DUBAI (MEMO) – Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the UAE of clamping down on activism and freedom of expression under the guise of counterterrorism.
The report on Sunday comes after the Emirati authorities designated four leading exiled dissidents as “terrorism” supporters in September, which the organization believes could impede the UAE’s role as a Global Counterterrorism Partner.
The UAE added 38 individuals and 15 entities to its Local Terrorist List in line with the country’s “commitment to target and dismantle networks that finance terrorism and its related activities”, stated the Emirates News Agency at the time.
However, HWR said that the list included at least one person who had been detained for over a year without being tried or allowed legal representation, “further demonstrating the UAE’s blatant disregard for the rule of law.”
“The UAE has shown time and again the nefarious ways that it uses counterterrorism as a guise for suppressing legitimate dissent and criticism,” said Michael Page, HWR’s deputy Middle East director. “For many years the UAE has sent a crystal-clear message to its citizens and residents: You’re either with us or you’re a terrorist.”
Four Emirati dissidents currently in self-imposed exile are included in the list: Hamad Al-Shamsi, Mohammed Saqr Al-Zaabi, Ahmed Al-Shaiba Al-Nuaimi and Saeed Al-Tenaiji. They are among a group of 94 political activists, known as the UAE94 which also includes human rights lawyers, judges, teachers and student leaders.
A controversial mass trial in 2013 led to lengthy prison sentence for 69 defendants, with eight including the four charged in absentia.
As a result of the designation, the four dissidents have had their assets frozen, property confiscated and even contact with their UAE-based relatives criminalized, who could face prosecution over “communicating with terrorists.”
Earlier this month, Muhammad the son of London-based Al-Nuaimi, who suffered from quadriplegia and cerebral palsy died in a Sharjah hospital without his parents present despite his father’s unsuccessful campaign launched at the beginning of this year for Abu Dhabi to overturn a travel ban imposed on him.
Despite its human rights record, the UAE is considered an important ally in counterterrorism by the U.S. and its allies. The Persian Gulf state has also come under fire over its candidate for the presidency of Interpol, Major General Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi, who stands accused of being directly involved in human rights abuses, including torture against dissidents.
Last month, HRW and 18 other human rights groups expressed concerns about al-Raisi’s candidacy by delivering a joint letter to the Secretary General of Interpol Jurgen Stock. “Given the UAE’s poor human rights record, including the systematic use of torture and ill-treatment in state security facilities, Mr. al Raisi’s appointment as president would damage INTERPOL’s reputation and stand in great contradiction to the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the organization’s mission,” the letter stated.