(New York) - The government of the United Arab Emirates should reverse an April 21, 2011 decree dissolving the elected board of directors of one of the country's most prominent civil society organizations, Human Rights Watch said today. The action against the Jurist Association is part of a broader crackdown on peaceful dissent by the UAE government, Human Rights Watch said.
The decree signed by the social affairs minister, Mariam Mohammed Khalfan Al-Roumi, dismissed the group's board and replaced its members with state appointees. The Jurist Association and three other nongovernmental organizations had signed a petition on April 6 seeking political reforms in the country. Since April 8, the UAE has also detained at least three prominent democracy activists.
"UAE authorities have staged a hostile takeover of one of the country's leading rights groups," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The government is reacting to domestic criticisms by banning websites, detaining peaceful activists, and intensifying its chokehold on civil society."
According to the decree, the Jurist Association violated section 16 of the UAE's 2008 Law on Associations, which prohibits nongovernmental organizations and its members from interfering "in politics or in matters that impair State security and its ruling regime." The associations law tightly controls nongovernmental organizations permitted to operate in the UAE.
The Jurist Association, established in 1980 to promote the rule of law and raise professional standards in the legal profession, has faced mounting government restrictions in recent years. In 2010, the government prohibited association representatives from attending meetings abroad and cancelled symposiums in the UAE that it considered controversial. Members told Human Rights Watch that officials pressured them to quit the association.
The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders provides that countries should "take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of everyone against any violence, threats, retaliation, adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action" as a result of their participation in human rights activity.
On April 8, the government detained Ahmed Mansoor, a leading human rights activist who had publicly called for political freedoms and an elected parliament. Authorities have not permitted his family to visit him but have allowed him access to his lawyer. Mansoor is a member of Human Rights Watch's Middle East advisory committee.
On April 10, security forces detained Nasser bin Ghaith, an economics lecturer at the Abu Dhabi branch of Paris' Sorbonne University who has criticized UAE authorities for failing to undertake significant political reforms. An online activist, Fahad Salem al-Shehhy, was taken into custody on April 9. Authorities have not publicly revealed any criminal charges against the three activists.