30 May 2012

Authorities use deportation to quell dissent

Ahmed Abd al-Khaleq
Ahmed Abd al-Khaleq
One of the "UAE 5" activists who spent seven months in jail last year after posting anti-government statements is allegedly set to be deported to the Comoros Islands, a country near Madagascar that he has never visited, report Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

On 22 May, authorities detained and then brought deportation proceedings against Ahmed Abd al-Khaleq, an activist known for his blogging campaigns for the rights of stateless residents known as the Bidun, say the members.

According to the members, al-Khaleq, himself a Bidun, was pressured by U.A.E. authorities into applying for Comoros citizenship as a necessary first step to become an U.A.E. citizen. His arrest came the day after he received notice that his Comoros citizenship had been approved.

U.A.E. authorities have provided no information on his exact whereabouts or the reason for his arrest and possible deportation, says Human Rights Watch.

"Instead of providing a remedy for the plight of Ahmed Abd al-Khaleq and thousands of other stateless residents, U.A.E. authorities pressured him to acquire foreign naturalisation in order to ship him away," said Human Rights Watch. "U.A.E. authorities should immediately halt any deportation proceedings against him and release him unconditionally."

Abd al-Khaleq's blog, Emaraty Bedoon, hosts videos and statements highlighting the plight of stateless residents.

Due to their stateless status, the Bidun face severe obstacles in many areas such as access to healthcare and education, and many live in poverty. According to Refugees International, they number between 10,000 and 100,000 in the U.A.E.

Many of the Bidun in the U.A.E. trace their origins to nomadic tribes that previously moved freely around the gulf region or later became immigrants living in the U.A.E. who failed to register for nationality when the country was formed in 1971, says Human Rights Watch.

According to Human Rights Watch, Al Jazeera network reported in 2009 that the U.A.E. government paid US$200 million to the government of the Comoros, at that time equal to 40 percent of the country's GDP, to offer citizenship to stateless residents in the U.A.E.

Al Jazeera said Comoros officials speculated that those who received it might "never step foot in the islands." U.A.E. officials have not confirmed the existence of a bilateral arrangement.

Al-Khaleq is one of a group of activists known as the "UAE 5" who had been jailed from April to November 2011 for "publicly insulting" the country's leadership. The men were pardoned for reasons that are still unclear.

Another member of the UAE 5, blogger Ahmed Mansour, told IFEX he is not allowed to work and does not have his passport back. Only academic Nasser bin-Ghaith is working, out of the five former detainees.

Al-Khaleq's latest detention follows a series of arrests of dissidents in the U.A.E. Over the past few months, authorities detained without charge 12 members of the Reform and Social Guidance Association (al-Islah), a non-violent political association advocating greater adherence to Islamic principles.

According to Human Rights Watch, six of them were arrested for refusing to seek another nationality after the government claimed to have revoked their citizenship for being a threat to national security.

"U.A.E. authorities are now using deportations and the revocation of citizenship status as a way to silence dissent in the U.A.E.," Human Rights Watch said. "They should end this shameful practice and respect the rights of Emiratis to freedom of association and expression."

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