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International human rights instruments, in particular article 9 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) protect the right to personal liberty, meaning that no one shall be arbitrarily detained.
Detention, which, in itself, is not a violation of human rights and can be legitimate, becomes arbitrary when the deprivation of liberty is carried out in violation of fundamental rights and guarantees set forth in relevant international human rights instruments. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has defined several categories under which detention is arbitrary:
- When it is impossible to invoke any legal basis for the deprivation of liberty (as when a person is kept in detention after the completion of his sentence or despite an amnesty law applicable to him/her);
- When the deprivation of liberty results from the exercise of the rights or freedoms guaranteed by the UDHR and the ICCPR, such as the right to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association;
- When international norms relating to the right to a fair trial have been totally or partially violated, for example if the person has been imprisoned without charge or denied access to a lawyer;
- When the deprivation of liberty is based on discriminatory grounds such as, amongst others, on ethnic origin, religion, political or other opinion or gender.
In the Arab world, thousands of individuals are subjected to arbitrary detention. Victims are usually denied their fundamental rights from the onset of the detention: arrest without a warrant; incommunicado detention with the denial of access to family and lawyer; prolonged periods of custody, during which the person is tortured in order to extract confessions; and speedy trials before tribunals that lack independence or exceptional courts.
Arab governments often arrest and prosecute all dissenting voices, such as those of human rights defenders, political opponents, journalists and peaceful demonstrators in retaliation for peacefully making use of their right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Simultaneously, thousands of ordinary citizens are also victims of arbitrary detention when they are denied their fair trial rights.
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A retired judge, Suleiman oud Zoubi, former member of the Libyan General National Congress (GNC), was released on 4 September 2016. He was abducted in 2014 by the Barag Al Nasser militia from Zintan, which were at the time loyalists to the Libyan armed forces. He was held in solitary confinement and subjected to torture and ill-treatment.
On 2 September 2016 Alkarama wrote to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) regarding the case of a 32 year-old Saudi citizen who was arrested without a mandate, in the region of Al-Qatif, by members of the intelligence forces of the Saudi Ministry of Interior. He has been detained at the Dammam Central Prison for almost two years without any charges and without having been presented before a judicial authority.
On 26 August 2016, Alkarama received confirmation that prominent Omani human rights defender Said Jadad was released after having served his one year prison sentence in the Arzat prison in Salalah. Jadad had been convicted in March 2015 of “using information technology to prejudice public order” for a social media post, in which he likened the 2014 Hong Kong protests to those in Dhofar in 2011.
On 21 September 2014, Murtaja Algariras, 13 years old at the time, was arrested by Saudi police on his way to Bahrain. During the investigation, Murtaja was tortured to extract confessions stating his participation in "illegal gatherings". Almost two years after his arrest, Murtaja has not yet been charged and no date has been set for his trial.
On 1 June 2016, the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) of Riyadh sentenced Mounir Aal Adam to death after admitting confessions made under torture into evidence. On 16 August 2016, Alkarama raised his case with the Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions (SUMEX), calling for her urgent intervention with the Saudi authorities to demand that the death penalty Mounir was sentenced to not be applied.
On 26 September 2013, Mohamad Az, a Syrian national and a long-time resident of the United Arab Emirates was arrested while driving with his mother from Al Dhaid to Dubai by officers dressed in civilian clothes, who drove him blindfolded to his house and searched it without a warrant. Az was then detained in secret detention for four months during which time he was coerced into confessing his support to Ahrar Al Sham. Az had been commenting developments in his hometown in Syria since the beginning of the conflict.
Two teenagers, Muawiya Alqam and Shadi Farrah, as young as 15 and 13 years old, are currently amongst the hundreds of Palestinian children detained in Israeli prisons. Both violently arrested and deprived of their basic fair trial rights, a discriminatory treatment applied to Palestinians only, they are now facing prosecution before the Israeli Central Criminal Court for "possessing knives."
On 29 May 2016, after more than one month in detention, Mohamed Faroug Suliman Mahmoud and Murtada Ibrahim Idriss Habani, two senior members of Sudanese opposition parties, were finally released by the authorities. They had been arrested by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) on 23 April 2016 after having joined a peaceful demonstration that took place at the University of Kordofan.
On 30 May 2016, the State Security Chamber of the Supreme Court of the United Arab Emirates has acquitted Salim Alaradi and two co-accused after 642 days in detention. While the Security Chamber of the Supreme Court confirmed Alaradi's innocence, he was not allowed to leave the Court free, but was taken back to prison by the State Security forces.
On 19 May 2016, 34-year-old Palestinian journalist at Al Majd TV Mohammad Al-Qeeq was released after six months spent in administrative detention.