Another sign that the Arab Uprising of 2011 is entering a new stage: The number of arrests of activists in the United Arab Emirates is adding up.
After Abu Dhabi’s Public Prosecutor announced on July 15 that a group of people would be investigated for plotting “crimes against state security,” “opposing the UAE constitution and ruling system,” and having ties to “foreign organizations and agendas,” about 35 men have been detained. That’s eight more since Amnesty International issued an Urgent Action last week.
The whereabouts of all 35 are unknown, and they are thought to be at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.
We couldn’t understand that much but we could hear voices and my father saying, 'They’re taking me'.
Bushra al-Roken, Mohamed al-Roken’s daughter
Many have been arrested previously for their non-violent political activity and have been adopted previously by Amnesty International as prisoners of conscience. Coming in this sensitive time of Arab Uprisings, the arrests appear to be a targeted attack on the right to freedom of speech in the UAE and are meant to silence the voices who are calling the loudest for human rights.
Among those detained are some of UAE’s most prominent voices for political freedom.
- Among the detained are three lawyers: Dr. Mohamed ‘Abdullah al-Roken, a defense lawyer in last year’s prominent case of five political activists – known as the ‘UAE 5’; fellow human rights defender and former head of the UAE Jurists’ Association, Dr. Mohamed al-Mansoori, and Salem al-Shehhi. Family members told the New York Times that Roken was heading to the police station to report that his son and son-in-law were missing when he was surrounded by security officials. “We couldn’t understand that much,” Roken’s daughter told the Times, “but we could hear voices and my father saying, ‘They’re taking me.’”
- Some of the 35 men arrested by state security officers (Amn al-Dawla) are said to be associated with the Reform and Social Guidance Association (al-Islah). A non-violent group engaged in peaceful political debate in the UAE for many years, al-Islah advocates greater adherence to Islamic precepts.
The authorities have closed down at least one online discussion forum and blocked access from the UAE to some political websites.
Amnesty international considers Mohamed al-Roken, Mohamed al-Mansoori and Salem al-Shehhi, and any others held solely for peacefully expressing their conscientiously held beliefs or for carrying out their professional duties as Prisoner of Conscious and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.
The UAE authorities must disclose the location of all 35 men immediately and allow them to contact their families. Incommunicado detention is known to facilitate torture and other ill-treatment in UAE.
Ali Azizi, Amnesty International USA country specialist for UAE, contributed to this post.