Today marks one month since the arrest and disappearance of prominent Emirati academic Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith. On 18 August 2015, UAE security forces detained Dr. bin Ghaith allegedly in relation to his tweets about Egypt. Nothing has been heard from him since his arrest, and his current whereabouts remain unknown. ADHRB and a number of international NGOs consider him to be at serious risk of torture and ill-treatment.
Dr. bin Ghaith is one of five activists arrested by Emirati authorities in April 2011 due to their support for democratic reform in the country. The government charged the activists, who came to be known as the “UAE 5”, under Article 176 of the penal code, which makes it a crime to publicly insult top officials. The Federal Supreme Court sentenced them to between two and three years in prison in November 2011. However, the president pardoned all five the day after the sentencing.
The re-arrest and disappearance of Dr. bin Ghaith demonstrates a continued lack of respect for freedom of speech and due process by the UAE government. Under Article 176 of the penal code, “publicly insulting” the president can carry a five year jail sentence. A 2014 counter-terror law provides a vague definition of terrorism in order to criminalize freedom of speech and association, and the government has used a 2012 cybercrime law to arrest those who advocate for the release of political prisoners. Dr. bin Ghaith’s re-arrest represents just one of many examples of the arbitrary nature of criminal justice in the UAE, and the lack of information about his current status is indicative of the due process abuses commonly faced by Emirati detainees. Given the UAE’s past record of violating detainees’ human rights, including instances of pre-trial torture in secret facilities, we express great concern for the physical and psychological well-being of Dr. bin Ghaith and call upon the Government of the UAE to release him immediately.
Matthew Tramonti is an advocacy intern at ADHRB.