In 2014, the UAE passed Federal Law No. 7 on Combating Terrorist Crimes, which included a broad definition of terrorism and lacks legal certainty, as it criminalizes many broad acts that fall under the right to freedom of opinion and expression, as well as freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
Article 66 of the law establishes the legal basis for establishing counselling centres Munasaha Centres, as it stipulates that “one or more counselling centres shall be established by a decision of the Council of Ministers with the aim of guiding and reforming those convicted of terrorist crimes or those deemed to be dangerous.”
On September 4, 2019, the UAE authorities issued a law with a decree establishing the National Counselling Centre, which later became referred to as the “Munasaha Law.” Under this law, the mandate of the Counselling Centre exceeds what is specified under the counterterrorism Law to include the so-called “Guiding and Qualifying those with terrorist, extremist or deviant ideology”
This report will shed light on the legal framework of the so-called counselling centres and the manner in which the UAE authorities apply them, as Emirates Detainees Advocacy Centre (EDAC) believes that the current laws allow the UAE authorities to use these centres in order to suppress opposition and arbitrarily detain individuals for an indefinite period.
What is Munasaha?
The term “Munasaha” in the Arabic means “to give an advice or guidance”, which means providing guidance and recommendations to a person to solve his/her personal and/or psychological problems.
“Counselling” was a technique used to rehabilitate drug addicts or people with psychological problems using modern counselling methods instead of relying on medications only. Saudi Arabia was the first to use this method in 2004 in order to rehabilitate jihadi extremists to integrate them into Saudi society.
Despite this, the Saudi approach does not depend on literally the methods of guidance professionally, but rather depends on the idea of providing advice to extremists by qualified religious scholars and to make dialogue with them in order to raise their awareness and push them to abandon extremist ideology, which makes the idea closer to the process of “brainwashing” which the Chinese regime is famous for.
But the Emirati model is unique, as there is no rehabilitation or even brainwashing, and in some cases, there are not even counselling centres, but only names in order to justify extending the arbitrary detention of detainees indefinitely.
Legal basis for counselling centres
The legal basis for counselling centres was established with the terrorist Crimes Law No. 7 of 2014, where the first article of the law defines counselling centres as: “administrative units aiming at guiding and reforming those who have terrorist threats or are convicted of terrorist crimes.”
Here we must draw attention to several important points. The first point is that the counselling centres are in fact administrative detention centres, but the definition included in the law referred to the centre’s goal and not to the nature of its work. As for the second point, the law includes not only those convicted of a terrorist crime, but also people who are considered by the UAE authorities to be a terrorist threat.
The problem is that the definition of “terrorist danger” which created by the law in Article 40 is based on vague definitions of terrorism and terrorist crimes, which lack legal clarity and do not comply with international standards.
The Law on terrorist Crimes defines Article 1 of a terrorist crime as: “Every act or omission criminalized under this law, and every act or omission that constitutes a felony or misdemeanour contained in any other law if committed for a terrorist purpose.”
According to the same article, the law defines a terrorist person as “every person who belongs to a terrorist organization, or who has committed a terrorist crime, or directly participated in or caused its commission, or threatened to commit it, or aims, plans or seeks to commit it, or promotes or incites to commit it.”
It also defines the terrorist outcome as: “causing terror among a group of people, taking lives, causing serious bodily harm, causing significant damage to property or the environment, disturbing the security of the internal or international community, antagonizing the state, or influencing public authorities in the state, another state, or an international organization in the performance of its work, or obtaining from the state, another state, or an international organization a benefit or advantage of any kind.”
Under this very broad definition of “terrorism”, any peaceful dissident, political dissident, blogger, journalist, or person who criticizes the government or its policy can be considered to pose a terrorist threat and subsequently tried on terrorist charges and held indefinitely in administrative detention without trial.
The Articles 15 and 26, which clearly prohibit the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, stating that “anyone who declares by any means of communication his opposition to the state or the system of government or his disloyalty to the leadership shall be punished by temporary imprisonment.” Holding any meeting or gathering anywhere in the country by any terrorist organization or terrorist person for a terrorist purpose [..].”
Reasons for arrest in counselling centres
The UAE Anti-Terrorist Crimes Law allows for the administrative detention of anyone who poses a terrorist threat as Article 40 states that:
1 - There is a terrorist danger in a person if he adopts extremist or terrorist ideologies such that he fears that he will commit a terrorist crime.
2 - If the person has a terrorist threat, he is placed in a counselling centre, by a court ruling and based on a request from the Public Prosecution Office.
3- The counselling centre submits to the prosecution a periodic report every three months about the detainee, and the prosecution must submit these reports to the court with its opinion, and the court must order the release of the detainee if it finds that his condition permits this.
We note that the definition of terrorist risk contained in the first paragraph is a broad definition and does not include any clear criteria, as it does not specify what is the minimum threshold at which a person is considered dangerous, or is likely to commit a terrorist crime, and it is not clear how to assess the “likelihood of terrorism.”
In addition to the arbitrary nature of this measure, it also constitutes a serious violation and threat to individual liberties, because it does not specify to the court the number of times in which the extension of detention is allowed, and thus this law expressly allows arbitrary detention and creates situations in which detainees can be imprisoned indefinitely on the sole motive that they “They continue to pose a terrorist threat” according to the court, moreover, there are no remedies available to challenge the court's decision.
In fact, the counterterrorism law grants broad discretionary powers to the court and the UAE authorities, and is not backed by any legal guarantees, which allows individuals to be detained on vague grounds, and undermines the principle of legal certainty.
The National Counselling Centre Law also allows the Public Prosecutor to issue an order to detain people temporarily for a period of 15 days without a court ruling if he was referred by the competent authorities -not specified by the law- or if he himself or his guardian requested to submit to the counselling program but failed due to an unacceptable excuse. .
According to Article 10, the Public Prosecution must submit the matter and the Center's report to the competent court before the end of the period referred to in the previous clause, in order for the court to order the continuation of his detention or his release.
In addition, the public prosecutor can subject any convicted person of a terrorist offense to the counselling program, as Article 48 states: “The Public Prosecutor may subject a person convicted of a freedom-restricting penalty in a terrorist offense to a counselling program supervised by a counselling centre and implemented in the penal facility that spends in which the convict shall serve the term of his sentence.”
This article in particular will be the main focus when we discuss the way to implement counseling programs in the Emirates.
Article 4 regarding the establishment of the National Counselling Centre states that the centre aims to:
1- Advising and reforming those who have terrorist or extremism danger or who have been convicted of terrorist crimes.
2 - Qualifying the bearers of terrorist, extremist or deviant ideology, refute their ideology and correcting their concepts.
3- Contribute to the dissemination of the concept of moderation and the rejection of extremism, violence and terrorism.
4- Achieving intellectual, psychological and social balance among detainees and subjects with the aim of reintegrating them into society.
5- To highlight the role of the state in combating terrorism and confronting terrorist, extremist or deviant ideology.
However, the law does not include any details about the purported "counselling program", nor does it specify the procedures involved in this program or the manner in which these programs are implemented.
In fact, in all the cases documented by EDAC, there was no evidence that the detainees had received any counselling or rehabilitation programs, but rather their detention in the same prison was based on the counselling law instead of the penalties that had expired.
EDAC did not find any information or document published by the UAE authorities explaining the types of programs or forms of support available in the counselling centres, or specifying what these programs entail or the basis for providing them, or the method of rehabilitation carried out by these programs.
How is the counselling program applied?
EDAC has documented dozens of cases that were detained in counselling centres based on the available data, or through news published by UAE newspapers during the past years. It was found by carefully reviewing the cases that the UAE authorities use the so-called counselling programs to achieve two goals:
The first is to detain people whom the courts fail to convict
EDAC has observed by tracking many cases that the UAE authorities detain anyone against whom the court fails to find evidence to convict in counselling centres under the allegations of terrorist threats.
In all of the cases documented below, the charges against them relate to: belonging to a terrorist organization or seeking to join a terrorist organization, but the State Security Prosecution did not find, in all of these cases, any evidence that it could rely on, which makes the charge of terrorist danger a charge for those who are not charged.
1. The 1st case: On March 21, 2016, Three Emiratis were referred to the Counselling Centres on charges of terrorist risk in accordance with Article 40 of the Anti-Terrorist Crimes Law, after the court ruled out the accusation of seeking to join a terrorist organization due to the lack of evidence.
2. The 2nd case: On July 20, 2017, the prosecution submitted a request to place the Emirati citizen (M.A.) in counselling centres after it failed to find any evidence of his desire of seeking to join a terrorist organization, the prosecution based its request on an allegation saying that the detainee was browsing ISIS news on the Internet without providing any evidence to prove the existence of statements, actions or behaviour that he is extremist.
3. The 3rd case: On May 23, 2016, the State Security Department of the Federal Supreme Court deposited the detainee (R.A.) in a counselling centre on the charge of “terrorist danger” after it failed to convict him on the accusation of joining a terrorist organization.
4. Case 4: On June 7, 2016, the State Security Department of the Federal Supreme Court issued a ruling on the accused (T.A) to put him in the Counselling Centre on charges of terrorist danger after it failed to find any terrorist charges!
5. The 5th case: The State Security Department of the Federal Supreme Court sentenced the GCC citzen (AM) to be detained in a counseling center on the accusation of embracing the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). And although the authorities consider MB a terrorist organization and issued long prison sentences to the persons affiliated with it, but they could not Prove the accusation against him because there is no evidence linking him to the MB.
6. 6th case: The State Security Department of the Federal Supreme Court ruled that both (A.A.) and (A.H.), two Emiratis to be held in one of the counselling centres of the Ministry of Interior, after the Public Prosecution charged them with “terrorist danger.”
7. 7th case: The State Security Prosecution placed defendants from GCC nationalities (A.A.) and (F.A.) in counselling centres during their trial on charges of belonging to the secret organization of the MB in the UAE, and at the end of the case they decided to place them in counselling centres after they failed to prove the charge.
The Second: Preventing opponents from leaving prison and detaining them indefinitely
The UAE authorities are taking advantage of the laws of terrorism and counselling in order to prevent dissidents from leaving prison after the expiration of their sentences, as they continue to detain them administratively under the name of “counselling programs” for an indefinite period.
Currently, nine of the detainees of conscience - seven of them detained in Al-Razeen prison - are still after the end of their sentences under the pretext of being rehabilitated in the Munasaha Center, and they are:
1. Abdullah Al-Helou, was arrested on April 22, 2014. He was sentenced to three years in prison. His sentence ended on April 22, 2017.
2. Abdel Wahed Hassan Badi, was arrested on March 26, 2013 and sentenced to five years in prison. His sentence ended on March 26, 2018.
3. Khalifa Rabia, was arrested on July 23, 2013 and sentenced to five years in prison. His sentence ended on July 23, 2018.
4. Abdullah Al-Hajri, was arrested on July 16, 2012 and sentenced to seven years in prison. His sentence ended on July 16, 2019.
5. Imran Al-Radwan Al-Harthy, detained on 16 July 2012, was sentenced to seven years in prison. His sentence ended on July 16, 2019.
6. Fahad Al-Hajri - was arrested on March 2, 2013 and sentenced to seven years in prison. He has completed his sentence since March 2, 2020.
7. Mahmoud Al Hosani, was arrested on July 16, 2012, and sentenced to seven years in prison. His sentence expired on July 16, 2019.
8. Maryam Suleiman Al Balushi, was arrested on November 19, 2015, and sentenced to five years in prison. Her sentence ended on November 19, 2020.
9. Amina Muhammad Al-Abdouli was arrested on November 19, 2015 and sentenced to five years in prison. Her sentence ended on November 19, 2020.
Where are the counselling centres located?
Although the UAE authorities issued a law in 2019 to establish the National Counselling Centre in Abu Dhabi, two years after the issuance of this law, the UAE authorities are holding the detainees in regular prisons.
EDAC has documented the UAE authorities' use of three locations as counseling centres:
1. Al-Razeen Prison: Any person detained in Al-Razeen and placed in counseling centers, the UAE authorities transfer him to another ward within the same prison, and the counseling center ward is no different from the other wards in Al-Razeen Prison, and it seems that the transfer is for administrative purposes only.
2. Reserve prison: The UAE authorities transfer detainees in Al Wathba prison or other prisons to Abu Dhabi Reserve prison, which is a prison designated for temporary detention in criminal offenses. Omar Al-Janahi, Issa Al-Shaer and others accused in (Al-Manara case) were detained in this prison during the counseling period, which lasted 3 years in some cases.
3. Secret Security Apparatus (SSA) Detention Centers: Some cases were held by the UAE authorities in the SSA’s investigation prisons, because of their placement in counseling centers -from the stages of trial and investigation- or even because of the difficulty of transferring them due to prison overcrowding.
What are counseling programmes?
The UAE authorities announced the activation of counseling programmes, and said that the counseling centers include psychiatrists, social workers, preachers, and classrooms, but in fact, there are no counseling centers at all to put psychiatrists and social workers in them.
In all the cases documented by EDAC, various sources confirmed to us that there are no counseling programs at all, the detainees were not subject to any such programs, and no one spoke to them during their detention.
The Emirati counseling program is in fact, an administrative detention program, and does not include any real programs for the rehabilitation of detainees. Rather, the UAE authorities sometimes pressure detainees to record televised confessions in which they express their remorse by criticizing the state in exchange for their release.
What is more dangerous than the lack of counseling programs is that the articles related to counseling do not specify a time for detention for the counseling program. We noted that the authorities are detaining people for periods exceeding the end of the sentence. For example, Abdullah Al-Helo was sentenced to 3 years for calling to political reforms, his sentence expired four years ago, which means that the authorities detained him for more than twice the period of his sentence under the pretext of counseling.
Who runs the program?
The law does not clearly specify the body responsible for managing or supervising the counseling program, and there is no clear information about the apparatus responsible for supervising the program. In some cases, detainees are in prisons affiliated with the Ministry of Interior, and in other cases they are in prisons affiliated with the SSA.
After this brief explanation of the legal basis of the counseling centers and the way they were used by the UAE authorities, EDAC has reached to the following conclusions:
1. Counseling Centres are a legal cover for the pre-trial detention of detainees.
2. There are no counseling programs and no clear details of the nature of these programs.
3. There are no independent counseling centres for administrative detention, and the prisons are used for the endless detention of those whose prison sentences have expired.
4. UAE law does not set a maximum limit for administrative detention, and the detainee can be held in pretrial detention indefinitely
5. The cases documented by the EDAC confirm that the UAE authorities use counseling programs to arbitrarily detain opponents for an indefinite period.