Alkarama raises cases of reprisals in the Arab world with UN Secretary-General ahead of preparation of annual report

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(Geneva, May 30, 2018) – On May 18, 2018, Alkarama submitted a report with ten cases of reprisals across six countries in the Arab world to the UN Secretary-General (UNSG) in preparation for his annual report on reprisals against individuals who cooperate with the UN.

The report is based on Human Rights Council resolution 12/2, which invites the UNSG to submit an annual report to the Council compiling information on cases of reprisals, while also putting forward recommendations on how to tackle the issue. The report also draws from the work of the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, who leads the UN’s action on reprisals.

Across the Arab world, a number of individuals with whom Alkarama cooperates have continued to be subjected to acts of intimidation and reprisals, either as a result of their own activism, or the UN’s action on their behalf. Last year, the Secretary-General’s report showed an unprecedented rate of reprisals in the Arab world, with the region accounting for a third of the total countries named.

Egypt

Ebrahim Abdelmonem Metwally Hegazy is a lawyer and General Coordinator of the Association of the families of the disappeared, who offers legal counselling to families of victims of enforced disappearance in Egypt at both the domestic and international level.

On September 10, 2017, Metwally was abducted at Cairo International Airport as he was boarding a flight to Geneva to meet with the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID).

Metwally reappeared before the State Security Court on September 12, 2017, when he was accused of “founding and leading an illegal organisation named Association of the families of the disappeared”, “conspiracy with foreign entities, including the WGEID” and “spreading false information” in relation to cases of human rights violations he submitted to the UN Special Procedures.

In another instance of reprisals in Egypt, Hanane Baderraddine Abdalhafez Othman, a doctor in biology and a human rights activist working with an association of families of disappeared persons, was arrested on May 6, 2017 and charged with “belonging to a banned group” and “forming a women’s organisation”.

Othman was arrested at the Al Qanater Al Khayriyah Prison, where she had gone to enquire about the fate and whereabouts of her husband, who disappeared on July 27, 2013 following his arrest. The charges against her refer directly to her activities helping families file complaints to the WGEID as well as her own activism on behalf of her husband.

Saudi Arabia

Human rights defender Essa Al Nukheifi has been subjected to various form of reprisals for his human rights activism and cooperation with international civil society and the United Nations.

In December 2016, Al Nukheifi was arrested and questioned by the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution about his activities on social media and contact with international human rights organisations, including the UN Special Procedures. In early December 2016, Al Nukheifi had provided information to the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights ahead of his visit to Saudi Arabia in January 2017.

On February 27, 2018, Al Nukheifi released an open letter from prison addressing Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, urging him to take a number of reforms. The following day, the Specialised Criminal Court sentenced him to six years in prison. He was also banned from travelling and using social media for an equivalent amount of time after his release.

United Arab Emirates

On April 24, 2017, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) issued an Opinion declaring the detention of Mohamad Az, a Syrian computer engineer usually residing in Al Sharjah, as arbitrary. Az, who was arrested on September 13, 2013 and is currently serving a 15-year sentence, has been subjected to reprisals from the UAE government ever since the adoption of Opinion No.21/2017.

On July 2, 2017, Az was transferred to solitary confinement and detained in a room without air-conditioning. He has also been denied the specialised medical attention necessary to manage his medical conditions. Moreover, Az has been threatened with a retrial of his case, having been told that the prosecutor would ask for the penalty to be increased from 15 years to life imprisonment.

Follow-up on previous cases of reprisals

In addition to submitting recent cases of reprisals, Alkarama also brought developments in previous cases in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Oman and the UAE to the attention of the Secretary-General.

Among these cases is that of Rafik Belamrania, an active defender of the rights of children of disappeared persons in Algeria. Belamrania was placed in police custody in February 2017 after the Human Rights Committee adopted a decision in his favour after he submitted a complaint against Algeria on behalf of his father, Mohammed Belamrania, who was abducted and summarily executed by the Algerian army in 1995.

On February 5, 2018, Rafik Belamrania was sentenced on appeal to one year in prison followed by a two-year suspended sentence and a fine of 100,000 Algerian dinars. He was released on February 16, 2018, but was not granted any reparation or rehabilitation.

In Egypt, Ahmed Shawky Abdelsattar Mohamed Amasha remains in pre-trial detention despite the WGAD adopting an Opinion in November 2017 declaring his detention arbitrary and calling for his immediate release. Amasha – a human rights defender helping families of victims of enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention file complaints to national and international mechanisms including the WGEID – was abducted on March 10, 2017.

Abdul Rahman Alhaj Ali, a Syrian national detained in Morocco, was released on May 16, 2018 following three and half years of being held pending extradition to Saudi Arabia. Following a complaint before the Committee against Torture (CAT) filed by Alkarama on May 22, 2015, the Committee issued a decision in which it found that Alhaj Ali’s extradition would constitute a breach of Article 3 of the Convention against Torture considering the evidence that he would be at risk of torture in Saudi Arabia. After the decision was adopted by the CAT, Alhaj Ali was subjected to reprisals, including by having his detention extended.

In 2015, Mohammed Al Fazari, an Omani journalist and human rights activist, and the editor-in-chief and founder of the electronic magazine Al Muwatin, was granted political asylum in the United Kingdom after fleeing Oman. Over the past year, however, his family in Oman continued to be subjected to reprisals as a result of his advocacy. Al Fazari was arrested in August 2014 after calling on members of civil society in Oman to meet with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association ahead of his visit to Oman in September 2014. Al Fazari was later released, and went on to meet with the Special Rapporteur during his visit.

Emirati human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor has been subjected to reprisals repeatedly as a result of his work and advocacy with international human rights organisations and the UN mechanisms. Mansoor was continuously harassed by the State Security forces following his release from prison in 2011, and eventually rearrested on March 20, 2017. On May 29, 2018, Mansoor was sentenced by the Abu Dhabi Court of Appeals to ten years in prison and a fine of one million dirham (approximately $272,000) as well as a probation period of three years after serving his term. The charges against him included "defaming the UAE through social media channels" and "promoting sectarian hatred that would damage the UAE's social harmony and unity”.

In another case in the UAE, blogger and human rights defender Osama Al Najjar remains detained in a “counselling centre” more than a year after completing a three-year prison sentence. Al Najjar was arrested on March 17, 2014 after denouncing on Twitter the arbitrary detention of his father in the “UAE 94” case. Al Najjar also met with Gabriela Knaul, former UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, during her visit to the UAE in 2014. Following an unfair trial, on November 25, 2014, Al Najjar was sentenced to three years in prison, however, following the completion of his sentence, he was transferred from Al Rezeen Prison to a “counselling centre”, where he is currently detained against his will.

For more information or an interview, please contact media@alkarama.org (Tel: +41 22 734 1006).

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