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Academic jailed for 10 years for human rights tweets

Dr Nasser Bin Ghaith, a prominent economist, academic and human rights defender, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for tweeting criticism of the human rights record of both Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

A coalition of 10 human rights organisations had urged the United Arab Emirates authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Bin Ghaith, who faced a verdict in his case on 29 March. He had already been imprisoned in solitary confinement since his arrest in August 2015.

In a joint statement, the coalition had also appealed to the UAE authorities to end the criminalisation of peaceful expression, including dissent, and to respect the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

Bin Ghaith faced five charges related to peaceful activities, including his posts on Twitter expressing peaceful criticism of the human rights records of the UAE and Egyptian governments and calls for greater respect for human rights, freedoms and accountability in both countries.

His charges also related to unplanned meetings that he had during his travels in the region with political activists whom the UAE government has claimed are members of banned ‘terror’ organisations. The charges were brought under vague and broad provisions in the Penal Code, 2012 cybercrime law, and the 2014 counterterror law.

Bin Ghaith could have faced a sentence of up to life imprisonment or even the death penalty for the charges when the Federal Criminal Court of Appeal issued its verdict. Under legislation in force since November 2016, the conviction and sentence can be appealed to the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court.

The organisations calling for his release were Amnesty International; Arabic Network for Human Rights Information; Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies; FIDH, under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders; Front Line Defenders; Gulf Centre for Human Rights; Human Rights First; International Service for Human Rights; Scholars at Risk; and the World Organisation Against Torture, under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.

Bin Ghaith was arrested without a warrant on 18 August 2015 and neither he nor his family were informed of the reason for his arrest. The authorities held him in solitary confinement in an undisclosed location for nine months.

He was allowed only intermittent contact with his family through telephone calls, which were monitored by officials, and he was not permitted to say where he was being held.

According to a statement published by the 10 human rights organisations, this treatment “amounts to enforced disappearance and is absolutely prohibited under international human rights law”.

They report that he was not allowed visits with his family until after the start of his trial when he was moved to Al Sadr Prison in Abu Dhabi until 18 May 2016, and his whereabouts became known.

'Subjected to torture'

During the first hearing on 4 April 2016, Bin Ghaith told the judge that he had been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment including beatings and sleep deprivation but, instead of ordering an independent investigation into his torture allegations, the judge turned off his microphone, silencing him, the statement said.

Bin Ghaith was also denied access to a lawyer during his entire pre-trial detention period, despite repeated interrogations. He was only allowed to meet his lawyer for the first time at his second trial session on 2 May 2016, and, in the months that followed, officials restricted communication with his lawyer both inside and outside of court, further denying him the right to an adequate defence, the statement said. “Bin Ghaith’s trial has clearly failed to meet international standards for fair trial,” it added.

Since 2011, the UAE authorities have gone to great lengths to silence criticism of government conduct, mounting an unprecedented crackdown on peaceful dissent and closing groups perceived as being critical of the government, the statement added.

“State Security officials have subjected activists and human rights defenders to harassment, arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment, unfair trials and long prison sentences."

The actions of the UAE authorities at home contrast with a statement in a speech at the 34th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on 28 February 2017, by the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash. He said that “the UAE remains deeply committed to promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms… [and]… to promoting tolerance and acceptance”.

However, by continuing their prosecution of Bin Ghaith and by ignoring recommendations from independent human rights organisations and UN human rights experts, including those of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, the UAE authorities are displaying “complete disregard for their obligations under international human rights law and standards, including under the UN Convention against Torture, to which the UAE is a state party,” the statement by the human rights organisations said.

“If the UAE authorities are serious about their commitment to human rights, they will immediately and unconditionally release Bin Ghaith and all other human rights defenders and respect their right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. The international community must stop looking the other way and hold the UAE authorities to their word,” the statement said.

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