مجموعة إمارات ٩٤

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has for the fourth time called for the release of peaceful dissidents detained after unfair trials and arbitrarily detained, despite the expiry of their sentences, by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and demanding political reforms. 

The Opinion concerns twelve citizens arrested in the course of 2012 in connection with uprisings in the Arab region and the context of the so-called "Arab Spring" revolutions. All were sentenced to ten years in prison on the grounds of counter-terrorism and cybercrime. The UAE authorities have launched a campaign of arrests against dozens of people, including academics, judges, lawyers and human rights defenders, for drafting a petition to the President of the United Arab Emirates and the country's Federal Supreme Council calling for democratic reforms. Arrested by the state security apparatus, they were held in secret and prolonged detention and subjected to severe torture. Finally, they were convicted in the largest mass trial ever held in the United Arab Emirates known as "Emirates 94". 

Content of the experts' Opinion 

During its 96th session, the UN WGAD issued its Opinion No. 19/2023 concerning a number of these peaceful activists and lawyers about whom Alkarama has worked in recent years, in particular by filing complaints before the Working Group. 

The experts decision concerns Omran Ali Hasan al-Radwan alHarithi, 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 their continued arbitrary deprivation of liberty, the Working Group called upon the Government of the United Arab Emirates to take the necessary measures to remedy the situation of these twelve persons without delay and to bring them 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 the case, the appropriate remedy was the immediate release of the twelve persons and the granting of 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 source and the Government were requested to provide information on the measures that will be taken to implement the recommendations contained in the opinion, including whether the twelve persons have been released and, if so, the date of release. The Government has six months from the date of transmission of this opinion to provide the Working Group with the above-mentioned information. In this way, the Working Group will be able to inform the Human Rights Council of the progress made in the implementation of its recommendations, as well as of any inaction.

In their Opinion, the experts also addressed the shortcomings of the national legislation relied upon by the UAE authorities, in particular the Anti-Terrorism Law, where the definition of terrorist crime remains ambiguous. It was noted that the former Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers had stressed that the Anti-Terrorism Act included vague and broad definitions of criminal offences, in contradiction with international human rights standards and the principle of legality. 

Also in 2020, many special procedures mandate holders expressed concern that the wording of the criminal provisions contained in this legislation was sometimes so inaccurate and vague that it risked undermining the principle of legal certainty. This uncertainty has led the Committee against Torture to recommend "that arrests in counselling centres be based on clear and specific criteria established by law". 

"Counselling" Centers 

The experts also addressed the issue of detention in counselling centres pursuant to the decisions of the specialized court competent for offences against State security and at the request of the State Security Prosecutor. 

The Working Group noted that the Anti-Terrorism Act does not explicitly provide for the competent court to specify the duration of detention in counselling centres for persons considered to be a terrorist threat, nor does it decide on the renewal of a detention order. Instead, in accordance with section 40(3) of the Anti-Terrorism Act and section 11 of the Counselling Centres Act, the latter must prepare a quarterly report for the attention of the prosecution for each of the detainees in the centre. The Public Prosecutor's Office then submits this 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

It should be noted that the UAE authorities continue to detain more than 60 prisoners of conscience under the pretext of "counselling", despite the numerous violations, torture and ill-treatment committed and despite the fact that they served their sentences in July 2022

Among the victims who have served their sentences is prominent lawyer and human rights activist Mohammed Al Roken, who spent ten years in prison after an unfair trial. Concerned about his situation, Alkarama has for many years worked on his case and that of other prisoners of conscience, activists and political opponents who have been victims of repression in the UAE, including dozens of peaceful dissidents among those convicted in the "Emirates 94" case. 

To this end, Alkarama has filed several individual complaints on behalf of the victims with the Special Procedures. Following Alkarama's requests, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had more than once concluded that their detention was arbitrary in nature and had demanded their release. Their situation had also been brought before the Human Rights Council in the context of the UAE' Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights, not to mention the numerous press releases issued on the subject as part of its media activity. 

Previous Opinions 

In the light of the complaints lodged by Alkarama and other organisations, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued its Opinion No. 60/2013 of 9 September 2013 concerning a number of political detainees in the United Arab Emirates, stressing that the charges against them fall within the framework of the right to freedom of expression,  and that the restrictions imposed on those rights cannot be considered proportionate and justified. 

The experts noted that the said people were placed in solitary confinement without any legal justification as a result of the pandemic. They acknowledged that they were arrested on vague and imprecise charges, considering that the violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to a fair trial in this case are serious. 

Previously, the Working Group had issued Opinion No. 64/2011 and Opinion No. 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 its two Opinions, stressing that the Government must comply with international law.