27 April 2011

Activists arrested for opposing government

Earlier this month, the United Arab Emirates followed in the footsteps of its neighbours and arrested at least five rights activists who have been demanding political reforms over the Internet. Egypt-based rights organisations, including IFEX members Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), have banded together to demand the release of the activists, while Human Rights Watch is appealing to international organisations to pull out of UAE.

According to the authorities, the five detainees are currently in "preventative custody" for "instigation, breaking laws and perpetrating acts that pose threat to state security, undermining the public order, opposing the government system, and insulting the President, the Vice President and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi."

One of those activists is Ahmed Mansoor, a poet and leading human rights activist (he's a member of Human Rights Watch's Middle East advisory committee and is affiliated with ANHRI) who recently called for political freedoms and an elected parliament in UAE. On 8 April, he was detained after a raid on his home. At first, UAE authorities refused to inform Mansoor's family or lawyer of his whereabouts or let them speak to him, but have since said he is being held at Al Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi.

Mansoor has been a vocal proponent of a petition submitted in March to UAE authorities demanding democratic reform. According to ANHRI, Mansoor was subjected to severe harassment by UAE authorities after he signed the petition - he received death threats and was told he was being relocated to Pakistan for work.

Since Mansoor's arrest, UAE authorities have detained a handful of other activists advocating for change. On 10 April, security forces detained academic Nasser bin Ghaith, an economics professor at the Abu Dhabi branch of Paris' Sorbonne University who has frequently criticised UAE authorities for failing to undertake significant political reforms.

Authorities have also arrested three other online activists: Fahad Salim Dalk, Hassan Ali al-Khamis, and Ahmed Abdul Khaleq.

"The arrest of [the] Internet activists… a few days after signing a national petition for democratic reforms was to punish those activists for using their legitimate right to express their views , terrorise opponents in the UAE and seize their legitimate and guaranteed rights under national and international legislation," said ANHRI, CIHRS and nine other organisations in a statement.

The arrests are part of a crackdown on peaceful dissent by the UAE government that has also targeted civil society, says Human Rights Watch. On 21 April, the Social Affairs Minister signed a decree dissolving the elected board of directors of the Jurist Association, one of the country's leading civil society groups, and replaced it with state appointees. Two weeks prior, the Jurist Association and three other nongovernmental organisations, had also signed the petition.

Human Rights Watch is appealing to the Guggenheim museum, New York University and the French Museum Agency, which are opening branches on Saadiyat Island, UAE, to call for the immediate release of the three activists.

"These institutions shouldn't stand by and watch as the government silences the leading voices for freedom in the United Arab Emirates. If they truly have a vision to lead the region's development as a society that celebrates artists and academics, they need to speak out," said Human Rights Watch.

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