(London) - The United Arab Emirates expanded its crackdown on civil society on May 2, 2011, by dissolving the elected board of directors of the Teachers' Association, Human Rights Watch said today. This was the second prominent civil society organization to face a hostile government takeover in less than two weeks.
"This attack on civil society is further proof that those in power in the UAE see anyone calling for reform as fair game," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "UAE authorities should immediately stop their hostile takeover of civil society and free the peaceful democracy activists."
The decree, signed by Social Affairs Minister Mariam Mohammed Khalfan Al Roumi, dismissed the Teachers' Association's board and replaced its members with state appointees. The minister issued a similar decree issued on April 21, dissolving the board of the Jurist Association. On April 6, both associations, along with two other nongovernmental organizations, co-signed a public appeal calling for greater democracy in the country. Since April 8, the UAE has also detained at least five prominent democracy activists.
According to the decree, the Teachers' Association violated section 16 of the UAE's 2008 Law on Associations, which prohibits nongovernmental organizations and their members from interfering "in politics or in matters that impair state security and its ruling regime." The ministerial decree against the Jurist Association cited the same infraction. The Law on Associations tightly controls nongovernmental organizations permitted to operate in the UAE. The Teachers' Association was established in 1980 to represent and defend the rights of teachers and has more than 280 Emirate members.
The UAE government has also targeted individuals, including leading human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor, as part of its crackdown on peaceful dissents in recent weeks. Authorities say they are continuing their criminal investigation of five detained activists for "opposing the government" and "insulting" top officials. On April 25, Attorney General Salim Saeed Kubaish said that the five detainees were in "preventative custody" for "instigation, breaking laws and perpetrating acts that pose a threat to state security, undermining the public order, opposing the government system, and insulting the President, the Vice President and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi."
Authorities arrested Mansoor on April 8, and are holding him at the Al Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi. Mansoor has been a vocal proponent of a petition submitted in March to UAE authorities demanding democratic reforms. Before his arrest, he gave numerous television and other media interviews on the issue. 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. Authorities have also arrested three other online activists: Fahad Salim Dalk, Hassan Ali al-Khamis, and Ahmed Abdul Khaleq.
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.