30 November 2011

Online activists known as "UAE 5" freed

Human rights activists Ahmed Mansoor embracing his wife outside Al Wathba prison on 28 November 2011, after his prison sentence was commuted
Human rights activists Ahmed Mansoor embracing his wife outside Al Wathba prison on 28 November 2011, after his prison sentence was commuted
© 2011 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

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The "UAE 5" online activists have finally been released and are recovering from a two week-long hunger strike after protesting the mass due process violations in their imprisonment and trial, report a coalition of seven IFEX members and human rights organisations.

The coalition welcomed the release and called on the government to clear the unfair conviction from the activists' records, return their passports, compensate them for their wrongful imprisonment and investigate the miscarriage of justice. The coalition is composed of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Human Rights Watch, Index on Censorship, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Alkarama (Dignity), Amnesty International and Front Line Defenders.

The coalition also demanded authorities take immediate measures to protect the activists, who have received numerous death threats from government-affiliated individuals and have been targeted by a smear campaign launched by government media. According to a report by GCHR, which was supported by Human Rights Watch and IFEX, the police and justice system have ignored dozens of complaints that have been filed concerning death threats and intimidation against the advocates and their families. In addition, a relative of one of the advocates was assaulted by a government supporter outside of court on the day of the sentencing.

"Freeing the UAE 5 is a positive step, but they should have never spent a single minute behind bars, let alone seven months," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "A commutation alone will not undo the government's terrible mishandling of this case."

Blogger Amhed Mansoor, university lecturer Nasser bin Ghaith, and online pro-democracy advocates Fahad Salim Dalk, Ahmed Abdul-Khaleq and Hassan Ali al-Khamis were all arrested in April and charged with "publicly insulting" U.A.E. officials in relation to comments they posted on a website that criticised government policies and actions. Mansoor was additionally charged with incitement to violence for signing a pro-democracy petition.

On 27 November, a panel of judges sentenced Mansoor to three years imprisonment and the other activists to four years in prison. U.A.E. President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan pardoned the journalists on 28 November and all five men were released that same day, the coalition reports.

"They did everything to make me a criminal, but I consider fighting for human rights and free speech as part of my patriotic duty," Mansour told AP.

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