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(Beirut) – United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities have intensified a crackdown on peaceful political activists with the arrest on July 16, 2012, of 13 activists affiliated with the Islamist group al-Islah.

Since late March, authorities have arrested at least 25 members of the Reform and Social Guidance Association (al-Islah),a nonviolent political association advocating greater adherence to Islamic precepts. Two prominent human rights lawyers, Mohammed al-Roken and Mohammed Mansoori, are among those arrested recently. A July 15 statement by the UAE’s official news agency saidAttorney General Salem Sa`eed Kubaish had ordered the arrest and investigation of “a group of people for establishing and managing an organization with the aim of committing crimes that harm state security.” The statement also accused the group of having connections with “foreign organizations and outside agendas” and promised to “expose the dimensions of the conspiracy.”

“The only conspiracy that Emiratis should worry about is that of the government to stamp out any and every semblance of dissent,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Just how many Emiratis does the government intend to jail for expressing political opinions?”

Authorities should end this crackdown immediately, and release all activists detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association, Human Rights Watch said.

In addition to al-Roken and Mansoori, local activists identified those recently detained as al-Roken’s son Rashed al-Roken, and his brother-in-law Abdullah al-Hajjari, as well as Khaled al-Sheiba, Omran al-Radhwan, Khalifa al-Nu`aimi, Abd al-Rahman al-Hadidi, Rashed Omran al-Shamsi, Ibrahim al-Yassi, Essa Al-Sari, Abd al-Rahman al-Nu`aimi, and Hussein al-Najjar. All are active members of al-Islah, and authorities appear to have arrested them solely for their ties to the group. Family members and local activists told Human Rights Watch that authorities released Abd al-Rahman al-Nu`aimi later on July 16, but that they did not know the whereabouts of the other men or whether any had been charged.

A family member of Khaled al-Sheiba, 58, told Human Rights Watch that around 11 a.m. on July 16, seven cars surrounded his home in the Emirate of Sharjah, and 20 officers entered and arrested him in front of his wife and children. The officers, who refused to identify themselves, showed no warrant for his arrest and did not tell him why he was being detained. The officers searched the house for four hours and confiscated several mobile phones and laptops from the house, the family member said.

“The unelected, hereditary UAE government is sending a simple message to its citizens: shut up or go to jail,” Whitson said. “In this day and age, with democratic movements sweeping the region, the Emirati government is desperately clinging to outdated, repressive tactics.”

Local activists told Human Rights Watch that al-Sheiba, a retired employee of the Defense Ministry, is among the leadership of al-Islah, and oversees many of its educational activities.

Some of those arrested were younger members, including Khaifa al-Nu`aimi, 23, an active blogger and user of the social networking site Twitter who has been critical of UAE’s state security. At 11 a.m. on July 16, approximately 15 officers pulled him over while he was driving near his Sharjah home. They escorted him to his house, handcuffed him, and forced him to wait for several hours while they searched the premises, a family member told Human Rights Watch. The men refused to identify themselves and did not inform al-Nu`aimi of the basis for his arrest.

Al-Roken, 50, is a prominent human rights lawyer in the Emirates, and has provided legal assistance to al-Islah members detained without charge since March, including a group that authorities stripped of their citizenship. In 2011 he served as co-defense council for two of the activists known as the “UAE 5,” who were imprisoned for seven months and tried in 2011 after allegedly posting statements on an internet forum critical of UAE government policy and leaders.

Authorities have harassed Mansoori, the deputy chairman of al-Islah and a former president of the Jurists’ Association, for many years. They dismissed him from his position as a legal adviser to the government of Ras Al Khaimah in January 2010 after he gave a television interview in which he criticized restrictions on freedom of speech in the country. Authorities have barred him from traveling since October 2007 and have refused to renew his passport since March 2008.

Mansoori’s son Hassan told the London-based Arabic language satellite channel Al-Hiwar that a group of plainclothes officers approached his father and took him into custody after he left the house on July 16 to run an errand. They returned with him to his house, where 25 to 28 men, who arrived in six cars, conducted an extensive search. They confiscated several laptops, an ipad, and some of the father’s papers. The son said that the family has been unable to find out where his father is being held.

The UAE authorities began their crackdown on al-Islah in December 2011, when the government said through its official news agency that it had stripped six al-Islah members of their UAE citizenship: Ali Hussain al-Hammadi, Shahin Abdullah al-Hosni, Hussein Munif al-Jabri and his brother Hassan Munif al-Jabri, Ibrahim Hassan al-Marzouqi, and Sheikh Mohammad Abdul Razak al-Sediq.

The authorities began arresting al-Islah members on March 26, when security forces arrested Ahmed al-Zaabi, a former judge, and Ahmed Ghaith al-Suwaidi together at a Dubai gas station.

On April 9, the authorities detained the six men they had stripped of their citizenship after they refused to sign a pledge to search for a new nationality, their families reported.

Authorities detained the chairman of al-Islah, Sheikh Sultan Bin Kayed al-Qasimi, on April 20. In late April and May authorities arrested another three al-Islah members: Saleh al-Dhufairi, Salem Sahooh, and Ahmed al-Tabour al-Nuaimi.

Al-Dhufairi, Sahooh, al-Nuaimi, al-Suwaidi, and al-Zaabi are apparently being held in an undisclosed location, while al-Qasimi is reportedly being held in the palace of the ruler of Ras al-Khaimah, who is his father’s cousin, his relatives were told. Authorities are holding the remaining six at the al-Shihama deportation centre in Abu Dhabi.

Article 14 of the Arab Charter for Human Rights, to which the UAE is a party, prohibits arbitrary arrest. In line with the mandate of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, detentions are arbitrary if there is no clear legal basis for the arrest or if the person is arrested for exercising the human rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, among others.

Article 32 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights also guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and to impart news to others by any means. The only restrictions allowed on the practice of this right are those imposed for “respect for the rights of others, their reputation, or the protection of national security, public order, public health, or public morals.” Article 13(2) of the charter also requires that judicial hearings be “public other than [except] in exceptional cases where the interests of justice so require in a democratic society which respects freedom and human rights.”

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