Under the pretext of counseling

The practice of indefinite detention in the UAE

2 Jun 2022
The practice of indefinite detention in the UAE

The practice of indefinite detention in the UAE

Indefinite detention is one of the ugliest forms of detention known to mankind throughout history. From a legal perspective, it is one of the most vulnerable detentions and has the worst impact on the mental health of the detainee because he simply does not know the reasons for his detention and cannot know or even expect how long he can stay in prison.

It is simply the arrest of a person by an organ of state power without charging him or putting him on trial because there is no or insufficient evidence against him.

 It has been called indefinite because it is a detention for an indefinite period of time, i.e., the detainee may remain in prison for a month or forever.

This type of detention is also called administrative detention. It occurred mainly in wartime and then became a common practice of some repressive regimes, and it is currently widely practiced by the Zionist occupation against Palestinians who could not be proven to have committed certain violations, since it is enough for the occupation authorities to claim that you pose a threat to their security to place you in administrative detention without giving any reason. The U.S. occupation has used this type of detention at the infamous Guantanamo prison, where hundreds of detainees have been held without charge or trial for many years.

Given the severity of this type of detention and its impact on human rights, it is permitted under international law only in exceptional circumstances and for a short period of time to investigate the charges against the individual, verify their validity, or release him or her immediately. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, in its General Comment on Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has stated that “if, under the most exceptional circumstances, a present, direct and imperative threat is invoked to justify the detention of persons considered to present such a threat, the burden of proof lies on States parties to show that the individual poses such a threat and that it cannot be addressed by alternative measures, and that burden increases with the length of the detention. States parties also need to show that detention does not last longer than absolutely necessary, that the overall length of possible detention is limited and that they fully respect the guarantees provided for by article 9 in all cases.”

Unfortunately, in 2014, the UAE authorities joined the club of countries practicing this type of detention when they adopted the Anti-Terrorism Law, which allows them to detain individuals indefinitely if they pose a "terrorist risk" under the "counseling" clause, which comes with broad terms to facilitate the process of arbitrary detention in front of the local or international public and to hide the fact that it is an illegal practice.

According to this law, UAE authorities are currently holding 19 detainees indefinitely without charging them under the pretext that they pose a terrorist threat, even though these detainees were not detained for terrorist offenses but rather for freedom of expression issues.

UAE authorities are using this law to detain detainees of conscience whose freedom has been extinguished by judicial decisions, for revenge, or for political purposes related to the exercise of freedom of expression, in blatant disregard of the principle of the rule of law, which the state asserts in all forums, and in clear violation of international law.

The UAE law in this case expressly contradicts all the conditions that international law provides for this type of detention. There is no exceptional circumstance that leads the UAE authorities to practice this type of detention, and there is no specific time period for it, nor any guarantees that there is no independent judiciary to fall back on.

For example, detainee of conscience Abdullah Al-Helo has been held without charge or trial since April 22, 2017, more than five years ago, even though Al-Helo was originally arrested in 2014 and the court sentenced him to three years in prison without trying him for terrorism. He was supposed to be released in 2017, which means he was detained for twice as long as he was sentenced, and without any legal basis!!!! This is just one example and many more.

Worst of all, the number of indefinite detainees in the UAE could double in the coming months and reach a record high as UAE authorities use this type of detention against all prisoners of conscience whose sentences are expiring.

In addition to the serious legal violations that this type of detention entails, it also has psychological damage and serious effects on the health of the detainees. Norwegian psychologist Nora Svias confirms that indefinite detention is a dangerous form of torture that causes despair and has consequences. This has serious negative effects on the detainee's health.

Telling someone that he may not be released, or not being able to predict when he will be released from prison, is not only illegal, but also a hard feeling that no human being should have to face, and it is a form of psychological torture that can have serious effects on the psyche of any detainee and even their extended family, including father, mother, wife, and children, because they lose hope in their future and in those who govern the country.

These dangerous effects of indefinite detention, whether legal or psychological, require immediate intervention by the local and international community and human rights organizations to put serious pressure on the UAE authorities to release the detainees immediately and without delay.

Mohammed bin Saqr Al Zaabi / Legal and Judicial Advisor