(Beirut, May 13, 2016) – UAE authorities should immediately drop all charges against an Emirati academic and a Jordanian journalist that relate to peaceful criticism of Emirati and Egyptian authorities.
The Emirati academic, Nasser bin Ghaith, faces charges that include “engaging in hostility against Egypt,” following online comments made before his arrest in August 2014. The UAE-based Jordanian journalist, Tayseer al-Najjar, informed his family that his detention since December 2015, relates to his online criticism of Israeli military actions in Gaza and the Egyptian security forces’ destruction of tunnels between Gaza and the Sinai region of Egypt.
“UAE authorities seem to believe they have the right to detain anyone who ever expressed any views, anywhere, that they disagree with,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “There is no justification for throwing a journalist, or anyone else, into prison for expressing a peaceful opinion.”
Bin Ghaith and al-Najjar both spent time in incommunicado detention after their arrests. Local sources who asked not to be named for their protection told Human Rights Watch it is likely that they were held at a state security facility in Abu Dhabi that has been the subject of numerous credible allegations of torture.
Bin Ghaith’s whereabouts remain unknown, although he appeared at the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi for court sessions on April 4 and May 2, 2016. Media reports about the May 2 session indicate that he is accused of violating various provisions of the penal code, a 2012 cybercrime law, and a 2014 counterterrorism law. Some of these charges, according to local media reports, relate to “six tweets and images ridiculing the Egyptian president and government.” UAE authorities should immediately investigate the allegations of torture that local sources said bin Ghaith made to the judge at the May 2, 2016 hearing, Human Rights Watch said. Bin Ghaith is scheduled to appear in court again on May 23.
Majida Hourani, al-Najjar’s wife, told Human Rights Watch that she has been able to speak to her husband by telephone since his transfer to Al Wathba prison in early March. She said that her husband told her he has not been formally charged. She said he had posted the social media comments that UAE authorities had questioned him about in July 2014, nearly a year before he moved to the UAE to take up employment there.
UAE authorities do not allow Human Rights Watch access to the country. UAE residents known to have spoken with rights groups are at serious risk of arbitrary detention and imprisonment. The UAE’s 2014 counterterrorism law provides for the death penalty for people whose activities are found to “undermine national unity or social peace,” neither of which are defined in the law.
“What the UAE characterizes as hostility against foreign governments is what most people consider criticism or analysis,” Stork said. “This is a prime example of the UAE practice of invoking national security to persecute peaceful critics.”