Since 2011, dozens of peaceful activists and critics of the UAE government have been harassed and subjected to a pattern of, arbitrary detention, torture, ill-treatment, enforced disappearances, unfair trials, and sentencing them to years behind bars simply for practicing their right to freedom of expression and defending human rights. Such a huge crackdown has been led by the UAE authorities to silence and stifle calls for reforming in a country that brands itself as a promoter of tolerance.
Human rights violations committed by the UAE authorities continue against prisoners of conscience who are additionally being detained even after finishing their sentences for “counselling”.
Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties (GCRL) casts light on the plight of prisoners who remain in UAE jails despite completing their sentences and raises concerns about the use of counselling centres and counterterrorism law as forms of pressuring political prisoners and activists.
At least 11 prisoners detained beyond the expiry of their sentences
Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties (GCRL) is concerned with the cases of 11 prisoners of conscience all arrested primarily because they exercised their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and association.They are among dozens of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience who are serving lengthy prison terms imposed on them after trials which failed to meet international fair trial standards. Today, they are still in jail despite having served their prison sentences in full, months, or years after the expiry of their sentence. Their imprisonment is in contravention of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a gross violation of the rights of Emirati citizens guaranteed by the UAE Constitution, and the country’s international obligations in the sphere of human rights. This detention should be classified as arbitrary detention.
Currently, the Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties is aware of the cases of at least 11 prisoners of conscience who are detained beyond the expiry of their sentences. They are:
1 – Mansour Al-Ahmady: Arrested on October 12, 2012. He completed his sentence on October 13, 2019.
2 – Omran Al-Harethy: Arrested on July 16, 2012. He completed his sentence on July 16, 2019.
3 – Mahmoud Al-Hoseny: Arrested on July 16, 2012. He completed his sentence on July 16, 2019.
4 – Fahad Al-Hajri: Arrested on March 02, 2013. He completed his sentence since March 2, 2020.
5 – Abdulla al-Hajri: Arrested on July 16, 2012. He has ended his sentence since July 16, 2019.
6 – Ahmed Al-mullah: Arrested on May 01, 2014. He completed his sentence on May 1, 2017.
7 – Faysal Elshoh: Arrested on May 01, 2014. He completed his sentence on April 22, 2017.
8 – Abdel Wahed Hassan Badi: Arrested on March 26, 2013. He completed his sentence on March 26, 2018.
9 – Abdullah Elhelw: Arrested on April 22, 2014. He completed his sentence on April 22, 2017.
10-Said Elbrimy: Arrested on March 26, 2013. He completed his sentence on March 26, 2018.
11- Khalifa Rabiaa: Arrested on July 23, 2013. He completed his sentence on July 23, 2018.
UAE authorities continue to deny them freedom for years past their completed sentences without providing a clear legal basis. They are transferred to so-called “counselling centres”, which are in reality part of al-Razeen prison, at the request of the Public Prosecution on accusations of “posing a terrorist threat,” which under the UAE’s counterterrorism law of 2014 appears to permit indefinite detention. These prisoners are also apparently denied any legal remedies enabling them to challenge the legality of their continued detention in violation of Article 9 (4) of the ICCPR which states “Anyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court, in order that the court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of his detention and order his release if the detention is not lawful”.
The imprisonment of persons beyond the expiry of their sentences amounts to arbitrary detention as there exists no legal basis or justification for their imprisonment and is therefore in violation of Article 9(1) of the ICCPR which states “Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedures as are established by law”. It is also contrary to Principle 2 of the Body of Principles for the Protection of all Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment which requires that: “Arrest, detention or imprisonment shall only be carried out strictly in accordance with the provisions of the law..”.
Broad Counter-Terrorism law and lack of due process
The ongoing arbitrary detention of 11 prisoners of conscience beyond the term of their sentences is based on broad and vague laws for reasons linked to their peaceful work and their legitimate exercise of freedom of expression. Article 40 (1) of the counterterrorism law states that “a person shall be deemed as posing a terrorist threat if said person adopts extremist or terrorist ideology to the extent that he/she seems likely to commit a terrorist offence.” Article 40 (2) mandates that those seen to pose a terrorist threat shall by court order, upon the request of the state security prosecution, be placed in counseling, or Munasaha, centers, which article 1 defines as “administrative units aimed at enlightenment and reform of persons deemed to pose a terrorist threat or those convicted of terrorist offences.”
But, the law fails to define a terrorist threat giving an overly broad definition of it, which makes it easy for the authorities to prosecute activists. It also sets no time limit for continued detention. Furthermore, it is noted that there is a lack of due process as prisoners who are meant to be transferred to counseling centres are not able to appeal the legality of detention decisions made under article 40 of the Federal Law No. 7/2014, increasing the risk of their prolonged arbitrary detention.
According to reports, prisoners have never been brought before a court to present a defence in relation to their current detentions and many of them have been denied access to legal counsel for the duration of their detention at Al Razeen counselling centre.
Some of the counseling centers’ previous detainees including activist Osama Al-Najjar, Badr Al-Bahri, and Othman Al-Shehhi, had confessions and repenting in televised recordings denying their exposure to torture, enforced disappearance, and unfair trial which means that it is required from detainees at counseling centres to make confession and repentance before the prosecution will provide a recommendation for release.
The Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties (GCRL) is seriously concerned that prisoners of conscience, who should not have been in prison in the first place, remain in detention, it, therefore, calls upon the government of the United Arab Emirates to :
– Rectify these multiple injustices by immediately and unconditionally releasing the 11 prisoners of conscience and stop abusing their human rights and undermining their dignity.
– Provide legal information on the grounds for their continued detention after having completed their sentences, between one and three years ago, and give prisoners prompt access to legal remedies, in accordance with the UAE and International law, to challenge the legality of their continued detention.
– Take measures to ensure that human rights defenders in the United Arab Emirates are able to exercise their
right to freedom of expression and carry out their legitimate work without fear of threats or acts of intimidation and harassment.