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United Arab Emirates: Prisoners Of Conscience In New Mass Trial

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Since 2011, scores of people in the UAE have been detained in relation to the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and association. In 2012, after a grossly unfair mass trial of 94 defendants, known as the UAE94, 69 people were convicted and sentenced to between seven and 15-year prison terms, scores of them for their demands for reform and democracy. Under UAE law at the time, the judgement was final and not subject to appeal, in violation of international law. Of the 69 men sentenced, five received a seven-year prison sentence, 56 a 10-year prison sentence and eight were sentenced to 15 years in their absence. Fifty-nine of those imprisoned in the case remain arbitrarily detained after completing their sentences.

Prominent human rights lawyer and former president of the UAE’s Jurists Association, Mohammed al-Roken, was arrested on 17 July 2012. He was sentenced in July 2013 to 10 years’ imprisonment, followed by three years’ probation, at the end of the UAE 94 trial. He should have been released from prison on 17 July 2022.

On 17 May 2023, Turkish-Emirati citizen Khalaf al-Rumaithi, was forcibly deported to the UAE from Jordan. He was one of the UAE 94 sentenced to 15 years in prison in his absence and had been living exile in Türkiye for the past decade, but had flown to Jordan on 7 May 2023 in search of an Arabic school for his children. The state-owned Emirates News Agency, announcing his deportation from Jordan and arrest in the UAE, said that he will face a retrial on the charge of affiliation with an organization “that aims to oppose the foundational principles of the UAE government”. In 2021, Mansoor al-Ahmadi, one the UAE 94 defendants sentenced to seven years in prison was released about a year and half after his sentence ended. He was re-arrested in June 2023 after attending a summons at the State Security Apparatus in Abu Dhabi. Both Khalaf al-Rumaithi and Mansoor al-Ahmadi are now defendants in the new mass trial. 

Human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor was arrested on 20 March 2017, and sentenced in May 2018 to 10 years’ imprisonment. He was convicted on charges including having "insulted the ‘status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols’, including its leaders”. Since his arrest, Ahmed Mansoor has been held in solitary confinement. Up until his arrest, he was the only independent voice still brave enough to speak out against human rights violations from inside the country after the end of the 2013 mass trial.

Human rights defender Nasser bin Ghaith is serving a 10-year prison sentence handed to him on 29 March 2017 by the Federal Appeal Court in Abu Dhabi. He was convicted on charges including “posting false information” about UAE leaders and their policies, based on comments he made on X (formerly Twitter) stating that an earlier trial of himself and four other Emiratis was unfair. During his trial in 2017, the authorities restricted his access to his lawyer and he was unable to prepare adequately for his defence.

The UAE has yet to ratify key human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Nonetheless many of the provisions of the two covenants are drawn from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which have over time become part of customary international law and are therefore typically binding on all states. 

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