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United Arab Emirates: UN experts alarmed by new charges brought against civil society in UAE87 trial

19 January 2024

GENEVA (19 January 2024) – UN experts* today expressed grave concern that the trial in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) of 84 members of civil society on spurious terrorism charges could result in the death penalty or lengthy prison sentences for acts allegedly committed in 2010-2011.

“Most of the defendants were already serving, or had served, sentences for acts allegedly committed during the Arab Spring,” the experts said. The prosecutions were reportedly part of the UAE’s escalating crackdown on individuals and organisations calling for peaceful political reform, which resulted in lengthy prison sentences under the Penal Code.

“We are extremely concerned that the new charges brought against at least 84 members of civil society, including human rights defenders, activists and political dissidents, under the 2014 Counter-Terrorism Law violate international prohibitions on double jeopardy and retroactive criminal law,” the UN experts said. The defendants include the human rights defenders Mohamed Abdullah Al-Roken, who completed his prison sentence in 2022 but remains in detention and now faces new charges, and Nasser Bin Ghaith al-Marri, who is due to complete his sentence in 2025 but also faces a possible additional lengthy prison sentence.

The experts stressed that the UAE must ensure that national counter-terrorism legislation does not unnecessarily or disproportionately restrict civil society and civic space and is consistent with international human rights law. “The new charges against the 84 civil society members are a deeply regressive step, particularly given that the UAE is currently a member of the UN Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee,” they said.

“There are disturbing allegations that some of the individuals on trial have recently been subjected to enforced disappearance, solitary confinement and incommunicado detention, and torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” the experts said. Allegations also included violations of their right to a fair trial, denial or restriction of access to legal counsel, coerced confessions and lack of effective access to judicial proceedings.

“Such arbitrary application of counter-terrorism laws and the violations of fundamental civil and political rights have a severe chilling effect on freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association in the country”, the experts added.

“These individuals should never have been detained in the first place for legitimately exercising their fundamental rights and freedoms,” the experts said. They noted that some of these detentions have been declared arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in 2013 and 2023.

They recalled that UN human rights experts had previously warned that the 2014 counter-terrorism law lacked legal certainty, infringed on critically important rights and did not appear to meet the required thresholds of legality, necessity, proportionality and non-discrimination under international law.

"We call on the Emirati authorities to refrain from prosecuting the so-called ‘UAE87’ under the 2014 law and bring its counter-terrorism legislation in line with international human rights standards,” they said.

The experts are in contact with the authorities on this matter.

*The experts: Ben Saul, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of freedom of opinion and expression; Priya Gopalan (Chair-Rapporteur), Matthew Gillett (Vice-Chair on Communications), Ganna Yudkivska (Vice-Chair on Follow-Up), Miriam Estrada-Castillo, and Mumba Malila - Working Group on arbitrary detention; Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers; Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Aua Baldé (Chair-Rapporteur), Gabriella Citroni (Vice-Chair), Angkhana Neelapaijit, Grażyna Baranowska, Ana Lorena Delgadillo Pérez, Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

UN Human Rights, Country Page: United Arab Emirates

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