UAE: Unfair Trial Of Rights Defenders, Says HRW


Emirati authorities are holding an unfair mass trial that has raised serious due process concerns, Human Rights Watch said today. The trial includes many defendants held in prolonged solitary confinement, which may amount to torture.

In December 2023, while hosting the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), Emirati authorities brought charges against at least 84 defendants in retaliation for forming an independent advocacy group in 2010. Those on trial include prominent activists and dissidents already serving long prison sentences based on abusive charges, including Ahmed Mansoor, a prominent human rights defender; Nasser bin Ghaith, an academic; and Khalaf al-Romaithi, a businessman, as well as those convicted following the grossly unfair “UAE94” mass trial in 2013, many of whom have been held arbitrarily after their sentences ended.

“This unfair mass trial is a farce, and the allegations of torture and gross fair trial violations lay bare the UAE’s hollow rule of law and utter lack of access to justice,” said Joey Shea, United Arab Emirates researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Other countries and global businesses and celebrities partnering with the UAE should urgently call for an end to these abuses and for the release of human rights activists like Ahmed Mansoor immediately.”

The due process concerns include restricted access to case material and information, limited legal assistance, judges directing witness testimony, violations of the principle of double jeopardy, credible allegations of serious abuse and ill-treatment, and hearings shrouded in secrecy.

In a statement released January 6, Emirati authorities accused the 84 defendants of “establishing and managing a clandestine terrorist organization in the UAE known as the ‘Justice and Dignity Committee.’” The charges appear to come from the UAE’s abusive 2014 counterterrorism law, which sets out punishments up to life in prison and even death for anyone who sets up, organizes, or runs such an organization.

Human Rights Watch remotely interviewed informed sources and Emirates Detainees Advocacy Center (EDAC) representatives between late March and April 2024.

Human Rights Watch research indicates that many of the defendants have been kept in incommunicado solitary confinement for at least 10 months. Phone calls and family visits have been prohibited from between 10 months to a year, except for brief phone calls in December 2023, informing family members of the existence of the new case and instructing them to hire lawyers.

During the trial, defendants have repeatedly described abusive detention conditions, including physical assaults, lack of access to medical care and required medicines, incessant loud music, and forced nudity.

At a hearing on March 14, some defendants said that officials at the al-Razeen prison forced them to listen to extremely loud music during periods of rest and sleep, informed sources told Human Rights Watch. They said they were interrogated after long periods of loud music and forced to confess under duress and psychological exhaustion. Those who refused were punished with solitary confinement.

According to the EDAC, one defendant told the court after having spent 250 days in solitary confinement: “I do not know what time it is, and I do not remember anything from the Qur’an after I had memorized the Qur’an.”

Emirati authorities should investigate the alleged abusive conditions. Authorities should hold those responsible for any unlawful acts to account and immediately provide the defendants with adequate medical attention, Human Rights Watch said.

The unfair mass trial has been shrouded in secrecy, and Emirati authorities have prevented defendants’ lawyers from freely accessing case files and court documents. Lawyers have apparently not obtained physical or electronic copies of the court documents, relatives said, and are only able to view the documents on a screen in a secure room under the supervision of security officers. Informed sources said that the lawyers are not allowed to take photos of the documents and are only permitted to take handwritten notes.

Emirati authorities have also prevented family members from freely attending the trial. During some sessions, authorities did not allow relatives into the courtroom and instead forced them to watch the proceedings in another room via a livestream that was muted so that they could not hear the proceedings.

At a March 7 hearing, defendant Sheikh Muhammad al-Siddiq said: “We hope that before you sentence us to death, you will give us the opportunity to defend ourselves,” the EDAC reported.

While a January statement from the Emirates News Agency (WAM), the UAE’s official state news agency, claims the case is “public,” Emirati authorities have severely restricted access to the hearings, even for family members, and have kept basic details of the case secret, including the names of all the defendants. UAE allies, including the United States and United Kingdom, should send diplomatic representatives to attend the next trial session to monitor due process violations.

“No one knows who is on the list, no one knows who these 84 people are … even those attending the trial don’t know,” one relative told Human Rights Watch.

At least 60 of the defendants were already convicted in 2013 for their involvement with the Justice and Dignity Committee, according to the EDAC. That raises concerns that Emirati authorities are violating the principle of double jeopardy, which prohibits trying people twice for the same offense after they had received a final verdict.

The prosecutor has not provided any new evidence, and the evidence cited in the hearings is based entirely on the UAE94 trial, the EDAC said.“It is the same case as 2013, there is no new evidence and it is the same allegations,” said one relative.

Family members have also expressed concern about the partiality of the presiding judge. During a hearing on December 21, one family member said, the judge “put sentences in the mouth of the witness.” The judge interrupted and intervened during the testimony by correcting the witness and dictating statements to him, family members and the EDAC said. The EDAC said that at one point, a police officer handed the witness a paper, which the witness then used to answer the remaining questions.

“This is not an independent trial; it is controlled by the government,” an informed source said. “The judiciary is under their hands, and they showed us from the beginning that they don’t care about the system or the laws.”

“A decade after the notorious UAE94 case, this new farcical mass trial proves that the UAE’s rights record has further deteriorated,” Shea said. “Ahmed Mansoor and the rest of these defendants should be immediately released.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *