Prominent Human Rights Activist Arrested in the United Arab Emirates

 

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates—On Monday, March 20th, a political activist described as a “courageous and prominent human rights defender” was arrested in the United Arab Emirates on charges of spreading hatred and sectarianism on social media. In the days prior to his arrest, Mr. Mansoor had made several posts on social media, including a tweet calling for the release of Mr. Osama Al-Najjar, an Emirati human rights defender, as well as an article that criticized the Egyptian government.

Mr. Mansoor is cited as one of the few remaining human rights activists in the country (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

The political activist, Mr. Ahmed Mansoor, was arrested at the home he shares with his wife and four young children, subsequent to a “surprise overnight raid[.]” Amnesty International indicated that ten male and two female uniformed law enforcement officials “stormed” Mr. Mansoor’s apartment, and engaged in a lengthy search of each room, including the bedrooms of his young children. During the search, they seized electronic devices including laptops and the family’s cellular phones, however, it was not clear whether the security officials had a search warrant prior to engaging in this search. Mr. Mansoor was arrested around 3:15 a.m., yet, his wife was not informed of where he was being taken, and his location is still currently unknown. Furthermore, he has not been granted access to an attorney and has not been permitted to see his family.

The public prosecutor stated that Mr. Mansoor had used social media “to publish false information and rumors[,]” while also “promoting a sectarian and hate-incited agenda[.]” The prosecutor further added that Mr. Mansoor’s posts are a threat to “national unity and social harmony[,] and damage the country’s reputation[.]”

Mr. Mansoor is noted as being one of the last human rights defenders living in the United Arab Emirates and his arrest has been harshly criticized by human rights groups worldwide. Amnesty International stated that it is “appalled” by Mr. Mansoor’s arrest, and indicated that his detention violates his freedom of expression. The rights group called upon the United Arab Emirates for his “immediate and unconditional” release from detention based on fears that he could be tortured in prison. Human Rights Watch added that Mr. Mansoor must immediately be granted access to an attorney and his family, and his whereabouts must be revealed immediately.

The United Arab Emirates, which is a monarch known for little tolerance for public criticism of its government, has prosecuted several people in the past for “insulting the country’s leaders.” In 2011, Mr. Mansoor, along with four other pro-democracy activists, had been convicted of these charges after calling for reform in Arab countries.

For more information, please see:

ABC Online—Human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor arrested in United Arab Emirates—20 March 2017

Human Rights Watch—UAE: Free Prominent Rights Activist—21 March 2017

Amnesty International­—UAE: Surprise overnight raid leads to arrest of prominent human rights defender—20 March 2017

Reuters—UAE arrests prominent activist for incitement: state news—21 March 2017

OMCT World Organization Against Torture—United Arab Emirates: Arrest and detention in a secret location of Mr. Ahmed Mansoor—20 March 2017

Bahrain Strips Top Cleric of Citizenship

by Zachary Lucas
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

MANAMA, Bahrain — The Kingdom of Bahrain stripped top Shiite Cleric, Sheikh Isa Qassim, of citizenship on Tuesday. Iran has issued a statement saying the revocation of leadership could lead to an overthrow of the government.

Supporters Protest Sheikh Isa Qassim’s Loss of Citizenship (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

The government of Bahrain stripped Qassim of his citizenship, stating he helped to divide the country. The Bahrain News Agency said Qassim helped create “an extremist sectarian environment and worked on dividing the society.” The government also stated that Qassim formed groups that were loyal to foreign religious groups and governments, purportedly in reference to Iran.

Following Qassim’s revocation of citizenship, hundreds of Bahraini protesters have gathered outside the cleric’s home to support him. The protesters denied the allegations against the cleric. Clashes between the protesters and police have been sporadic following the sit-in outside the cleric’s house. The Bahraini government has warned that legal action will be taken against those who incite “security disturbances.”

The Iranian government warned Bahrain that these actions could lead to an overthrow of the government. Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, warned that this could set the” whole region on fire” and lead to armed resistance against the government.

This is one of a string of actions taken by the Bahraini government against the opposition groups in the country. Earlier in the week a Bahraini court suspended the main Shiite opposition party, al-Wefaq, along with freezing its assets. The government also more than doubled a prison sentence  for Al-Wefaq’s secretary-general, Sheikh Ali Salman. In response to the government crackdown on the opposition, more protests and violence have emerged including a gasoline bomb that killed a police officer.

Human rights organizations are concerned about human rights violations by the Sunni ruled Bahraini government and actions against the majority Shiite population. Brian Dooley, the director of the Washington-based group Human Rights First, said, “the targeting of the theological side of things, I think, is particularly worrying.”

In 2011, Bahrain saw mass protests during the Arab Spring as predominantly Shiite protesters argued for more political and civil liberties. During the protests, Qassim supported the protesters in their cause. The government along with help from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates crushed the protests.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Iran general warns Bahrain after Shia cleric stripped of citizenship – 20 June 2016

CNN – Iran: Bahrain’s leadership could fall over cleric’s treatment – 21 June 2016

Reuters – Bahrain summons senior Shi’ite clerics for questioning: lawyer – 23 June 2016

ABC News – Rally Outside Shiite Sheikh’s Home Reflects Bahrain Unrest – 23 June 2016

Six Activists Detained in UAE

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – On Monday, 9 April, the authorities notified six activists they resided in the United Arab Emirates (“UAE”) illegally and detained them.  The authorities revoked the nationality of these activists for critical statements they made about the country’s leadership last year.

The UAE detained six activists after stripping them of thier nationality. (Photo Courtesy of Al Arabiya News)

The activists’ lawyer Mohammed al-Roken reported the Interior Minister summoned the activists to the capital Abu Dhabi to inform them they resided in the country illegally.  The Minister then instructed them to sign a statement that forced them to obtain a new nationality within two weeks.

Daughter of activist Mohammed Abdel-Razzaq al-Siddiq reported, “My father called us…He refused to sign the declaration as now he is stateless, so he was detained along with the other five men.”  The authorities detained the six in a detention facility that caters to illegal immigrants.

Al-Roken describes the government’s act of stripping the men of their citizenship as unconstitutional.

Al-Siddiq believes the authorities targeted them for advocating for political change as part of the Reform and Social Guidance Association, an Islamic political organization linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.  He sought political reform by signing a petition calling for the UAE leadership to grant more powers to the country’s Federal National Council, an advisory body.

Although the UAE has a generous welfare system and is a lead oil exporter, the leadership has aggressively quashed political dissent to maintain control of their country.  Last year, for example, the authorities detained an economics professor, a well-known blogger, and three other political activists on anti-state charges of endangering national security, inciting protests, and insulting the government.  A judge sentenced the detainees to two to three years in jail.  The president released the activists the following day, but he did not officially drop the charges.

On 5 April, the authorities detained representatives of the National Democratic Institute (“NDI”), a US-sponsored democracy group, when they attempted to depart the country once the authorities closed their UAE office for licensing issues.  After questioning an American employee in detention, the authorities allowed the two Americans to leave the country.  However, the authorities did not permit an employee of Serbian nationality to depart.

Authorities closed the NDI office on 28 March before closing the offices of Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a German pro-democracy group, on 29 March.  Polling group Gallup also recently closed its Abu Dhabi office.

Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) Samer Muscati commented, “It seems that the government is still frightened by the events transpiring in the Middle East and are trying to do what it takes to keep the Arab Spring from reaching its shore, regardless of how small that possibility might be.”

For further information, please see:

Al Arabiya News – UAE Detains Islamists Linked to Terror Funding – 10 Apr 2012

Gulf Daily News – UAE Activists Held – 10 Apr 2012

The Chicago Tribune – UAE Detains 6 Islamists Stripped Of Citizenship: Lawyer – 9 Apr 2012

The Kansas City Star – UAE Detains 6 Activists Critical Of Rulers – 9 Apr 2012

CNN – Details Emerge In UAE Closing Of Pro-Democracy Groups – 6 Apr 2012

UAE Publishes Video to “Cure” Homosexuality

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – The United Arab Emirates (“UAE”) produced a six-minute video entitled “Be Yourself” to cure gay men of homosexuality.  This “tutorial” posted by the government last week on YouTube shocked the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

A scene from "Be Yourself", the UAE produced film. (Photo Courtesy of Instinct Magazine)

Link to the UAE film \”Be Yourself\”.

Set in a typical suburban area in the UAE, the video tells the story of five young men: Rashid Al-Muaini, Majid Al-Muaini, Ali Al-Ghaithi, James Al-Ghaithi, and Mohammed Eissa.  Two of the characters dressed in traditional Emirati greet a third character in a t-shirt and jeans.  In his apparent shy and effeminate manner, he says “Hi guys” to the other characters in a high-pitched voice while he plays with his long hair and daintily shakes their hands.

The final two characters wearing western-style clothing join the trio and greet them in a masculine manner.  The effeminate character receives an invitation to join the other characters in an adjacent villa.   In the villa, the men tell the effeminate character he needs to change his personality.  He agrees.

As part of his straight makeover, the effeminate man mimics manly gestures.  The other men scrub his hands and face, and they cut his hair and nails.  When the newly masculine man departs, he says “Bye guys” in a high-pitched voice.  The men slap him and command him to thicken his voice.

Once the makeover concludes, the men appear pleased and proud of their work.  They also thank Allah for enabling the man’s “change.”

24-year-old founder of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Rights UAE Abdullah responded the video “angers me to no end, but it also saddens me.”  The video reminded him of hot afternoons when he was a teenager.  He forcibly observed men interacting or drinking coffee, so he could mimic them and make his father proud.

The UAE has enacted federal legislation that prohibits homosexual acts throughout the country.  The country can punish men engaging in consensual sodomy with fines, ten to fourteen years in prison, deportation, flogging, or death.

The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transsexual Rights UAE activist network informed the Canadian Prime Minister and Human Rights Minister, the United Nations, and various media outlets of the continued persecution their community faces.  For example, the network stated UAE officials used hormonal treatments to “cure” homosexuals.

Dubai resident and gay activist Omar said, “This is the only way to enable our rights as citizens because activism on the ground here will lead to our arrest and jailing.  We struggle.”

For further information, please see,

Albawaba  – UAE Gay “Cure” Video Causes Sting in LGBT Community – 31 Jan 2012

International Business Times – Gay Man ‘Cure Video’ Sparks Outrage in UAE – 31 Jan 2012

Huffington Post – United Arab Emirates’ ‘Be Yourself’ Video Shows Gay Men Being ‘Cured’ of Homosexuality – 30 Jan 2012

Pink News – Video: UAE ‘Straight Makeover’ Video Slammed – 30 Jan 2012

Jailed UAE Activists Plan Hunger Strike, Demand Release For Allegedly “Insulting” Government Officials

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates–Five activists who were jailed seven months ago for “publicly insulting” United Arab Emirates officials plan to begin a hunger on Sunday 13 November 2011. According to Human Rights Watch, the activists will let the strike continue until the authorities release them unconditionally and cease all judicial proceedings against them.

The wife of detained activist Nasser bin Ghaith discussing the hunger strike. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

The five activists, who were arrested earlier this year in April and whose trial opened on June 14, are: Ahmed Mansoor, an engineer and blogger; Nasser bin Ghaith, an economist, university lecturer at Sorbonne Abu Dhabi, and an advocate for political reform; and online activists Fahad Salim Dalk, Ahmed Abdul-Khaleq, and Hassan Ali al-Khamis.

The charges against the activists are under Article 176 of the Penal Code, which deems it a crime to publicly insult top officials. The charges stem from the usage of the banned online political forum known as UAE Hewar. According to Human Rights Watch, a review of the messages posted by these activists did no more than criticize government policy or political leaders. No evidence exists that shows the activists used or incited violence in the course of their political activities.

Article 176 permits a sentence of up to five years in prison for “whoever publicly insults the State President, its flag or national emblem.” Article 8 broadens the application of the provision to encompass the vice president, members of the Supreme Council of the Federation, and others.

On Friday 11 November 2011, the activists released a joint statement, declaring their intention to begin the hunger strike. Also, they detailed violations of their basic rights by judiciary, prosecution, and prison officials, including their prolonged detention on politically motivated charges and an unfair trial. According to Human Rights Watch, the five activists felt “compelled” to go on a hunger strike after suffering in prison for seven months and having “exhausted all possible means of redress.”

The statement also detailed how the activists have endured a “vicious, orchestrated smear campaign” through text messages, social media, and satellite channels since their detention. Their lawyers have made numerous criminal complaints to officials, including the attorney general, public prosecutors, and police officers. These complaints have been ignored. Government authorities have reportedly also failed to investigate threats, including death threats, against the activists.

“The pressure and mobilization of public opinion to ensure our conviction for a crime that we have not been proven to have committed-all of this has stifled public liberties in general, and particularly freedom of opinion and expression, in our dear country to which we pledge our exclusive allegiance.”

On Sunday 13 November 2011, Weded al-Muhairi, the wife of Nasser bin Gaith, shared these sentiments with Al-Jazeera.

“They began a hunger strike to get their voices through to UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and not to challenge the authorities. The decision came after all our efforts have been thwarted, after we have knocked on every door and exhausted all possible means of redress, after we have lost all hope of a fair trial and even civilized, humane treatment.”

Joe Stork, Deputy Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch, shared these words about the developing situation.

“Every month that these men remain locked up on absurd charges of insulting UAE rulers further undermines the government’s claim that this is an open and tolerant country. This trial is all about zero tolerance for political dissent and has nothing to do with justice or security.”

Under UAE’s Constitution as well as international human rights law, the prosecution of the five activists violates guarantees of free speech. The Federal Supreme Court is trying the case and has stated that it will issue a verdict on 27 November 2011.

The court has not allow the defendants to review the evidence, not allowed them to review the charges against them, and not allowed the defense lawyers to cross-examine one prosecution witness and did not provide sufficient time to cross-examine others. Without any sort of explanation, the authorities closed the first four hearings to the public, journalists, international observers, and the families of the accused activists.

According to Human Rights Watch, on several occasions, the court has denied or even failed to rule on motions to release the defendants on bail, even though none of them are charged with a violent offense. The authorities have not suggested once that the activists are potential flight risks.

Article 32 of The Arab Charter on Human Rights guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and to impart news to others by any means. The United Arab Emirates has ratified this charter, submitting itself to the rights listed therein. The only restrictions the charter allows on the practice of this right are those imposed for “respect for the rights of others, their reputation, or the protection of national security, public order, public health, or public morals.”

With the progress of the Federal Supreme Court thus far, one can only hope that its expected verdict on 27 November 2011 recognizes that the five activists have done nothing listed under Article 32’s exceptions, as reflected by the current evidence available.

 

For more information, please see: 

Al-Jazeera – Jailed UAE Activists Begin Hunger Strike – 13 November 2011

Human Rights Watch – UAE: Activists Planning Hunger Strike – 11 November 2011

Financial Times – UAE Democracy Activists Plan Hunger Strike – 11 November 2011

Press TV – UAE Prisoners To Go On Hunger Strike – 11 November 2011

Amnesty International – UAE: Trial Observer Finds Flagrant Flaws in ‘UAE 5’ – 2 November 2011

 

UAE Trial of Activists Draws Scrutiny

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ABU DHABI, The United Arab Emirates — Five activists charged with insulting state officials are facing ongoing prosecution in the United Arab Emirates.

Human Rights activist Ahmed Mansoor speaks at press conference in Dubai on Jan. 26, 2011 (Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch).Human Rights activist Ahmed Mansoor speaks at press conference in Dubai on Jan. 26, 2011 (Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch).

Ahmed Mansoor, Nasser bin Ghaith, Fahad Salim Dalk, Ahmed Abdul-Khaleq, and Hassan al-Khamis have been charged with committing crimes of instigation, breaking laws and perpetrating acts that pose a threat to state security, undermining the public order, opposing the government system, and insulting the president, the vice president and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.

One of the men, Ahmed Mansoor, faces additional charges for supporting a petition advocating for wider powers for the UAE’s quasi-parliament.

The defendants deny all the charges.

The men’s lawyers have complained about the secrecy of the first four hearings, and their inability to adequately cross-examine state’s witnesses. State officials opened up the trial to the public on Sunday, but critics of the trial were not satisfied.

“If this was the showcase hearing, we can only imagine what previous hearings were like,” said Samer Muscati, a researcher with Human Rights Watch.  “This is more a political theater than a trial.”

The trial is unprecedented for the small gulf Arab nation. The United Arab Emirates is a young wealthy country ruled under a revered hereditary leadership.  Political expression is minimal.

The incident was a small tremor brought on by the larger Arab Spring movement that incited similar outbursts throughout the region. It is likely the fear of further incidents that has led the state to respond the way it has.

Rights groups dispute whether or not there is actually enough evidence for the state to have brought the action to be tried in Abu Dhabi’s Federal Supreme Court, which is usually used for charges like terrorism and forgery.

Due to the type of court this action has been brought in, the men will have no right of appeal.  The lack of due process, and other procedural mishaps has many rights groups

Government supporters, who are camping in a park outside of the court in support of the trial, have called the action of the five men un-nationalistic.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Front Line Defenders, and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information have teamed up for a campaign – the first of its kind – to urge the UAE to drop the charges against the men.

A verdict is expected at next week’s hearing.  If the defendants are found guilty they face up to five years in prison, except Mansoor who faces up to nine years if found guilty of his additional charges.

For more information, please see:

Arabian Business — UAE activists boycott court over ‘unfair trial’ — 3 Oct. 2011

Wall Street Journal — UAE Trial of Activists Enters Home Stretch — 3 Oct. 2011

Arab Times — UAE Activists Trial ‘Unfair’: Rights Groups — 2 Oct. 2011

CNN — Activists on trial for insulting UAE president — 2 Oct. 2011

Human Rights Watch — UAE: Trial of Activists ‘Fundamentally Unfair’ — 2 Oct. 2011

Wall Street Journal — United Arab Emirates Trial Attracts Scrutiny — 30 Sept. 2011

The UAE tries activists to head off Arab Spring

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — For over two months the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been holding five political activists in “preventative custody” without trial or official charges.

On June 14 a closed-door trial was finally begun in the Abu Dhabi Supreme Court for charges of undermining the public order and endangering national security.  There was virtually no pronouncement in the local press.   The trial is scheduled to resume in July.

The accused include Ahmad Mansoor, a well-known political blogger who runs the online forum Al-Hiwar al-Emarati,  Nasser bin Ghaith, a financial analyst, writer, and economics lecturer, as well as activists Fahid Salim Dalk, Hassan Ali Khamis, and Ahmed Abdul Khaleq.  They have all been detained without bail since April.

The main commonality between the five men is that they are all signers of a petition that circulated in March, calling for constitutional and parliamentary changes.

The petition contains two main propositions – to expand the right to vote in the Federal National Council (FNC) and to create within the FNC a right to legislate.

In the last election only 7,000 of the confederation’s 800,000 people were allowed to vote.  In the upcoming election this number is expected to grow to around 80,000, but that is still only ten percent of the population.  Currently, the power of the FNC is restricted to advising the UAE hereditary rulers.

The UAE is a confederation of seven Middle Eastern states, each ruled by an emir.  It is best known internationally for its skylines and its economic and cultural ambitions.  It is home to the world’s largest skyscraper, and many famous universities.

None of the emirates is ruled democratically, and the UAE has been ranked, by human rights watchdog agency Freedom House, among the world’s “not free” countries.   Freedom House’s 2011 report notes, among other things, that the UAE have banned political parties, that public meetings can only be held with governmental permission, and that journalists routinely censor their stories.  Such actions have led organizations like Human Rights Watch to question UAE citizen’s abilities to peacefully dissent.

Unlike most Middle Eastern countries the UAE have avoided much of the activism and opposition incited by the Arab Spring.  The countries are prosperous and well run, with most of the population remaining loyal to their traditional leaders.

Examples of instability in the Middle East brought on by the Arab Spring revolutions have proved ample reason for tighter crackdowns on subversive activity.  The UAE is attempting to stop the problem before it starts.  It is sending the message to any activists operating within its borders that anti-government actions will not be tolerated.

For more information, please see:

The Jerusalem Post – In Arab Spring chill, UAE tries bloggers – 20 June 2011

Agence France-Presse – Blogger tried for criticizing UAE government – 15 June 2011

Agence France-Presse – UAE urged to release 5 activists on trial – 15 June 2011

Committee to Protect Journalists – Beyond the Amina hoax: Real cases in the Middle East – 15 June 2011

Committee to Protect Journalists – UAE intent on punishing online dissent – 14 June 2011

Bahraini Protests Return as Martial Law Lifts

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

MANAMA, Bahrain – Bahrain’s ‘Arab Spring’ appears to be ready to become an Arab Summer as protests have resumed in the small Middle Eastern gulf country.  The renewed fervor comes just a week after Bahrain lifted martial law, which it began imposing in March after initial protests in February.

Bahraini protesters march for more rights (photo courtesy of the L.A. Times)
Bahraini protesters march for more rights (Photo Courtesy of the L.A. Times).

The passage of martial law came just days after Saudi and United Arab Emirates forces moved into Bahrain to quash the pro-democracy movement, resulting in at least 30 deaths.  In the months following the law’s passage hundreds of members of the opposition, as well as many doctors and nurses, who treated injured protesters, have been arrested.

In recent weeks, the government has been targeting women for arrest.  For Gulf Arab culture, there are few things more humiliating to a family than having a female family member detained.  Analysts in the region say this is the first time a government has targeted the opposition by arresting women.

Nabeel Rajab, the vice president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, sees the lifting of martial law as an insincere gesture.  “The lifting [of the] state of emergency…was more to attract the Formula One…which was going to act as an indicator if Bahrain has come to normal or not,” he said.

The 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix, one of the Formula One Championship races, was scheduled to be held on 13 March, but was canceled due to the protests.  The race has been rescheduled for 30 October.

Bahrain’s hopes for normalcy appear to be premature, as hours after martial law was lifted, protesters again took to the streets. Bahraini troops have responded aggressively. There are reports of the usage of tear gas, rubber bullets, and sound guns against the protesters.

Bahrain has a majority Shi’ite population, but is ruled by a Sunni family headed by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.  The protests come from the disenfranchised Shi’ite population who want democratic reforms leading to more rights.

The protest organizers are calling for the protests to continue until their demands are met.  One Facebook post urges people to gather in main streets and squares to show the imminence and importance of the movement.

Tensions between the Sunni and Shi’ite have been especially heated lately, and repercussions of the Bahrain protests have reverberated in Iran and Saudi Arabia.  With Iran supporting the Shi’ite majority and the Saudi’s supporting the Sunni leadership, the situation in Bahrain is on its way to becoming a proxy war between the two Middle Eastern powers.

For more information, please see:

Jerusalem Post — Gulf becomes fault line for Sunni-Shi’ite Tensions — 7 June 2011

NPR — Women The Latest Target of Bahrain’s Crackdown — 7 June 2011

Al Jazeera — Bahrain police target ‘Shia processions’ — 6 June 2011

BBC News — Bahrain protests: Trial opens for 47 doctors and nurses — 6 June 2011

Al Jazeera — Security forces attack Bahraini protesters — 2 June 2011

Washington Post — Bahrain lifts emergency law — 1 June 2011

Saudi Arabia Sends 1000 Troops to Bahrain to Quell Unrest

By Eric C. Sigmund
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia announced Monday a decision to send 1000 troops to Bahrain to assist local forces in stabilizing the country amid protests.  For weeks, Bahrain has been the site of large anti-government demonstrations.  Bahraini security forces have taken aggressive action to end protests, resulting in the death of a number of civilians and injury of dozens more.  The inability of police forces to end opposition rallies prompted Bahraini officials to request troops from neighboring countries.  The Saudi troops are only part of a deployment by the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), a six member regional group comprised of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), to stabilize Bahrain.  An additional 500 troops have been sent by the UAE.

Saudi Forces Move into Bahrain to Support Bahraini Security Forces (Photo Courtesy of the New York Times)
Saudi Forces Move into Bahrain to Support Bahraini Security Forces (Photo Courtesy of the New York Times)

The move represents an attempt by Saudi Arabia to strengthen and project its power in the region.  One analyst contends that the Kingdom’s decision to send troops may have been influenced by its desire to contain Iran.  Saudi Arabia has increasingly asserted its influence in the region, offering foreign assistance to Yemen, Lebanon and Syria in recent years.

Shia leaders within Bahrain have criticized Saudi Arabia’s decision saying that foreign intervention amounts to a declaration of war.  Both governments contend that troops have been sent to help protect government facilities from attack and “to look at ways to help [to] defuse the tension in Bahrain.”  Sheik Abdullah, foreign minister of the UAE told reporters “There are other Gulf countries which are going to participate to support the Bahrain government, and to get calm and order in Bahrain.”  Saudi Arabia has also set up a $20 billion fund to finance new incentives promised to citizens by the government in Bahrain.

Officials in Saudi Arabia have linked the maintenance of stability in Bahrain with its own security, fearing that the success of protests in Bahrain could spark similar rallies at home.  The Saudi government has warned its citizens not to protest and has taken measures to neutralize opposition.  Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz, the country’s interior minister and half-brother of the King, welcomed the decision to send troops saying that “Some evil people wanted to spread chaos in the kingdom and called for demonstrations that have dishonorable goals.”

The Saudi government’s decision has put the United States in a precarious position as the U.S. walks a fine line between supporting freedom, democracy and social reform on the one hand, and the interests of its regional allies on the other.  White House spokesperson Jay Carney urged the government of Bahrain to exercise constraint but noted that Saudi Arabia’s intervention is not an invasion.  Protesters in Bahrain continue to hold the capital’s main square despite clashes with security forces.  Dialogue between the government and opposition forces however, remains absent. 

For more information, please see:

BBC Middle East – Gulf States Send Forces to Bahrain Following Protests – Mar. 14, 2011

Financial Times – Saudi intervention Raises Gulf Stakes – Mar. 14, 2011

Guardian – Saudi Arabia Polices the Region as Trouble Stirs at Home – Mar. 14, 2011

New York Times – Saudi Troops Enter Bahrain to Help Put Down Unrest – Mar. 14, 2011

Lashing and Deportation Punishment for Having Sex in UAE

By Eric C. Sigmund
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – The Sharjah Sharia Court in the UAE today sentenced two foreign workers to 100 lashings and deportation for having “unlawful sex.”  This incendiary ruling comes after two immigrant workers, one Filipino and one Bangladeshi, were found to have had sex out of wedlock, a crime under Sharia law.  In addition to deportation and other physical punishments, the Bangladeshi national may also be imprisoned for up to a year for committing adultery. 

Reports indicated that the Filipino worker, a housemaid, invited her boyfriend over to her sponsor’s house on numerous occasions while the family was away in order to have sex.  The two were caught after the housemaid’s sponsor saw the worker’s boyfriend sneaking out of the house.  Both workers are said to have admitted to having sex while the sponsor family was away.

Under Sharia law in the UAE, Muslim immigrants who commit adultery are lashed and deported while non-Muslims immigrants are imprisoned and then deported.  According to reports, both workers are Muslims, however, both may be subject to an additional prison sentence.  Having sex out of wedlock is illegal in the UAE.   Kissing in public is also illegal under Sharia law.

The UAE has come under fire recently for a slew of court rulings sentencing foreign workers to a variety of inhumane and disproportionate punishments for various “illegal” acts.  In August, the UPI documented 8 cases of excessive punishments.  These cases are only illustrative and account for only a portion of the harsh rulings imposed against foreigners in the UAE.  The government in Abu Dhabi has yet to comment on the result of this latest case.  However, for those countries which embrace Sharia law, today’s ruling is simply business as usual.

For more information please see:

ABC News – Couple to be Lashed for Sex Out of Wedlock – 15 Nov. 2010

Emirates 24/7 – 100 Lashes Each for Illicit Lovers – 15 Nov. 2010

UPI – Illicit Couple Sentenced to Lashing in UAE – 15 Nov. 2010

UPI – Continued Cultural Clashes in Dubai, Abu Dhabi – 12 Aug. 2010

Migrant Laborers in the United Arab Emirates Stranded Without Pay, Way Home

By Alyxandra Stanczak
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

Migrant worker in Sharjah, UAE, where many workers have faced abandonment. (Photo courtesy of dawn.com)
Migrant worker in Sharjah, UAE, where many workers have faced abandonment by employers. (Photo courtesy of dawn.com)

SHARJAH, United Arab Emirates – Thirty-eight Bengali and Pakistani workers are currently stranded in the emirate of Sharjah after their Indian employers fled the country, leaving the workers without ten-months of back pay. The workers earn approximately $220 a month, and there is no sign that the employers have any intention of paying the workers. These workers are forced remain in the UAE without work visas as they generally do not have enough money to return to their respective homes.

In March, the workers took to the Emirati courts to attempt to seize their lost wages, but no progress was made on the issue. They have also registered their status as abandoned with the courts, resulting in an issuing of passports which would allow them to leave the country. It is customary for employers of migrant workers to retain the passports of their employees upon entering the UAE for work purposes.

This past week, the abandoned workers attempted to appeal to the Ministry of Labor. The Ministry stated that they cannot help these workers because of the legal action that they previously took against their employers. Saher Shaikh stated that “The authorities are extremely proactive and supportive in trying to help camps in this situation. [However], this particular camp … seems to be dragging on for a quite a while.”

These thirty-eight workers currently face eviction, and cannot afford food, water, and power – much less a flight home. They are surviving on handouts they receive off the streets.

Approximately 12 million foreign workers, primarily from Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and other South Asian countries, have come to the UAE and other Gulf countries where they earn higher wages than they can in their respective home countries. Mirgrant workers they do not have substantial legal protection in the UAE, and cannot form labor unions. Since the economy in the UAE has slowed, migrant workers, particularly in the emirates of Dubai, Sharjah, and Abu Dhabi, face abandonment as their employers liquidate their remaining assets and flee the country when ventures prove unprofitable.

A non-profit group, Adopt-A-Camp, has been set up by Saher Shaikh to provide assistance to Gulf workers in these situations.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Gulf laborers remain stranded – 5 August 2010

Change.org – Exploited workers stranded in Dubai – 3 August 2010

Migrant Workers – UAE: Thousands of laborers left to fend for themselves – 23 July 2010

Reuters – Migrant workers collateral damage of UAE slump – 20 July 2010

Egyptian Tycoon Tried Again For Murder Of Lebanese Pop Star

By Ahmad Shihadah
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt – An Egyptian tycoon sentenced to death last year for killing a popular Lebanese singer has appeared in court in Cairo for a retrial.

Hisham Talaat Moustafa, a senior member of the ruling party in Egypt, and co-defendant Mohsen al-Sukkari were granted a retrial on a technicality. They were convicted of the killing of Suzanne Tamim in Dubai in 2008.The case has received much attention, as it involves a member of an elite often seen as being above the law.

Moustafa 50, was sentenced to death last May on charges of hiring Mohsen el Sukkary, 41, and paying him $2 million to kill 30-year-old Lebanese diva Suzanne Tamim in the United Arab Emirates.

Tamim rose to stardom in the 1990s after she won the Arab World’s equivalent of “American Idol.” She moved to Cairo and became involved with Moustafa in a love affair, which turned sour after Tamim fled to London and then to the glitzy Persian Gulf city-state of Dubai in the UAE, and found another lover. Dubai police found her in her apartment with her throat slit in July 2008.

“I swear to God I didn’t kill her,” el Sukkary shouted Monday in a courtroom packed with journalists, lawyers and family members of the defendants. Moustafa also denied the charges. “My son has been unjustly sitting behind bars for the past two years. But I am optimistic about the retrial,” el Sukkary’s father, Munir, said outside the court.

Many Egyptians were bitter about the decision to retry the case, taking it as a sign that Moustafa will walk away unscathed as a member of the elite in a country where cronyism is widespread and many people think rules are often bent for the rich and powerful. Those who thought the integrity of the Egyptian judicial system had been rescued felt let down by the retrial.

There’s a growing gap between Egypt’s rich and poor, and the country has been riveted in recent months by protests demanding higher wages. Legal experts, however, said that popular anger toward an unpopular regime shouldn’t reflect on the trial.

“I read the ruling that granted the new trial, and found it correct and very precise,” said Yehia al Gamal, a human rights advocate and law professor at Cairo University. “However, the image of the regime in people’s minds is a distorted and rotten one. This is why there is a deep distrust,” Gamal added.

If found guilty in this trial, the two defendants will be allowed to appeal the ruling and could face a third trial, Judge Ahmed Mekky told the Reuters news agency.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Egypt Tycoon Tried Again For Murder Of Suzanne Tamim – 26 April 2010

World AP – Egypt Retries Real Estate Tycoon In Lebanese Pop Star’s Killing – 26 April 2010

News 24 – Egypt Tycoon Retrial Begins – 26 April 2010

AJC – Retrial Begins For Egyptian Accused In Diva Murder – 26 April 2010

UAE Indian Death-Row Inmates Offered Legal Help

By Ahmad Shihadah
Impunity Watch, Middle East Desk

 

SHARJAH, UAE – Seventeen Indians were sentenced to death on March 29 by a Sharjah shariah court for allegedly killing a Pakistani and injuring three others in an attack last year. There is a deadline of two weeks after the pronouncement of judgment within which an appeal has be filed, officials said.

 

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that the Indian consulate officials had visited the 17 Indian men sentenced to death by a court in Sharjah, the United Arab Emirates, and offered to help them with legal formalities involved in appealing against their sentences.

In a communication to Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, the prime minister said he had also instructed the external affairs minister and the overseas Indian affairs minister to take all possible steps in the matter to ensure a positive outcome.

An appeal is likely to be filed tomorrow in UAE on behalf of 17 Indians facing death sentence there for killing a Pakistani. “We have engaged Mhd Salman as the lawyer for these Indians. And an appeal is likely to be filed tomorrow in the case,” officials said.

The UAE government has already made it clear that its legal system guarantees a fair trial and the death sentence is subject to appeal and annulment by the rule of law without any interference from the parties concerned.

“We fully trust our legal system and its procedures and we are sure that it will provide and guarantee a fair trial to the convicted,” the UAE embassy in New Delhi had said in a statement yesterday. There is deep concern over the fate of these Indians, mostly from lower middle class farming families in Punjab and Haryana.

A UAE website claims, “The UAE’s tolerant, cosmopolitan atmosphere – which is most notable in the emirate of Dubai – gives resident non-Emiris opportunities to enjoy their own cultural and religious organizations.”

For more information, please see:

 

Hindustan Times – Death Row Indians In UAE Offered Legal Help: PM – 6 April 2010

The Times of India – Appeal Likely Tomorrow In UAE Against Death Of 17 Indians – 6 April 2010

SIKH Times – UAE Death Sentence Hanging Over 17 Indians – 6 April 2010

Indian Express – Govt Set To Appeal UAE Court Verdict – 6 April 2010

Yemen Urges Donors To Honor Pledges

By Ahmad Shihadah

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SA’DA, Yemen – Yemen told international donors at a meeting in Abu Dhabi on Monday that it urgently needs to receive their pledged financial aid to combat poverty and unemployment.

“The need is increasingly urgent for the mobilization of (financial) resources” promised at a London conference in 2006, Deputy Planning Minister Hisham Sharaf Abdullah told the Friends of Yemen meeting.

He said the billions promised were needed to “reduce poverty and unemployment” in Yemen, a poor neighbor of the oil-rich Gulf Arab monarchies. “The government has undertaken reforms … but the road is still long and requires a combination of efforts to meet the challenges that hinder development and undermine the foundations of security and stability,” he added. Abdullah emphasized the importance of the active partnership between Yemen and the international community to make available the amount needed, in addition to coordination and consultation in this respect.

Representatives from about 20 Arab and Western countries met for the workshop co-chaired by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) hosts and Germany to address economy and good governance issues in Yemen.

The Yemeni government made a similar request last month, during a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Riyadh. Gulf countries pledged roughly $3.2 billion, almost none of which has been delivered — much like the billions promised during a similar international conference in London in 2006. GCC countries have met just 15 percent of their 2006 promises, according to Abdullah, who said the Yemeni government hopes they will deliver another 15 percent this year.

Khaled Ghanem al-Ghaith, the UAE’s deputy foreign minister, said Gulf countries would meet their commitments to Sana’a, but also seemed to link foreign aid to tougher military actions against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The Yemeni government receives takes in 70 percent of its annual budget through oil revenues, and the country’s reserves are declining rapidly.

For more information, please see:

The Majlis – Yemen To World: We Still Need $44 Billion – March 30 2010

Yemen Post – Yemen Says Needs $44 Billion As Friends Meet In Abu Dhabi – March 30 2010

AFP – Yemen Urges Donors To Honor Aid Pledges – 30 March 2010

SABA NET – Yemen Needs $44 Bin To Implement 4th Five Year Plan, Says Sharaf – March 30 2010

Yemen Urges Donors To Honor Pledges

By Ahmad Shihadah

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SA’DA, Yemen – Yemen told international donors at a meeting in Abu Dhabi on Monday that it urgently needs to receive their pledged financial aid to combat poverty and unemployment.

“The need is increasingly urgent for the mobilisation of (financial) resources” promised at a London conference in 2006, Deputy Planning Minister Hisham Sharaf Abdullah told the Friends of Yemen meeting.

He said the billions promised were needed to “reduce poverty and unemployment” in Yemen, a poor neighbour of the oil-rich Gulf Arab monarchies.”The government has undertaken reforms … but the road is still long and requires a combination of efforts to meet the challenges that hinder development and undermine the foundations of security and stability,” he added. Abdullah emphasized the importance of the active partnership between Yemen and the international community to make available the amount needed, in addition to coordination and consultation in this respect.

Representatives from about 20 Arab and Western countries met for the workshop co-chaired by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) hosts and Germany to address economy and good governance issues in Yemen.

The Yemeni government made a similar request last month, during a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Riyadh. Gulf countries pledged roughly $3.2 billion, almost none of which has been delivered — much like the billions promised during a similar international conference in London in 2006. GCC countries have met just 15 percent of their 2006 promises, according to Abdullah, who said the Yemeni government hopes they will deliver another 15 percent this year.

Khaled Ghanem al-Ghaith, the UAE’s deputy foreign minister, said Gulf countries would meet their commitments to Sana’a, but also seemed to link foreign aid to tougher military actions against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The Yemeni government receives takes in 70 percent of its annual budget through oil revenues, and the country’s reserves are declining rapidly.

For more information, please see:

The Majlis – Yemen To World: We Still Need $44 Billion – March 30 2010

Yemen Post – Yemen Says Needs $44 Billion As Friends Meet In Abu Dhabi – March 30 2010

AFP – Yemen Urges Donors To Honor Aid Pledges – 30 March 2010

SABA NET – Yemen Needs $44 Bin To Implement 4th Five Year Plan, Says Sharaf – March 30 2010