Obaid al-Zaabi is a human rights defender from the UAE. On 2 July 2013, UAE security forces arrested al-Zaabi for tweeting critically about the trial of the 94, which included his brother. Authorities released him on bail on 4 August 2013. Later that year, on 11 December 2013, CNN interviewed al-Zaabi about the increasing arrests of Twitter users in the UAE. In the interview, al-Zaabi commented on the poor environment for free speech in the UAE, stating he would “continue forever to defend human rights and the rights and dignity of our people, our freedoms, and our political rights.”
The next day, UAE authorities arrested al-Zaabi and disappeared him for several weeks. The courts later charged him with slandering the rulers of the UAE and disseminating ideas meant to “damage the reputation” of the government. In June 2014, the UAE acquitted al-Zaabi of all charges. Despite his acquittal, he remains in a prisoners’ ward of the Sheikh Khalifa Medical City Hospital in Abu Dhabi.
The UAE’s practice of arresting and detaining those who criticize the government has become more prevalent in the past few years. Under its 2012 cybercrime law, the UAE systematically prosecutes social media users for vaguely defined crimes, such as publishing information that “damages national unity” or “making sarcasm” directed at the state. The UAE further justifies the arrest and imprisonment of citizens who exercise their right to free expression by claiming that they aim to incite violence. The government can charge such activists under the nation’s 2014 counterterror laws.
The continued detention of Obaid al-Zaabi, despite his acquittal, violates international law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees all people the right to free expression and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention. The UAE must respect the internationally recognized rights of its citizens and release Obaid al-Zaabi and all prisoners detained for exercising their rights to free speech.
Erin Sigmon is an advocacy intern at ADHRB.