(Beirut) – In September 2021, authorities in the United Arab Emirates named four prominent Emirati dissidents in exile as supporters of “terrorism,” Human Rights Watch said today. The move is part of a continuing attempt to ban activism and free speech under the guise of counter-terrorism.
The list of “persons and organizations supporting terrorism” also included at least one person who was detained for more than a year without being brought before a judge or allowed to be represented by a lawyer, demonstrating once again the the UAE’s blatant disregard for the rule of law.
“The UAE has repeatedly shown the nefarious ways it uses counterterrorism as a pretext to suppress legitimate dissent and criticism,” said Michael Page, deputy director of the Middle East at Human Rights Watch. “For many years, the UAE has sent a clear message to its citizens and residents: either you are with us or you are a terrorist. “
The four Emirati dissidents in exile are Hamad al-Shamsi, Mohammed Saqr al-Zaabi, Ahmed al-Shaiba al-Nuaimi and Saeed al-Tenaiji. The immediate effects of the designation on them include the freezing of assets, confiscation of property and the criminalization of communications of their UAE-based relatives with them.
The dissidents told Human Rights Watch that authorities threatened their families with prosecution for “communicating with terrorists.” The men only learned of their designation after the Cabinet of Ministers made the decision. Those on the list can file a complaint, and if it is dismissed or ignored, challenge the decision in court within 60 days.
The United States, United Kingdom and other international partners view the United Arab Emirates as an active ally in the fight against terrorism, terrorist financing and violent extremism in the region despite the deep criminal justice system flawed UAE and their well-documented use of anti-terrorism legislation too broad to arbitrarily clamp down on dissidents and activists.
The four Emirati dissidents belong to a group of 94 political activists, known as UAE94, whom Emirati authorities accused of crimes against national security in 2013 on the basis of their peaceful statements and affiliations. The group included prominent human rights lawyers, judges, teachers and student leaders. A court in the United Arab Emirates staged a grossly unfair mass trial that resulted in lengthy prison terms for 69 defendants, eight of whom, including four, were charged and convicted in absentia. None of the four men have attempted to challenge their designation as terrorism supporters because they believe the UAE authorities will not allow it since they were convicted in absentia, a dissident said.
Al-Chamsi is the executive director of the UAE human rights organization Emirates Detainees Advocacy Center, a non-profit organization that advocates for the interests of Emirati political prisoners. Al-Shamsi is based in Turkey.
Al-Zaabi is the former chairman of the Emirates Jurists Association, which was one of the UAE’s foremost civil society organizations until 2011, when the government issued an executive order to dissolve its board of directors in part of a broader crackdown on peaceful dissent. Al-Zaabi is now based in the UK.
Al-Nuaimi is a writer, educational consultant and specialist in applied educational psychology. His brother is the prominent imprisoned political activist Khaled al-Shaiba al-Nuaimi, who is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence following the United Arab Emirates trial. Al-Nuaimi is also based in the UK.
And al-Tenaiji is an Emirati researcher and currently directs the Gulf Center for Studies and Dialogue and the Emirati Association Against Normalization with Israel. Al-Tenaiji is based in Turkey.
All four are in voluntary exile, and all four have reported various forms of harassment by UAE state security forces against family members based in the United Arab Emirates simply because they are relatives. They include travel bans, active surveillance, restrictions on basic rights, including employment and education, and even passport revocations.
On November 5, al-Nuaimi’s son with quadriplegia, who had been banned from travel by UAE authorities since at least 2014 in apparent retaliation against his father, died in a hospital in the United Arab Emirates. He had been separated from his father for nine years and his mother and siblings, who had all fled to the UK in 2014, for at least seven years.
Dissidents in exile feared that unfair terrorist designations would also be followed by the UAE filing specious Interpol Red Notices against them. A United Arab Emirates Interior Ministry official is running for the presidency of Interpol this year, which Human Rights Watch and the Gulf Center for Human Rights say could undermine the global police organization’s commitment to its citizens. human rights obligations.
The dissidents also raised concerns that the widespread publication of their names and photos on UAE-affiliated media and social media accounts could put them at risk of investigation at the same time. in the UK, one of the UAE’s main allies, including in counterterrorism efforts, and in Turkey and elsewhere. None of the men were investigated or questioned by British or Turkish authorities.
The UAE added 34 more individuals and 15 entities to its terrorist list in September. Human Rights Watch cross-checked all the names with other global financial and terrorist sanctions lists, including the United Nations Global Sanctions List, the European Union Sanctions List, and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs Consolidated List and Trade. Human Rights Watch confirmed that 14 of 38 individuals and 2 of the entities were on other lists.
Human Rights Watch also confirmed that at least one of the others on the list in September is a non-Emirati businessman who has lived and worked in the United Arab Emirates for many years. A source close to his family said authorities in the United Arab Emirates arrested the man during an overnight raid on his home in late 2019 and detained him incommunicado for almost 3 weeks as part of a probable enforced disappearance. He remains arbitrarily detained without charge or trial. His family members who live in the United Arab Emirates are facing financial difficulties due to the assets freeze resulting from his terrorist designation.
The famous UAE counterterrorism law gives the UAE cabinet the power to “make a decision on the creation of one or more lists of terrorist organizations or persons who pose a threat to the state.” The law broadly defines “terrorist” acts as, among other things, “sowing panic among a group of people” and “upsetting the state”, without requiring that the act be intended to cause death or serious injury. to achieve a political or ideological goal.
Commenting on the UAE’s counterterrorism law in November 2020, several UN experts warned that the executive branch “may approve the ban of any entity as a terrorist entity without being required to legally demonstrate that there is a objective reason to believe that such a designation is justified, despite the far-reaching implications that such a designation might have. UN experts also warned that the law “could contribute to an arbitrary and unreasonable use of these powers,” potentially leading to “the criminalization or persecution of organizations or individuals who are not” genuinely ” terrorists by nature ”.
The UAE should immediately stop using its abusive counterterrorism regulations to persecute peaceful dissidents and human rights defenders, ensure that everyone has the right to a fair trial, including the presumption of innocence, and the authorities should immediately remove the terrorism designations of the four prominent Emirati dissidents, Human Rights Watch said.
“The UAE’s blind and utter disregard for the rule of law should be a stern warning to the US, UK and other countries that view the UAE as a reliable counterterrorism partner in the region “said Page.