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UAE: Egyptian-American dissident at risk of torture after COP27 criticism

Sherif Osman has been in detention in Dubai for more than a month and is at risk of multiple human rights violations if extradited to Egypt

UAE, which will host COP28 next year, arrested the dissident at Egypt’s request

‘The treatment of Sherif Osman does not bode well for the next UN Climate Conference’ - Amna Guellali

The United Arab Emirates must not extradite Egyptian-American political dissident Sherif Osman to Egypt where he would be at risk of torture and other human rights violations, Amnesty International said today. 

Osman - who is Egyptian-American and has lived in the United States since 2004 - was arrested last month after having travelled to the UAE for a family visit. 

On 6 November, plain-clothed Emirati security officials arrested Osman in a restaurant in Dubai. The officials didn’t present an arrest warrant or explain to him or his distraught family the reason for his arrest, and he was taken away in an unmarked car. A month later, Emirati officials told his lawyer that they had acted in response to a request from Egypt.

The Emirati authorities prevented Osman from signing a power of attorney document until a month after his arrest, and he still hasn’t been allowed to meet with his lawyer. Instead, he’s been permitted to speak by phone with his family, telling them he’s been detained at Dubai’s al-‘Awir prison since 8 November.

Osman has previously posted several videos critical of the Egyptian government. In a video posted a week before his arrest, he called for protests during COP27 in Egypt. 

Saija Virta, Osman’s fiancée, told Amnesty: 

“We have no documents at all from any Emirati authority. We don’t have any reason for why he’s being detained. We have been given no reason why he hasn’t been allowed to meet with a lawyer for 32 days.”

Amna Guellali, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director, said: 

“Sherif’s family vacation to the UAE has turned into a nightmare following his arbitrary arrest during a family meal.

“The UAE authorities must halt any plans to forcibly return Sherif to Egypt where he would be at real risk of torture and other ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, and unfair trial due to his vocal opposition to the Egyptian government. 

“Sending him to Egypt for expressing his views peacefully online would be a grave violation of the UAE’s obligations under international law, and send an ominous message that peaceful opponents of the Egyptian government are not safe, even outside its borders.

“He should be immediately and unconditionally released, and the extradition case against him dropped.

“The treatment of Sherif Osman does not bode well for the next UN Climate Conference. His arrest took place during this year’s COP in the country where the next will be held, at the request of this year’s COP host country.

“The Emirati authorities must also commit to protecting the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly during COP28.”

Fears of repressive COP28 in Dubai

In the lead-up to and during this year’s UN Climate Change Conference, the Egyptian authorities arrested hundreds of people in connection with calls for protests. Demonstrations in Sharm-El-Sheikh, where COP27 was held, were heavily restricted. These arrests came amid an ongoing crackdown in Egypt on all forms of peaceful dissent, with thousands of Government critics or political opponents arbitrarily detained in dire conditions. In December 2023 global attention will be on COP28, which will be held in Dubai, one of the UAE’s seven emirates. There are growing concerns that the UAE will repeat the restrictions on civic space and protests seen at COP27.

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