United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities have intensified a crackdown on peaceful political activists with the arrest on July 16, 2012, of 13 activists affiliated with the Islamist group al-Islah.
Since late March, authorities have arrested at least 25 members of the Reform and Social Guidance Association (al-Islah),a nonviolent political association advocating greater adherence to Islamic precepts. Two prominent human rights lawyers, Mohammed al-Roken and Mohammed Mansoori, are among those arrested recently. A July 15 statement by the UAE’s official news agency saidAttorney General Salem Sa`eed Kubaish had ordered the arrest and investigation of “a group of people for establishing and managing an organization with the aim of committing crimes that harm state security.” The statement also accused the group of having connections with “foreign organizations and outside agendas” and promised to “expose the dimensions of the conspiracy.”
“The only conspiracy that Emiratis should worry about is that of the government to stamp out any and every semblance of dissent,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Just how many Emiratis does the government intend to jail for expressing political opinions?”
Authorities should end this crackdown immediately, and release all activists detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association, Human Rights Watch said.
In addition to al-Roken and Mansoori, local activists identified those recently detained as al-Roken’s son Rashed al-Roken, and his brother-in-law Abdullah al-Hajjari, as well as Khaled al-Sheiba, Omran al-Radhwan, Khalifa al-Nu`aimi, Abd al-Rahman al-Hadidi, Rashed Omran al-Shamsi, Ibrahim al-Yassi, Essa Al-Sari, Abd al-Rahman al-Nu`aimi, and Hussein al-Najjar. All are active members of al-Islah, and authorities appear to have arrested them solely for their ties to the group. Family members and local activists told Human Rights Watch that authorities released Abd al-Rahman al-Nu`aimilater on July 16, but that they did not know the whereabouts of the other men or whether any had been charged.
A family member of Khaled al-Sheiba, 58, told Human Rights Watch that around 11 a.m. on July 16, seven cars surrounded his home in the Emirate of Sharjah, and 20 officers entered and arrested him in front of his wife and children. The officers, who refused to identify themselves, showed no warrant for his arrest and did not tell him why he was being detained. The officers searched the house for four hours and confiscated several mobile phones and laptops from the house, the family member said.
“The unelected, hereditary UAE government is sending a simple message to its citizens: shut up or go to jail,” Whitson said. “In this day and age, with democratic movements sweeping the region, the Emirati government is desperately clinging to outdated, repressive tactics.”
Local activists told Human Rights Watch that al-Sheiba, a retired employee of the Defense Ministry, is among the leadership of al-Islah, and oversees many of its educational activities.
Some of those arrested were younger members, including Khaifa al-Nu`aimi, 23, an active blogger and user of the social networking site Twitter who has been critical of UAE’s state security. At 11 a.m. on July 16, approximately 15 officers pulled him over while he was driving near his Sharjah home. They escorted him to his house, handcuffed him, and forced him to wait for several hours while they searched the premises, a family member told Human Rights Watch. The men refused to identify themselves and did not inform al-Nu`aimi of the basis for his arrest.
Al-Roken, 50, is a prominent human rights lawyer in the Emirates, and has provided legal assistance to al-Islah members detained without charge since March, including a group that authorities stripped of their citizenship. In 2011 he served as co-defense council for two of the activists known as the “UAE 5,” who were imprisoned for seven months and tried in 2011 after allegedly posting statements on an internet forum critical of UAE government policy and leaders.
Authorities have harassed Mansoori, the deputy chairman of al-Islah and a former president of the Jurists’ Association, for many years. They dismissed him from his position as a legal adviser to the government of Ras Al Khaimah in January 2010 after he gave a television interview in which he criticized restrictions on freedom of speech in the country. Authorities have barred him from traveling since October 2007 and have refused to renew his passport since March 2008.