United Arab Emirates: relatives of detainees targeted in reprisals

معتقلي الرأي في الامارات

The UAE authorities do not only repress and detain activists and political opponents for many years and impose harsh penalties on them after unfair trials. They also seek revenge on their families and harm to the relatives of victims as a further means of suppressing and silencing dissenting voices. These practices are exemplified in the case of an Emirati prisoner of conscience, Abd al-Salam Darwish al-Marzouqi. Alkarama had referred him to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in the context of a collective complaint concerning a group of detainees of conscience, known in the media as the “UAE 94”.

Deprivation of nationality of victims' relatives

Alkarama contacted the relatives of Mr Abdulsalam Darwish Al Marzouqi, who were forced to leave the country since 2016 for a medical trip to the United States of America. They said that the government of their country informed them of the withdrawal of their nationality through a phone call. They were then asked to report to the UAE passport office to hand in their passports and identity documents.

Al-Marzouki's daughter said: 'As we are in the US, they asked my sister, who is the only one in the UAE, to go and hand over her passport, but she refused. Identity documents were already confiscated from her in 2017 while she was visiting my father in Al-Razeen prison. She was also prevented from travelling so that she could not join us. Her passport is currently expired, and she is not allowed to renew it because of the decision to withdraw her nationality. In fact, all our passports have now expired, and we cannot renew them for the same reason.

Marzouki's daughter added: "My father is still detained in Al-Razeen prison and has been forbidden from visits there since March 2020. My sister has only been able to visit him twice since her identity papers were confiscated (in 2017). Without ID, the authorities retain the discretion of whether or not to allow visits to the prison. As for the rest of his family members residing in the United States, they have not been able to see him or hear his voice since 2017. At that time, they were forbidden to contact him by phone, in retaliation for their refusal to return to the UAE, after the authorities asked them to return and hand over their passports”.

The case of Abd al-Salam Darwish and his family

Recently, the family of the detainee, Abd al-Salam Darwich al-Marzouqi, mourned the death of their son, Salman Abd al-Salam al-Marzouqi, after his health deteriorated in his father's absence. The latter is serving a ten-year prison sentence, soon to be completed in al-Razeen prison, for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and opinion.

In the case of Abd al-Salam Darwish al-Marzouqi, the Emirati authorities have gone beyond the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of the father, who was arrested nine years ago, subjected to enforced disappearance, torture and forced to sign confessions without being able to read them, thereby denying him his right to a fair trial. In fact, the authorities collectively punished his family by revoking his children's citizenship, denying them access to essential services such as medical care, something the activist's children particularly needed. As a result, Salman, who suffered from Autism and epileptic seizures from an early age, eventually died for lack of care, waiting in vain to see his father again after years of being deprived of any contact with him.

According to Emirati human rights defenders, Mrs Awatef, the wife of prisoner of conscience Abd al-Salam Darwich, had repeatedly called on the authorities to end their mistreatment and harassment of her family, which has caused them years of suffering. She also expressed her sadness at the mistreatment she and her children have suffered since her husband's arrest in July 2012. These numerous violations against the Darwish family include the withholding of all income from their father, a former government employee, the denial of the scholarships his children should have been entitled to, the obstruction of all legal proceedings the family was pursuing to claim their rights, as well as the routine threats of imprisonment for " cybercrimes " for reporting all these violations on social networks.

Public condemnation by UN independent experts

En juin dernier 2021, La Rapporteuse spéciale sur la situation des défenseurs des droits humains, Mme Mary Lawler, a appelé les Émirats arabes unis à libérer immédiatement cinq défenseurs des droits humains emprisonnés depuis 2013, en soulignant leurs allégations de torture, de mauvais traitements et de procès inéquitables.

In a statement, the Special Rapporteur called on the UAE authorities to immediately release Mohammed Al-Mansoori, Hassan Mohammed Al-Hammad, Hadif Rashid Abdullah Al-Owais, Ali Saeed Al-Kindi and Salem Hamdoun Al-Shehhi, part of the "Emirates 94"; a group of 94 lawyers and academics. They were sentenced to 10 years in prison in July 2013 for "plotting to overthrow the government".

In particular, the Special Rapporteur stated that "[t]heir sentences were extremely harsh and their detention was considered arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. They should never have been arrested in the first place for legitimately exercising their freedoms. According to the Special Rapporteur, the prosecution of the five human rights defenders heralded an escalation of the campaign by the UAE authorities against individuals and organisations calling for peaceful political reform.

Unfair trials and torture

The Special Rapporteur reported that their trials allegedly violated their right to a fair trial, denying or severely limiting their access to a lawyer, including during investigations.

She called on the UAE authorities to release these human rights defenders and allow them to continue their meaningful and necessary human rights work," said Marie Lawler. She added that there are "disturbing" allegations that they were subjected to prolonged periods of solitary confinement, which qualifies as torture. Other allegations accuse the authorities of turning off air conditioners when temperatures exceed 40 degrees Celsius, covering windows and preventing detainees from seeing sunlight.

The UN expert, who contacted the UAE authorities in this regard, expressed her grave concern and urged the government to release them immediately.

Actions undertaken by Alkarama

Over the years, Alkarama has followed cases of prisoners of conscience and persecution of human rights defenders in the United Arab Emirates, from their arrest to their trial. Alkarama has submitted individual complaints to the UN Special Procedures on many of these cases and has alerted the Human Rights Council to the repression of human rights defenders in reports submitted by Alkarama to the UAE's Universal Periodic Review. Alkarama has also been involved in extensive human rights campaigns by human rights groups to pressure the international community to put pressure on the UAE to end the series of repressions and persecutions against political activists and human rights defenders.

Urgent appeals and complaints to UN mechanisms on individual cases resulted in a resolution by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) in March 2014, confirming the illegality of the imprisonment of the “UAE 94” group of reformists and peaceful activists, urging the Emirati government to release them.

In light of the precursor complaints filed by Alkarama with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the latter concluded in its resolution No. 60/2013 of 9 September 2013, that the charges against these detainees fall within the framework of the rights to freedom of expression, Stressing that the restrictions imposed on these rights in this case cannot be considered proportionate and justified, noting that the above-mentioned persons were placed in solitary confinement without any legal basis after their arrest and that the charges against them later were vague and inaccurate. The UN expert team found that the violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to a fair trial in this case are serious.

This request had resulted in “Opinion No. 60/2013”, in which the WGAD concluded that the deprivation of liberty against the 61 individuals, including Abd al-Salam Darwich, in the “UAE 94” case was arbitrary, finding that “that the Government has a duty to release the detainees and that they should not have been convicted of the charges brought against them, or on the basis of their acts in the exercise of their right to freedom of opinion and expression”. This was the third decision adopted by the WGAD since 2009 regarding alleged violations of freedom of expression, fair trial and the prohibition of arbitrary arrest in the UAE, which the independent expert group described as recurring violations.

On 19 August 2013, Alkarama asked the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to render a decision on 61 detainees in the case of the "94 reformers" who were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 7 to 10 years. As part of this UN procedure, the WGAD had requested clarification from the UAE on 9 September 2013 regarding these allegations, but the government had refused to comply with the UN's requests within the specified 60-day deadline. As a result, the Working Group had subsequently issued its decision regarding the arrest of 61 individuals in the above-mentioned case.

The Working Group had issued both Opinion 64/2011 and Opinion 8/2009, in which it concluded that there are violations of freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association, which are guaranteed by Articles 8 and 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and violation of liberty through arbitrary detention prohibited by Article 9 of the Declaration. The Group of Experts expressed concern about the trend of this practice demonstrated in its two opinions and stressed that the government must comply with international law.

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