United Arab Emirates is one of the countries which targeting human rights defenders (HRD's) in the world, as authorities continue to invent new methods to persecute and arrest them. The latest of these methods is the inclusion of 4 Emirati HRD's on the government's terrorism list.
Emirates Detainees Advocacy Centre (EDAC) has documented the most prominent methods of revenge and targeting of HRD's by the government, particularly against those working with international organizations, and has sought to shed light on the issues faced by citizens and other HRD's in the UAE for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
Due to their wide range of activities in documenting human rights violations and participating in events organized by human rights organizations and the United Nations, the UAE authorities have placed the targeting of HRD's at the top of their priorities, criminalizing all activities related to them and giving them the status of terrorism.
The beginning of targeting HRD's was by assigning the task of monitoring and dealing with them to the State Security Apparatus (SSA), as the SSA Law was amended in 2003 and granted the right to investigate, follow-up and collect information about any political or organizational activity for a person, organization, party, association or those in their judgment (Article 14), in addition to granting it wide powers in various areas of life.
In the beginning, the approach of the Emirati authorities was to harass HRD's by monitoring them, contacting them and threatening them to discourage them from practicing their human rights activities. However, the defenders' refusal to submit to these extortions prompted the authorities to increase the amount and quality of harassment.
This stage began in mid-2006, when the authorities began to put more pressure on HRD's by detaining or prosecuting them. This stage was launched in June 2006, when the Federal Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant against the head of the Independent Jurists Association, Muhammad Al-Mansoori, on charges of "insulting the public prosecutor," Al-Mansouri said at the time that government officials told him that the charge came because of his public interviews and his human rights activism.
The following month, the SSA detained prominent lawyer and professor of international law, Dr. Muhammad al-Roken, for 24 hours, then held him again for three days in August, on both occasions, he was interrogated about his public lectures and human rights activities, and they confiscated his passport and prevented him from leaving the country.
After that period, many new methods were launched to harass HRD's, such as confiscation of passports or travel bans, and in some cases depriving them of jobs due to the SSA's refusal to grant them security clearance.
But the year 2011 witnessed a new era in dealing with HRD's, as the UAE authorities started a new policy aimed at silencing them forever, represented by arresting them, forcibly disappearing them, withdrawing their nationalities and harassing their families.
In early 2011, the UAE State Security Court issued prison sentences for 5 human rights activists for up to 3 years due to their participation in a symposium on democracy in the UAE. They were charged with insulting state symbols, calling for protest, and undermining the regime, among them were the most known HRD Ahmed Mansour and academic Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith.
Although the UAE authorities pardoned them at the end of the year and released them from prison, they launched a massive arrest campaign in 2012 that included the detention of dozens of activists, academics and civil society figures and then their trial in the case known as the UAE 94, and this campaign came as a response to the defendants' signinig a petition to the President of the UAE calling for democratic and constitutional reforms that give citizens the right to political participation, the authorities continued their campaign against HRD's until they arrested the last HRD inside the UAE, Ahmed Mansoor in 2017.
The authorities were not satisfied with arbitrarily arresting HRD's and extracting confessions from them under torture, and then prosecuting them in trials that lacked the lowest standards of justice; using the most heinous methods to take revenge on them even inside prison.
The way the authorities deal with Ahmed Mansoor is an example of the extent of abuse against HRD's in Emirati prisons. The leaked letters written by Mansoor revealed that he has been detained since 2017 in solitary confinement away from the outside world, and he is prohibited from visiting or communicating with anyone. Mansour is deprived of all the rights of ordinary prisoners, as he sleeps on the floor without a mattress or pillow in a narrow cell without sun, and he is prohibited from leaving it to practice any physical activity.
The authorities' targeting HRD's is not limited to silencing them inside the country, but they are also trying in various ways to harass Emirati HRD's living abroad, by spying on them and applying political and social pressures on them.
The Guardian recently revealed that the UAE authorities has used the Pegasus malware to hack the phones of the late Emirati activist Alaa Al-Siddiq, and was closely monitoring her and spying on people around her, including her lawyer, and her staff at the ALQST human rights organization.
Although Al-Siddiq left the UAE for Qatar after the arrest of her father, Muhammad Al-Siddiq in 2012, Abu Dhabi's repeated targeting of her did not stop, as it used all possible methods of restrictions on her, as they withdrew her nationality, and repeatedly pressured the Qatari authorities to hand her over, which prompted Alaa to travel to The United Kingdom to operate more freely.
It must be pointed out to the media smear campaign against HRD's in the UAE, when it constantly described them as terrorists and traitors, and many descriptions that encourage hate speech, a method that has not stopped until this moment, and has been used against all HRD's.
The UAE authorities also frequently sent threatening messages to them, from fake accounts on social media, including threats of killing, imprisonment and abuse. This method has been used with many HRD's, including Ahmed Mansour.
Recently, the UAE authorities have devised a new method of targeting HRD's by including them on the lists of terrorism issued by the UAE government, as Abu Dhabi has listed 4 Emirati HRD's living outside the country on its terrorist lists.
The four HRD's who were included are: Ahmed Al Shaiba Al Nuaimi, Mohammed Saqr Al Zaabi, Hamad Mohammed Al Shamsi and Saeed Nasser Al Tunaiji, the four were convicted in the UAE94 case and the UAE judiciary issued prison sentences against them in absentia of up to 15 years.
The decision constitutes a new attempt to limit the activity of HRD's living in exile, in addition to the organized media campaigns launched by the UAE authorities against them, and the diplomatic pressure exerted by the Abu Dhabi on the governments of the capitals in which they live in order to extradite them or prevent them from practicing any human rights activity, such a decision aims to put more psychological and social pressure on them.
But the stigmatization of human rights activity with terrorism is not new to the UAE authorities, who prosecuted many activists on charges of collaborating with terrorist organizations because of their contact with human rights organizations. it is one of the charges brought against Ahmed Mansoor in his latest trial, but the inclusion of activists on terrorist lists reveals how far the authorities are willing to go to fight HRD's.
What began in 2003 with spying and monitoring HRD's, later evolved to take countless horrific forms, from withdrawal of nationalities, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, torture and cruel treatment in prisons, to the extent that this targeting developed to the point of placing them on terrorist lists, which paves the way for a new step represented in the assassination or extrajudicial killing.