THE UAE AUTHORITIES have designated four prominent exiled Emirati dissidents as ‘terrorism supporters’. Human Rights Watch says the move is part of a continuing attempt to outlaw activism and free expression under the guise of counterterrorism.

The list of “people and organisations supporting terrorism” also included at least one person who has been detained for over a year without being brought before a judge 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, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “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.”

The four exiled Emirati dissidents are Hamad al-Shamsi, Mohammed Saqr al-Zaabi, Ahmed al-Shaiba al-Nuaimi and Saeed al-Tenaiji. The designation’s immediate effects on them include asset freezes, property confiscations, and criminalising their UAE-based relatives’ communications with them.

The dissidents told Human Rights Watch that the authorities had threatened their families with prosecution for “communicating with terrorists.” The men learned of their designation only after the Cabinet of Ministers issued the decision in September. People placed on the list may file a complaint, and if it is rejected or ignored, challenge the decision in court within 60 days.

The United States, the United Kingdom, and other international partners consider the UAE an active ally in countering terrorism, terrorist financing, and violent extremism across the region, despite the UAE’s deeply flawed criminal justice system and its well-documented use of overbroad counterterrorism legislation to arbitrarily repress dissidents and activists.

The four Emirati dissidents belong to a group of 94 political activists, known as the UAE94, who were accused by the UAE authorities of crimes against national security in 2013, based on their peaceful statements and affiliations. The group included prominent human rights lawyers, judges, teachers, and student leaders. A UAE court held an egregiously unfair mass trial  which resulted in lengthy prison sentences for 69 defendants, eight of whom, including the four, were charged and sentenced in absentia. None of the four men attempted to challenge their designations as terrorism supporters because they believe that UAE authorities will not allow it since they were convicted in absentia, one dissident said.

Al-Shamsi is the executive director of the Emirati human rights organisation Emirates Detainees Advocacy Centre, a nonprofit organisation which advocates on behalf of Emirati political prisoners. Al-Shamsi is based in Turkey.

Al-Zaabi is the former president of the Emirates Jurists Association, which was one of UAE’s most prominent civil society organisations until 2011, when the government issued a decree to dissolve its board of directors as part of a broader crackdown on peaceful dissent. Al-Zaabi is now based in the UK.

Al-Nuaimi is a writer, education consultant, and specialist in applied educational psychology. His brother is the prominent imprisoned political activist Khaled al-Shaiba al-Nuaimi, currently serving a 15-year prison sentence stemming from the UAE94 trial. Al-Nuaimi is also based in the UK.

Al-Tenaiji is an Emirati researcher who currently heads both the Gulf Centre for Studies and Dialogue and the Emirati Association Against Normalisation with Israel. Al-Tenaiji is based in Turkey.

All four are in self-imposed exile, and all four have reported various forms of harassment at the hands of Emirati state security forces against members of their family based in the UAE, simply because they are relatives. They include travel bans, active surveillance, restrictions on basic rights including employment and education, and even passport revocations.

On 5 November, al-Nuaimi’s son, who had quadriplegia, and whom UAE authorities had banned from travel since at least 2014 as a form of apparent reprisal against his father, died in a UAE hospital. He had been separated from his father for nine years and his mother and siblings, all of whom had fled to the UK in 2014, for at least seven years.

The exiled dissidents worried that the unjust designations as terrorists could also be followed by the UAE filing specious Interpol red notices against them. A UAE interior ministry official is running this year for president of Interpol, which Human Rights Watch and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights have warned could jeopardise the global police organisation’s commitment to its human rights obligations.

The UAE’s notorious counterterrorism law gives the its cabinet the authority to “issue a decision on the creation of a list(s) of terrorist organisations or persons that pose a threat to the State.” The law broadly defines ‘terrorist’ acts as, among other things, “stirring panic among a group of people” and “antagonising the state,” without requiring that the act intended to cause death or serious injury to achieve a political or ideological goal.

Commenting on the UAE’s counterterrorism law in November 2020, several UN experts warned that the executive branch “could approve the proscription of any entity as a terrorist entity without being required to legally demonstrate that there is objective reason to believe that such a designation is justified, despite the far-reaching implications that such a designation could have.” UN experts also warned that the law “could contribute to an arbitrary and unreasonable use of these powers”, potentially leading to the “criminalisation or persecution of organisations or individuals that are not ‘genuinely’ terrorist in nature.”

The UAE should immediately stop using its abusive counterterrorism regulations to persecute peaceful dissidents and human rights defenders, should ensure that everyone has the right to a fair trial, including the presumption of innocence, and the authorities should immediately remove the terrorism designations of the four prominent Emirati dissidents, Human Rights Watch said.

“The UAE’s wanton and complete disregard for the rule of law should stand as a stark warning to the US, the UK, and other countries that consider the UAE a reliable counterterrorism partner in the region”, said Michael Page.

Source: Human Rights Watch