united arab emirates
behind the glittering faCade Visitors to the united arab emirates rarely discover the stark realities hiding beneath its glossy surface: long prison sentences used to silence people calling for peaceful political reforms. an amnesty international staff member reports from a recent visit. It could be hard to believe that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a dark side. From the majestic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, to the breath-taking height of the Burj Khalifa and the sparkling high-rise buildings of Dubai to the turquoise waters of Jumeirah Beach, it appears near-perfect.
But the country’s brash modernity and timeless beauty belies a dark secret that its millions of tourists and foreign investors will rarely hear about. After the uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa region, fear gripped the UAE. The authorities put even tighter limits on what people can
say or do. Anyone calling for peaceful political change can now expect to be branded as an “Islamist”, arbitrarily arrested, charged under vaguely worded national security offences, and made into an outcast.
What lands you in jail The “UAE94” mass trial is a dramatic example of this. On 2 July 2013, 69 of the 94 defendants – many of them human rights lawyers, judges, academics and student leaders – were sentenced to between seven and 15 years in prison on national security charges. A number of those tried were members of al-Islah, (Reform and Social Guidance Association), a group engaged in peaceful religious and political debate since it was legally established in 1974. Among those imprisoned is prominent human rights lawyer, Dr Mohammed al-Roken, featured in our Worldwide Appeals on page 22. He took on politically sensitive court cases against the government that no other lawyer would touch, according to one of the eight UAE94 defendants tried in absentia, Mohammed Saqer. Other prominent prisoners include Mohammed al-Mansoori, Sheikh Dr Sultan Kayed Alqassimi, Hussain Ali al-Najjar Al-Hammadi and Saleh Mohammed al-Dhufairi.
Dubai Marina at dusk. 20 Wire [ jan/feb 2014 ]