The past decade (2011-2021) can be described as the darkest period for human rights in the UAE. The authorities cracked down on peaceful dissidents and human rights activists with unprecedented severity, enacting a wide range of laws restricting civil and political freedoms.
The crackdown on the opposition and those laws led to an unprecedented deterioration in the human rights situation, in which human rights violations escalated and the phenomenon of arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture and deprivation of nationality, among others, appeared for the first time in the UAE.
During this decade, prisons were overcrowded with academics, human rights activists, and members of the elite of Emirati society, turning the country into a large prison that swallowed the largest number of political detainees in the world relative to its population.
The violations of the UAE authorities were not limited to the detainees, but also affected their families and relatives, by expelling them from their jobs, confiscating their money, and depriving them of basic rights such as education and treatment.
The country's international reputation in the field of human rights has deteriorated unprecedently, as Freedom House classified the UAE as a non-free country, placing it at the top of the list of countries where there is no freedom, along with other countries such as Syria and Sudan.
Amnesty International also described the UAE as “the most police-state in the Middle East”, noting that its authorities have systematically criminalized freedom of expression, and punished it and dissent of any kind with long prison terms.
As for the International Centre for Prison Studies, has described Al-Razeen prison as "the worst notorious prison in the Arab world", which the international media described it as "the UAE's Guantanamo" because of the violations that take place inside it.
This deterioration in the human rights situation began on March 3, 2011, when a group of intellectuals and human rights advocates addressed a petition to the President, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, demanding that citizens should be given the right to elect members of the Federal National Council and enhance its powers.
The signatories to the petition, who were a total of 133 from multiple ideological trends, affirmed their adherence to the system of government in the UAE, and pointed out that there is "complete harmony between the leadership and the people" and that "participation in decision-making is a part of the traditions of this country."
Despite the petition's soft language, the authorities launched a relentless campaign of repression, including arresting the signatories and harassing their families by all possible means.
At that time, the UAE’s Stat Security Apparatus (SSA) arbitrarily arrested dozens of peaceful government critics and reform supporters, and placed them in solitary confinement, incommunicado, isolated from the outside world. Some of them were tortured and forced under duress to sign confessions.
In this report, we will mention the most prominent violations and events that the UAE has witnessed during the past ten years, since the signing of the March 3 petition until this moment.
The five Emiratis were the first victims
In April 2011, the authorities launched their repressive campaign by arresting 5 of the petition’s signatories: human rights activist Ahmed Mansour, Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith, Fahd Salim, Hassan Ali Al-Khamis, and Ahmed Abdel-Khaleq.
In November 2011, that is, after 6 months of detention and an unfair trial, an Emirati court sentenced Mansour to 3 years in prison, and the others to two years in prison for “insulting state symbols.” The day after the ruling, the head of state issued a presidential pardon for the five and they were released.
Mansour was one of the most prominent detainees, the most famous human rights defender in the UAE, and one of the first to be arrested by the authorities after the petition, as he was considered one of the masterminds of its words.
Dissolution of independent associations
The authorities directed their ire at independent NGOs that issued calls for change.
In 2011, the government dissolved the boards of directors of the Emirati Jurists Association and the Teachers' Association, accusing them of violating Article 16 of the Law on Associations and Public Institutions of Public Interest, which prohibits "interference in political affairs."
The Seven Emiratis (withdrawal of citizenships)
Only a few days after the end of the dilemma of the "Five Emiratis" with amnesty, a new case surfaced, as the authorities issued a decision on December 4, 2011 to withdraw the citizenship of 6 citizens who signed the petition on the pretext that they pose a threat to the security of the state, and the six are: Hussein Al-Jabri, Hassan Al-Jabri, Ibrahim Al-Marzouqi, Shaheen Al-Hosani, Ali Al-Hammadi, Muhammad Abdul-Razzaq Al-Siddiq. The citizenship of another one is Ahmed Ghaith Al-Suwaidi, was revoked, bringing the number to 7.
Al-Siddiq is considered the most prominent of those stripped of their nationalities, as he is a member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, and the father of the late activist Alaa Al-Siddiq.
A new wave of arrests launched by the authorities starting in March 2012, targeting dozens of people with ties to the long-established "Association for Reform and Social Guidance" (Al-Islah Society), which are popular civil society institutions, including prominent members of the judiciary, the legal profession, and university professors.
All the arrested members of Al-Islah were subjected to enforced disappearance, as they were arrested without a warrant, taken to an unknown location, and faced horrific forms of torture, including beatings with water pipes.
In March 2013, 94 of them were referred to trial for “plotting a coup against the government,” a case known as “UAE 94.” In July 2013, the court issued verdicts convicting 69 of them, following a mass trial marred by many legal flaws, such as holding them incommunicado and extracting their confessions under torture, Some of them were sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Among the most prominent detainees in this case, Sheikh Sultan bin Kayed Al Qasimi, head of the Islah Society, and one of the educational curriculum experts in the Arab world, as he participated in issuing the first Emirati curriculum, and he also has a prominent position because he is a relative to Al Qasimi family which rules Ras Al Khaimah. He was arrested on 20 April 2013.
Among the most prominent detainees is also Professor of International Law and prominent human rights lawyer, Dr. Muhammad Al-Roken, who was arrested on July 17, 2012, and sentenced in July 2013 to 10 years in prison.
The disappearance of Jamal Al Hammadi
On April 20, 2013, an unusual event has occurred. Jamal Al Hammadi, brother of the detainee Fouad Al Hammadi, disappeared while returning to his home in the city of Khor Fakkan, and although all indications and evidence confirm that the SSA has arrested him, the authorities denied it, and refuse to reveal his fate which is still unknown until now.
The detention of Al-Manara youth
After the completing dissolving Al-Islah Society, the authorities began liquidating another Islamic group. In 2013, 41 people known to belong to the Salafi movement were arrested in a case known in the media as “Al-Manara Youth.” They were charged with terrorism-related charges, and a decision was issued to dissolve the group, and its members were subjected to the worst types of torture in SSA prisons.
In 2016, after a mass trial, 9 of them were tried in presence and 2 in absentia to life imprisonment, 15 years for two others, 10 years for 13, 3 years for 6, and 5 years for 2, while 7 of them were acquitted.
The detention of Nasser bin Ghaith
On August 18, 2015, the authorities arrested academic and economic expert Nasser bin Ghaith again due to a series of tweets in which he criticized the Egyptian regime. He was charged with "spreading false information and defaming the UAE" under the Cybercrime Law and the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2014, and on March 29, 2017, the court issued a 10-year prison sentence.
The detention of Maryam Al Balushi and Amina Al Abdouli
On November 19, 2015, SSA arrested the student at the College of Technology, Maryam Al-Balushi, and the teacher, Amina Al-Abdouli. They were subjected to enforced disappearance, torture, and later trial, where they were sentenced to 5 years in prison, after Al-Balushi supported a poor Syrian family with $600, and Al-Abdouli tweeted sympathy with the Syrian revolution.
Despite the expiration of their sentences, the authorities did not release them, and tried them again. On April 28, 2021, the Abu Dhabi Court of Appeal issued a sentence of 3 more years in prison, on charges of "spreading false information that disturbs public order", following their appeals to international organizations and the United Nations.
The detention of the last human rights defender
On March 20, 2017, the authorities arrested Ahmed Mansoor again, as he is considered the last human rights defender in the UAE, and in December the court issued a 10-year prison sentence for allegedly “communicating with foreign institutions.”
The death of Alia Abdel Nour
On May 4, 2019, detainee of conscience, social activist Alia Abdel Nour, died as a result of deliberate medical negligence and delay in her treatment from cancer. She died with her hands and feet tied inside Tawam Hospital in Al Ain.
Abdel Nour was arrested on November 28, 2015 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for collecting donations to help those affected by the war in Syria.