On 23 December 2019, Syrian human rights defender (HRD) Abdulrahman Muhammad Al-Nahhas joined the long list of victims of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance in the United Arab Emirates.
Al-Nahhas lived alone in his house in Zayed City, where he worked as a purchasing manager in the city municipality, his fiancée and family could not find out what exactly happened to him.
His brother and his fiancée tried to find out the cause and location of his sudden disappearance, but they could not solve the mystery. Despite repeated attempts to check with the UAE authorities, they did not get clear answers, especially since Al-Nahhas 's family also believed that the Emirati authorities had no reason to arrest him.
More than a year after his disappearance in the prisons of the State Security Apparatus (SSA), in January 2021, he was transferred to Al Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi, where he was allowed to contact his family for the first and last time. The young man from Syria decided to call his fiancée to inform her that the UAE authorities had arrested him because of an email he had sent to French Embassy.
In that call, Al-Nahhas told his fiancée that he had been threatened, tortured, and forced to sign papers whose content he did not know while he was blindfolded. He stated that the prosecutor told him two options before him, either to be deported to Syria to face the death penalty there, or to sign the papers.
After that, Al-Nahhas was referred to trial, and the prosecution charged him with two charges: the first of communicating with a terrorist organization, after he communicated with a human rights organization, and the second of “insulting the prestige of the state” because of his e-mail to the French embassy. The Emirati judiciary assigned a lawyer to defend him.
Al-Nahhas’ family contacted that lawyer, but she refused to provide them with any information about their son’s case, and refused even to give them the case number, and even told them that he was not innocent and that all the evidence incriminated him, and they should expect a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Later, the family said that the e-mail to the embassy was a request for asylum in France, because he (Abdulrahman) wants to work with human rights institutions that monitor human rights violations in Syria, and he cannot practice this work inside the UAE because its authorities consider such an action political.
Al-Nahhas explained in his mail his full story from the moment he left Syria, which can be summarized as follows:
Al-Nahhas was born in 1984. He holds a BA in English literature, but in 2011 he was arrested by the Syrian regime forces for allegedly filming the security crackdown on a peaceful demonstration.
In July 2012, the Syrian regime released him, to leave for Lebanon, and then to Egypt, where he began his activities in defense of human rights.
While in Egypt, he established an organization and website (Insan Watch) to document human rights violations by the Syrian regime. However, he was later forced to leave Cairo in July 2013 due to the unstable political situation.
Then he moved to the United Arab Emirates and was able to get a job as a "procurement supervisor" in Abu Dhabi, but he was unable to continue his work documenting the violations of the Syrian regime for fear of persecution by the UAE authorities.
Over the past years, Al-Nahhas tried to resume the activity of his organization (Insan Watch), and contacted a number of human rights organizations to obtain the necessary support, but all of them stipulated that he must obtain a residency permit in one of the countries that support human rights, so that he could obtain support and practice his activities more freely.
In 2019, Al-Nahhas sent an email to the French embassy explaining his condition and requesting political asylum, but the UAE authorities somehow obtained a copy of the mail, and arrested him.
The judgment hearing in the Al-Nahhas case was scheduled to take place on June 9, 2021, but the SSA Department of the Federal Court postponed the hearing several times for unknown reasons.
As part of its follow-up to the case of the Syrian youth in Emirati prisons, specifically on May 18, 2021, Emirates Detainees Advocacy Centre (EDAC) sent an urgent appeal to Marie Lawlor, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, who sent a message to the UAE authorities expressing her concern about the “arbitrary detention of Al-Nahhas” She called on the authorities to clarify the legal basis for the arrest.