Prisoner Profile: Dr. Ahmed al-Zaabi

On 26 March 2012, Emirati security forces arrested Dr. Ahmed Yousef al-Zaabi, a former judge and law professor in the UAE. Dr. al-Zaabi is also the brother of Obaid al-Zaabi, a human rights defender detained by the authorities in July 2013.

Upon his arrest, Dr. al-Zaabi was taken to Abu Dhabi’s al-Razeen Prison, where security forces physically and psychologically abused him. According to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, officers used disorienting lights to prevent him from sleeping and denied him use of his glasses. They consistently refused to take Dr. al-Zaabi to the restroom, and when they did, they would often humiliate him by blindfolding him and forcing him to remove his clothing.

At other points, authorities tortured Dr. al-Zaabi by pulling out his fingernails one by one. The officers reportedly beat him so badly that he suffered a variety of injuries, including swollen feet and extensive bruising. He regularly urinated blood. When Dr. al-Zaabi asked to visit medical personnel, prison officials repeatedly denied his requests.

On 2 July 2013, after more than a year in detention, the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court sentenced Dr. al-Zaabi to ten years in prison. The court convicted and sentenced Dr. al-Zaabi as part of a mass trial of 94 activists calling for governmental reform; the group, who came to be known as “the 94,” was collectively accused of plotting to overthrow the government.

A number of international human rights organizations have found that the trial violated the prisoners’ due process rights. Throughout Dr. al-Zaabi’s detention period, as well as during the trial itself, authorities denied Dr. al-Zaabi access to an attorney. Moreover, because he requested to see a warrant during his initial arrest, the government later charged Dr. al-Zaabi with obstruction of justice. The authorities never presented a warrant.

Emirati authorities violated Dr. Ahmed al-Zaabi’s international rights to free expression and a fair trial. Furthermore, the Government of the UAE failed to meet its obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture by physically and psychologically abusing Dr. al-Zaabi during his detention. The UAE must uphold its international commitments to protect free expression and prohibit the use of torture.

Erin Sigmon is an Advocacy Intern at ADHRB.