On 16 May 2019, United Arab Emirates (UAE) President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan pardoned and released activist Abdul Rahman Bin Sobeih Al-Suwaidi after public interviews where Al-Suwaidi was forced to deny the torture and mistreatment he endured in the prisons and to condemn his reform group. While the freedom of Al-Suwaidi is welcome, concerns surround the conditions of his release.
Al-Suwaidi is an Emirati native who is known for his international humanitarian work. He was among the “UAE 94,” a group peaceful political activists charged in 2013 for demanding political reform in 2011. Al-Suwaidi was charged in absentia and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment. On 20 October 2015, he was detained in Indonesia for possession of false identity papers. According to his lawyer, Al-Suwaidi’s had lost various identity papers during a previous visit to Indonesia, where he often does charity work, and resorted to obtaining false versions of his identification documents. On 18 December 2015, Al-Suwaidi was forcibly deported back to the UAE and disappeared. His whereabouts were unknown until he appeared in court on 28 March 2016. Al-Suwaidi’s was sentenced to ten years in prison, as his previous 15 year sentence had been cancelled.
On 8 March 2019, prior to his release, Abdul Rahman Bin Sobeih was interviewed on Sharjah TV, Abu Dhabi TV, and Emirates TV, where he was forced to give false testimonies about his convictions and condemn his reform group, al-Islah. UAE authorities had also forced him to appear on other Emirati channels on 14 July 2017, denying his abduction, enforced disappearance, torture, ill-treatment and unfair trial. The release of Abdul Rahman Bin Sobeih was clearly conditional on these false statements.
While the release of activist Abdul Rahman Bin Sobeih Al-Suwaidi is applauded, the conditions placed on his release are concerning and may pose an issue for other UAE prisoners of conscience. The UAE’s coercion of Al-Suwaidy to deny the allegations of rights violations conducted by UAE authorities indicates other prisoners may be subjected to compromising their dignity and silenced from telling the truth of their mistreatment in favor of being pardoned and released.
Tovah Bloomfield Advocacy Intern at ADHRB