United Arab Emirates should release prisoners before the climate conference

Terrorism laws allow authorities in the Emirates to detain people for an indefinite amount of time.(Quelle: Tim Reckmann – CC BY 2.0)

In an open letter, 23 human rights organisations demanded that the United Arab Emirates release all unlawful inmates in the country before the beginning of the world climate conference in December. The authorities have continued to detain dozens of people even after their prison sentence has been served. This includes 55 dissidents, human rights activists and other people who have been detained since 2012 after they demanded reform. They had been arrested and convicted in many cases, because they wanted to exercise their right to freedom of speech, or other human rights as described in this letter from Tuesday.

The letter was signed by the organisations Access Now, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others. Additionally, the organisations demand an end to spying on government critics through surveillance technology, that repressive laws are abolished and that the right to peaceful assembly is respected.

Additionally, migrant workers must be allowed the right to form trade unions. They have suffered human rights violations in connection with the abusive kafala system in the country.

Never-ending imprisonment

The human rights organisation explains that, at the moment, at least 58 inmates are being detained beyond their imposed prison sentences. According to Human Rights Watch, the prison sentences from 51 of the prisoners ended in March and other prisoners should have already been released in July 2019.

Authorities in the country invoked Article 40 of a federal law from 2014 for their actions. It permits detaining people for an indefinite amount of time if they are accused of terrorism. However, Access Now criticises that it is a “vague and overbroad” definition of terrorism. The imprisonments were arbitrary.

The organisations demand to revise Article 40 and to eliminate the option to detain people for an indefinite amount of time.

The UAE94 case

The organisations demand the release of 60 people in total. The majority of them belong to a group of government critics known as “UAE94” who were imprisoned in connection with a reform petition calling for democratic voting in the UAE’s Federal National Council. In a mass trial that was criticised as unfair due to allegedly plotting to overthrow the UAE government, 69 of those arrested in 2013 received prison sentences from 7 to 15 years in duration.

Among them were journalists, government officials, judges, lawyers, teachers and students. According to the human rights organisations, there were serious flaws in the court proceedings from the time: Legal advisors were not provided or they abandoned their clients. Some of those accused did not have any contact to the outside world for a year. This was a violation against the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. Additionally, many of those imprisoned reported of coercing confessions through torture.

In June 2021, the United Nations also demanded the release of detained government critics. “Their sentences were excessively severe and their detentions have been declared arbitrary”, said UN Special Rapporteur at the time. “They should have never been detained in the first place for legitimately exercising the freedoms that all people are entitled to.”

According to HRW, the UAE94 case had a “chilling effect on freedom of expression, assembly, and association” in the UAE.

International pressure needed

Human rights organisations like the Emirates Detainees Advocacy Center (EDAC) fear that inmates will not be released without international pressure. Hamad al-Shamsi, Manager of Emirates Detainees Advocacy Center (EDAC) said in the beginning of July: “We think that the UAE is willing to keep them in prison until they die.” There is no force or any pressure. “The community inside the UAE is very weak,” al-Shamsi continued.

However, the organizations are hopeful about the upcoming climate conference that the UAE will host in November. According to al-Shamsi, it could be an opportunity to exercise the pressure that is needed. Therefore, the signatories also appeal to the international community, especially to governments “to urgently call for and take steps to obtain the immediate and unconditional release of the prisoners listed in this appeal and to seek an end to grave human rights violations in the UAE.” The USA, United Kingdom, Canada and the EU member states were explicitly addressed.

The UN World Climate Change Conference COP28 will take place in Dubai from 30 November until 12 December 2023. According to Amnesty International’s assessment of the situation, it is not possible to implement ambitious goals in the fight against climate change in view of existing laws on freedom of expression in the UAE. (hcz)