An Emirati court has sentenced Saleh al-Owaissi, a 29-year-old Omani man, to three years in prison and a fine of Dh50,000, for allegedly “disseminating information with a view to ridicule and damage the reputation of the state symbols” on WhatsApp. The authorities also claim that al-Owaissi “ridiculed Emirati martyrs in Yemen” by referring to them as “cowards” in an audio recording. It is unclear if he publicly shared this message on WhatsApp or other social media. Al-Owaissi will be deported at the end of his sentence.
The UAE has effectively criminalized any criticism of the government, but the security services also employ extrajudicial means such as enforced disappearance to target dissidents. In 15 February, for example, the authorities three sisters who tweeted about the imprisonment of their brother, an academic sentenced as part of the mass trial of 94 political activists known as the ‘UAE 94.’ Emirati authorities also take preemptive measures against potential critics, refusing entry to academics and human rights researchers or expelling them from the country. Commentators on the UAE argue that – all together – these actions have created “environment in which everyone is scared to say anything remotely resembling a criticism of the government.”
Margaret Bailey is an Advocacy Intern at ADHRB.