29 March 2017—Today the Abu Dhabi Court of Appeals issued its final verdict against prominent Emirati academic and economist Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith, sentencing him to ten years in prison. Dr. bin Ghaith faced several charges related to exercising his rights to free expression and association. His sentencing comes nine days after Emirati authorities arrested and forcibly disappeared human rights defender Ahmed Mansour. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) strongly condemns the UAE’s suppression of activists for exercising their basic rights.
Prior to his sentencing, UAE authorities held Dr. bin Ghaith in custody for nearly 18 months. Officials initially arrested Dr. bin Ghaith without charge in August 2015 and forcibly disappeared him. He reappeared eight months later before the State Security Chamber of the Supreme Court in April 2016. During the trial session before the Supreme Court, he complained to the judge that authorities had tortured him. On 18 May 2016, Emirati officials transferred him to the maximum security block of al-Sadr jail, where they reportedly held him in solitary confinement for an extended period of time.
Dr. bin Ghaith faced a number of charges relating to his expression and association. Several charges stem from comments he made on Twitter that were allegedly critical of the Egyptian government. Under Article 166 of the UAE Penal Code, such criticism can constitute a “hostile” act against a foreign country and carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Authorities charged him under the 2012 cybercrime law in relation to a separate tweet that officials alleged offensively criticized the construction of a Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi. He was also charged with posting information “intended to damage the UAE” by “claiming he was tortured and unjustly accused during a previous trial,” which related to comments he made in 2011 regarding the trial of the “UAE 5.” His final charge relates to his alleged association with two political parties classified as terrorist organizations by the government: Ummah and al-Islah. While the government has brought charges against members of these groups under the anti-terror law, many of the charges appear to relate solely to the defendants’ right to free expression and association.
Emirati authorities’ sentencing of Dr. bin Ghaith comes nine days after UAE security forces arrested and forcibly disappeared human rights defender Ahmed Mansour. Mansour is a prominent activist and a member of several human rights organizations, including the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch. The UAE government has targeted him before, including in March 2011, when he was arrested and imprisoned after signing a petition calling for democratic reform in the UAE. Among the charges against him was “insulting officials.” After receiving a pardon, he continued to speak out against human rights violations through his blog and Twitter account. As a result, authorities have repeatedly intimidated and harassed him, and he has also received death threats.
“The sentencing of Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith and arrest and disappearance of Ahmed Mansour on expression and association charges demonstrates the UAE’s thin skin and fear of dissenting ideas,” states Husain Abdulla, the Executive Director of ADHRB. “The silencing of these human rights defenders reveals that the Emirati government has only a rhetorical commitment to values like ‘tolerance’ and ‘openness’ – one that masks an extensive system of repression.”
ADHRB strongly condemns the UAE’s sentencing of Dr. bin Ghaith and disappearance of Ahmed Mansour, and we call upon the Emirati government to immediately and unconditionally release them both. We additionally call upon the government to immediately halt the suppression and criminalization of free expression and association, as well as to urge the government to amend its national legislation in order to fully protect these rights.