UAE authorities in September 2021 designated four prominent exiled Emirati dissidents as "terrorism" supporters, Human Rights Watch said today. The move is part of a continuing attempt to outlaw activism and free expression under the guise of counterterrorism.
On its website, HRW the list of "people and organizations supporting terrorism" also included at least one person who has been detained for over a year without being brought before a judge or allowed legal representation, further demonstrating the UAE's blatant disregard for the rule of law.
"The UAE has shown time and again the nefarious ways that it uses counterterrorism as a guise for suppressing legitimate dissent and criticism," said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "For many years the UAE has sent a crystal-clear message to its citizens and residents: You're either with us or you're a terrorist."
The four exiled Emirati dissidents are Hamad al-Shamsi, Mohammed Saqr al-Zaabi, Ahmed al-Shaiba al-Nuaimi and Saeed al-Tenaiji. The designation's immediate effects on them include asset freezes, property confiscations, and criminalizing their UAE-based relatives' communications with them.
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On November 5, al-Nuaimi’s son with quadriplegia, whom UAE authorities had banned from travel since at least 2014 as a form of apparent reprisal against his father, died in a UAE hospital.
The dissidents told Human Rights Watch that the authorities had threatened their families with prosecution for "communicating with terrorists." The men learned of their designation only after the Cabinet of Ministers issued the decision. People placed on the list may file a complaint, and if it is rejected or ignored, challenge the decision in court within 60 days.
The four Emirati dissidents belong to a group of 94 political activists, known as the UAE94, that UAE authorities accused of crimes against national security in 2013 based on their peaceful statements and affiliations. The group included prominent human rights lawyers, judges, teachers, and student leaders.
A UAE court held an egregiously unfair mass trial that resulted in lengthy prison sentences for 69 defendants, eight of whom, including the four, were charged and sentenced in absentia. None of the four men attempted to challenge their designations as terrorism supporters because they believe that UAE authorities will not allow it since they were convicted in absentia, one dissident said.
Al-Shamsi is the executive director of the Emirati human rights organization Emirates Detainees Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of Emirati political prisoners.
Al-Zaabi is the former president of the Emirates Jurists Association, which was one of UAE's most prominent civil society organizations until 2011, when the government issued a decree to dissolve its board of directors as part of a broader crackdown on peaceful dissent.
Al-Nuaimi is a writer, education consultant, and specialist in applied educational psychology. His brother is the prominent imprisoned political activist Khaled al-Shaiba al-Nuaimi, currently serving a 15-year prison sentence stemming from the UAE94 trial.
And al-Tenaiji is an Emirati researcher and currently heads both the Gulf Center for Studies and Dialogue and the Emirati Association Against Normalization with Israel.