UAE's Prisoners of Conscience: Unjustly...
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs declared the intention to launch the UAE National Human Rights Plan that will allegedly "strengthen the legislative system and promote civil and political rights." “UAE is currently preparing a draft law for the National Commission for Human Rights. Upon its completion, it will be presented to the Federal National Council (FNC) for discussion and approval,” said Anwar Gargash. The plan which will supposedly "strengthen the legislative system and promote civil and political rights” makes no direct reference to the biggest burden on their human rights record: the number of prisoners of conscience who are being unjustly detained in harrowing detention conditions.
The cases of Emirati human rights defenders, Ahmed Mansoor, Nasser Bin Ghaith and Mohammed Al-Roken shine light on the severity of this issue. Their endeavours to enhance democratic reform all resulted in 10-year prison sentences, which have been accompanied by frequent acts of torture and ill-treatment throughout their detainment. According to Human Rights Watch, Ahmed Mansoor’s health is at grave risk following more than three years in solitary confinement without basic necessities. Between December 2017 and March 2018, authorities took away his mattress and denied him adequate warm clothing and access to hot water, leaving him unprotected from the winter cold in his cell. Mansoor, 51, was diagnosed with hypertension later in 2018 and has not been given medication to treat it, putting him at increased risk for heart disease and stroke.
It seems that the Foreign Affairs’ statement failed to address the urgent flaws in the Emirati legal and political systems. The government has long drawn upon vaguely worded Cybercrime and Anti-Terrorism laws to crackdown on civil society. Such laws were used to sentence human rights defenders along with many other lawyers, political activists, journalists and academics who criticized the regime online.
The issue of indefinite detention has also become an alarming concern in the UAE. Across the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at least fourteen people are currently being subjected to indefinite detention. These prisoners are being held, often in inhumane conditions, beyond the original end dates of their sentences in breach of internationally agreed standards on detention. Many of the prisoners were sentenced following grossly unfair trials that are emblematic of the systemic injustices within the UAE.
The UAE has consistently failed to release political prisoners at the end of their sentences. Indefinite detention is primarily facilitated by the country’s draconian anti-terror legislation, which uses ambiguous criteria to force political prisoners into ‘counselling centres’ once their prison sentences are complete. Officially used to ‘guide and reform’ those convicted of terrorist offences these “counselling centres” are increasingly employed as a political tool to silence dissent, under the pretext that political prisoners pose a “threat” to the state and society.
The practise of indefinite detention breaks not only international standards of detention but also the UAE’s own laws regarding detention, these detentions often follow trials where the UAE fails to enforce its constitutional responsibility to provide defendants with the right to a fair trial, and to provide access to legal counsel.
The UAE’s human rights record has been sharply deteriorating in 2020. For any real improvements to be made in 2021 the UAE must seek to address its oppressive laws, along with ending all torture and ill-treatment to detained individuals, as well as releasing all individuals currently held in indefinite detention immediately.