THE United Arab Emirates had opened fresh trials against human rights defenders, who were already due to be released, while it was hosting COP28, says a UN expert.
“I received very disturbing information that human rights defenders (HRDs) Mohamed Abdullah Al-Roken, Salim Al-Shahhi, Hadef Rashid Al-Oweis, Mohamed Al-Mansoori and Ali Saeed Al-Kindi, already in detention on baseless sentences which had expired, are now facing new charges almost identical to those originally brought against them”, said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. “This is a shameful act while the UAE is hosting the UN climate change conference”.
In a hearing on 7 December 2023 at the Abu Dhabi Federal Appeal Court, the HRDs were among 87 Emiratis reportedly charged with the crime of ‘establishment of a terrorist organisation’, based on the country’s 2014 anti-terrorism law. The trial is set to continue over the coming weeks. If convicted, they face a maximum penalty of death or life in prison.
“These human rights defenders have had no contact with their families since early June and no visits for over two years”, Lawlor said. “What we are now seeing is that they are being ‘recycled’ in the prison system, with the State seeking to see them cut off from society indefinitely.”
Lawlor said the five human rights defenders were due for release after serving their previous sentences, but authorities had instead kept them in prison following a video conference with a judge who found that they needed to be held for “counselling” and rehabilitation because they still had “terrorist ideas.”
The Special Rapporteur pointed out that Federal Law No. 7 of 2014 on combating terrorism, under which the defenders have been charged, was extremely vague, failing to precisely define terrorism and using broad wording such as “opposing the country” and “prejudicing national unity.”
In its Universal Periodic Review earlier this year, the UAE received eight recommendations specifically on ending the use of counter-terrorism legislation against HRDs and calling for the unconditional release of all human rights defenders in detention.
“I strongly echo these recommendations”, Lawlor said. “The UAE cannot claim to be a protector of human rights or a climate leader while criminalising the work of human rights defenders.”
Mary Lawlor (Ireland) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. She is currently an Adjunct Professor of Business and Human Rights in Trinity College Dublin.