-old blogger and activist from the UAE’s stateless Bidun minority, was forced to leave the UAE yesterday after Abu Dhabi’s Public Prosecutor announced an investigation into a group of people who allegedly plotted “crimes against state security”.

Last month, the UAE authorities reportedly gave the detained blogger a choice of remaining in detention in Abu Dhabi or being released on the condition he went into exile in one of a list of countries. He chose Thailand despite having no personal ties to the country, and the authorities obtained a visa and booked him on a flight leaving Abu Dhabi early on Monday morning for Bangkok. A representative of the UN Officer of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was reportedly due to meet him upon his arrival.

Abdul Khaleq had been detained twice since last year when it was alleged he had links to the Reform and Social Guidance Association (al-Islah), a non-violent political group which has been engaged in peaceful political debate and discussion in the UAE for many years. Amnesty previously named him a prisoner of conscience.  Last November Abdul Khaleq was released, and on 21 May was granted a Comoros passport. But he was re-arrested the next day and was not released until he was forced to leave the country yesterday.

In recent days at least seven members of al-Islah have been arrested in the UAE and Amnesty believes they may be prisoners of conscience, held solely for their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and association.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Ann Harrison said:

“Ahmed Abdul Khaleq should never have been forced to leave the country and this event sets alarm bells ringing regarding the fate of others held in the UAE in connection with alleged plots against state security.

“The UAE authorities simply must not force peaceful political activists out of the country and must allow Ahmed Abdul Khaleq to return unconditionally to his home.”

The ‘UAE 5’
Ahmed Abdul Khaleq was first arrested in April 2011 along with four other activists - known collectively as the “UAE 5” - who were later tried and jailed on charges of “publicly insulting” the UAE president and other officials in an online forum which the authorities had blocked in 2010. Amnesty and other organisations have repeatedly said that there were no grounds for charging the activists and have pointed to grave procedural flaws in their trial, which failed to meet the minimum international standards for a fair trial. During the trial, the UAE authorities carried out a campaign to vilify the “UAE 5”.

Crackdown on al-Islah
Amnesty has the names of seven individuals detained by the UAE authorities over the past two days. Several more have been arrested in different parts of the UAE in recent months for their alleged ties to al-Islah. Abu Dhabi’s Public Prosecutor has said that they are all under investigation for allegedly plotting “crimes against state security”, “opposing the UAE constitution and ruling system”, as well as ties to ”foreign organisations and agendas”.

Ann Harrison added:

“Any detainee suspected of crimes against the UAE’s state security must be promptly charged with an internationally recognisable criminal offence and tried fairly, or be set free.

“Based on our knowledge of trial proceedings in the UAE - including last year’s ‘UAE 5’ trial which was attended by an independent NGO observer - we have serious concerns that if these detainees are brought to trial, they will not be tried in accordance with international fair trial standards.”

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