المحكمة الاتحادية الإماراتية


The United Arab Emirates (UAE) once again tried dozens of political prisoners who had finished serving their sentences, despite the numerous opinions of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) in which the authorities were condemned for the violations committed and called upon to release them.

The General Prosecutor referred 84 political detainees, including most members of the Muslim Brotherhood banned from the UAE, to the Federal Court in Abu Dhabi on charges of "creating another secret organization with the aim of committing acts of violence and terrorism on the territory of the state." In a statement published by state media, the prosecutor claimed that "the defendants had concealed this (alleged) crime and its evidence prior to their arrest and trial in Case No. 17 of 2013 – State Security."  

Lawyer Rachid Mesli, director of Alkarama, said the trial was "a great farce and a contempt for the notion of justice", stressing that it is a "flagrant violation of the principle of prohibiting the prosecution and criminal trial of people on the same charges after a final verdict has been pronounced against them, not to mention the fact that they have served their sentences in a trial that lacks justice".

"With this measure, the UAE authorities continue to violate the rights of victims and carry out slow executions against them, and seek to evade their obligations under international law, in particular with regard to the need to cooperate in good faith with the UN Special Procedures on Human Rights, in particular the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which has issued several Opinions affirming the arbitrary nature of their deprivation of liberty and demanding the release of the victims and reparations," he said.

He added that the Abu Dhabi authorities have not only ignored the Opinions issued by the experts following complaints lodged by Alkarama and other human rights organisations, but have also "perpetuated a state of absurdity, in which the rule of law seems to be flouted and meaningless, and the coercive and brutal force of the state is the dominant behaviour".

Opinion of UN experts

The retrial of the political detainees comes nearly a year after the WGAD called for the fourth time for the release of these peaceful dissidents arbitrarily detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression and demanding political reforms.  

The experts' Opinion includes twelve of the 94 citizens arrested at regular intervals in 2012 following the uprisings in the Arab region as part of the so-called Arab Spring revolutions before being sentenced to ten years in prison for terrorism and cybercrime.

UAE authorities have launched a campaign to arrest dozens of people, including academics, judges, lawyers and human rights defenders, for petitioning the UAE president and the country's Federal Supreme Council calling for democratic reforms. Arrested by the state security apparatus, they were subjected to prolonged secret detention and severe torture before being sentenced in the largest mass trial ever held in the UAE, known as "Emirates 94".  

Contents of the Opinion

During its ninety-sixth session, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued its Opinion 19/2023 concerning a number of these peaceful activists and lawyers on whom Alkarama has worked over the past few years, and filed complaints with the Group. However, the UAE authorities are ignoring repeated calls for their release.  

The Opinion concerns Omran Ali Hasan al-Radwan al- Harithi, Abdullah Abdulqader Ahmad Ali al-Hajiri, Ahmed Yousef Abdullah al-Zaabi, Mohammed Abdulrazzaq Mohammed al-Siddiq, Husain Moneif al-Jabri, Hasan Moneif al-Jabri, Sultan Bin Kayed Mohammed al-Qasimi, Khalifa Hilal Khalifa Hilal al-Nuaimi, Ibrahim Ismail Ibrahim al-Yasi, Mohammed Abdullah al-Roken, Abdulsalam Mohammed Darwish al-Marzooqi and Fouad Mohammed Abdullah Hasan al-Hmadi.

While considering that their deprivation of liberty continues to be arbitrary, the Working Group requested the Government of the United Arab Emirates to adopt the necessary measures to remedy the situation of the twelve persons without delay and to bring it into conformity with the relevant international standards, including those contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Working Group was of the view that, in the circumstances of their case, the appropriate remedy was to release them immediately and to grant them an enforceable right to compensation and other forms of reparation, in accordance with international law.

Investigation and Accountability

The Working Group urged the Government to ensure a full and independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of these twelve persons and to take appropriate measures against those responsible for violations of their rights, before referring the case to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders for appropriate action.

The Committee also requested the sources and the Government to provide information on the measures taken to implement the recommendations contained in this Opinion, including whether the victims were released and, if so, when, whether compensation was paid to them, whether an investigation was carried out into the violation of their rights and,  if so, the results of the investigation, and whether any legislative changes or changes in practice have been made to harmonize the laws and practices of the United Arab Emirates.

The Working Group requested the source and the Government to provide the above-mentioned information within six months from the date of transmission of this Opinion. Such a measure would enable the Working Group to inform the Human Rights Council of the progress made in the implementation of its recommendations, as well as of any inaction.

The experts addressed the shortcomings of the domestic legislation relied upon by the UAE authorities, in particular the Anti-Terrorism Law, in which the definition of terrorist crime remains vague, noting that the former Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers had highlighted the vague and broad formulations of criminal offences which is in contradiction with international human rights standards and the principle of legality.

In 2020, many special procedures mandate holders also expressed concerns regarding the formulation of the criminal provisions contained in this legislation which was sometimes so inaccurate and vague that it risked undermining the principle of legal certainty.

These incompatibilities have led the Committee against Torture (CAT) to recommend that "arrests in counselling centres be based on clear and specific criteria established by law".

Counselling Centres

The experts of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also addressed the issue of detention in counselling centres on the basis of decisions of a specialized court in the context of offences against State security and at the request of the State Security Prosecutor.

The Anti-Terrorism Law does not explicitly require a limitation on the duration of detention in these counselling centres for persons deemed to be a terrorist threat, nor does it explicitly require the renewal of a detention order.

On the contrary, according to Article 40 (3) of the Anti-Terrorism Law and Article 11 of the Law on Counselling Centres, a quarterly report must be provided to the Prosecutor's Office on each of the detained persons.

The Public Prosecutor's Office then submits the report to the court, together with its opinion on whether or not it considers that the person in question is likely to commit a terrorist offence. The law stipulates that the court is then responsible for ordering the release of the person, if it considers that his or her "condition" permits.

Alkarama's activism

Alkarama believes that the new trials constitute a kind of psychological torture for the victims who have spent many years behind bars while waiting to regain their freedom.

However, the authorities continue to detain them, which confirms the UAE's flippancy towards the recommendations of the Committee against Torture during its initial examination to which Alkarama contributed through its shadow report. Alkarama also attended an NGO briefing held at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva in preparation for the review that took place during the 74th session from 13 to 14 July 2022.  

In its final recommendations, the CAT stressed, inter alia, the need to ensure that counter-terrorism and state security laws are in full compliance with international human rights standards, including by providing for all the basic legal safeguards set out in paragraph 13 of general comment No. 2 (2007);  in particular, the prosecution and punishment of members of the security forces and law enforcement agencies who commit acts of torture.  

The Committee also recommended that decisions on detention in counselling centres should be based on clear and precise criteria established by law, that arrest orders should be limited in time, that legislation should clearly specify the maximum periods of detention in counselling centres, and that detainees should be given the opportunity to challenge the lawfulness of their detention.

It also recommended that the State party intensify its efforts to harmonize conditions of detention with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) and to investigate and prosecute all cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

In its concluding observations, the Committee stressed the need for the State party to strengthen its cooperation with United Nations human rights mechanisms, including by allowing visits of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and other United Nations human rights mechanisms and experts. 

It should be noted that the UAE authorities are still holding more than 60 prisoners of conscience, most of whom served their sentences in July 2022, but are still behind bars under the guise of "counseling".  

Among the victims who have served their sentences is prominent lawyer and human rights activist Mohamed al-Roken, who spent ten years in prison following an unjust sentence following an unfair trial. 

Alkarama has been working for years on the case of lawyer Mohammed Al-Roken, and other prisoners of conscience, activists and political opponents who are suffering from repression in the United Arab Emirates, including dozens of peaceful dissidents known as the "Emirates 94" group.

In this context, Alkarama has filed several individual complaints with the Special Procedures, as the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has concluded more than once that their detention was arbitrary in nature, demanding their release.

Alkarama also recalled their case before the Human Rights Council in the context of the Universal Periodic Review of the United Arab Emirates and its human rights record, and has issued numerous press releases on this subject as part of its media activity.

Previous UN Decisions

In the light of complaints submitted by Alkarama and other organisations, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued its Opinion 60/2013, dated 9 September 2013, concerning a number of these political detainees in the United Arab Emirates. 

It was stressed that the charges against them are directly related to their rights to freedom of expression and that the restrictions imposed cannot be considered proportionate and justified. It was noted that, following their arrest, they had been held in solitary confinement without any legal justification and that the charges against them were vague and inaccurate.

The UN Working Group found that the violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to a fair trial in this case were serious.

Previously, the Working Group had issued Opinions 64/2011and 8/2009, in which it concluded that there had been violations of the freedoms of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association, guaranteed by articles 7 and 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and violations of the right not to be arbitrarily detained prohibited by article 9 of the Declaration.     

The Group expressed concern about this typical practice in the United Arab Emirates, as reflected in these two Opinions, and stressed the need for the Government to comply with international law.