Dr. Mohamed al-Mansoori is among those detained for political dissent in the UAE (Photo Credit: Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images).
There’s an anniversary this week in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that its government wants the world to ignore.
The country has the reputation as being the “welcoming and open” Middle Eastern country, and the government works hard to burnish that image around the world. UAE political reformers know better, and a year ago, a trial of 94 government critics exposed the reality that dissent is muzzled and political freedom severely limited.
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Former head of the UAE Jurists’ Association Dr Mohamed al-Mansoori is among those detained © KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images
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.
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Watching President Obama deliver a major speech today on the Middle East is a reminder that even major speeches go only so far: It’s what follows them that really counts.
Certainly there was something to like about some of the rhetoric: Obama specifically pointed to the government of Bahrain, a US ally, and told it to embrace political change and to release political prisoners. “You can’t have dialogue when parts of peaceful opposition are in jail,” he said.
Likewise, his call for peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine based on 1967 borders could shake up failed negotiations.
But the rhetoric on human rights and democracy was strong two years ago when the president spoke in Cairo. To many human rights activists in the region, the Obama Administration has spent the past two years failing to live up to that rhetoric in the region and being behind the curve of the Arab Spring.
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Seventeen young Indian men from the state of Punjab were convicted of killing a young Pakistani national in the Sharjah emirate (part of the United Arab Emirates or UAE). You can take action by navigating to a pdf of the Urgent Action, here. You can also email the UAE Minister of Justice at http://ecomplaint.moj.gov.ae/WComplaintEnglish.aspx and asking to commute all 17 death sentences.
They were sentenced to death on March 29, by a lower court in the emirate of Sharjah, for the murder during a fight over the trade in alcohol among migrant workers, in which three other Pakistani nationals were injured. The 17 had been arrested shortly after the killing, in early 2009. Their appeal against the sentence is due to be heard on May 19.
On April 20, following a visit to the UAE, lawyers from the Indian NGO Lawyers for Human Rights International (LFHRI) said in a press release that police had tortured the 17 in custody over nine days, beating them with clubs, subjecting them to electric shocks, depriving them of sleep and forcing them to stand on one leg “for prolonged periods” as guards sought to force them to “confess.” Soon after their arrest they were taken to the scene of the killing and forced to re-enact it: they were forced to beat up an official, pretending to be the man who was killed. This was filmed, and the film was presented by the prosecution at their trial as authentic footage of the killing. Under international standards, the 17 should have had access to legal counsel of their choice: they were provided with an Sharjah lawyer, who could not speak their native language, Punjabi, and did not refer to the torture in court. Trial proceedings were translated from Arabic into Hindi, which the 17 do not understand. According to the LFHRI, they were held for months before the Indian government was told they had been arrested. You can read their full report HERE.
According to the LFHRI, officials in Sharjah Jail forcibly removed religious symbolic bracelets and necklaces worn by the men, all but one of whom are Sikhs, and made the prisoners stamp on them, saying “Who is your God? Call him. We would like to meet him.”
Last week, the Supreme Court of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) upheld the death sentences of a woman and three men who were convicted for crimes they committed as minors. The four individuals, Khawla, Fahd, Mukhtar, Abdullah Hussein, are now waiting in Sharjah central prison for confirmation as to whether they will face execution by firing squad.
Khawla, her alleged boyfriend, Fahd and two others had been sentenced to death in 2003 for premeditated murder of Khawla’s husband in 2003. At the time of the killing, Khawla, Mukhtar and Hussein were 17 years old. Khawla confessed to the police at the day of the crime and the others arrested the next day.
Under the UAE domestic law the family of a victim can accept retribution or ‘blood money’ and pardon those founded guilty for murder. In UAE the amount of the ‘blood money’ is fixed at approximately $45,000. The parents of the victim have refused to pardon the offenders and seek capital punishment for them. The death penalty is the ultimate, irreversible denial of human rights and Amnesty International opposes it under all circumstances.
Please go to http://ecomplaint.moj.gov.ae/WComplaintEnglish.aspx and write to Dr. Hadef bin Jua’an Al Dhaheri, minister of justice, asking to commute all the four death sentences.
Alireza Azizi, Country Specialist for United Arab Emirates, contributed to this post