(London) - British Prime Minister David Cameron should challenge the deteriorating human rights record of the United Arab Emirates during a state visit by the country’s president to Britain next week, a coalition of seven international human rights organizations said today. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan will begin a rare state visit to the United Kingdom on April 30, but the high-profile trip comes at a time when abuses in the Gulf state are escalating, according to rights groups.
“The UAE has become a country where people who speak their mind get locked up, and those who get locked up face torture” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Given that British citizens are now among those being abused, the British prime minister needs to show some backbone and break his silence on the UAE’s increasingly poor human rights record.”
The coalition of human rights groups has written to Cameron urging him to raise the issue of widespread abuses when he meets UAE’s ruler Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed in London next week. In their letter, the organizations – Amnesty International, Alkarama, The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, Frontline, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, and Reprieve – list numerous allegations that UAE authorities have tortured detainees, and urge the UK government to push for an independent and impartial investigation into these reports. They also condemn the ongoing and fundamentally unfair trial of 94 critics of the Emirati government.
Among UK citizens who have allegedly suffered torture are three British tourists - Grant Cameron, Karl Williams and Suneet Jeerh - who were arrested in Dubai in June 2012 on suspicion of drug offences. The men told lawyers from Reprieve, who visited them in jail in February this year, that they were badly beaten and subjected to electric shocks while in custody. Williams said police applied electric shocks to his testicles and that he suffered a broken hand as a result of beatings he received.
The letter to Cameron also outlines the case of 94 people on trial in the UAE on charges that they “launched, established, and ran an organisation seeking to oppose the basic principles of the UAE system of governance and to seize power.” Many of the detainees were held incommunicado for more than six months of pretrial detention, and were denied access to their lawyers for most of this time.
According to local sources in the UAE, it appears likely that many of the detainees were held at UAE State Security facilities, where human rights groups have documented credible reports of torture. Most of the detainees are members of a local group, the Reform and Social Guidance Association (Al-Islah), which advocates greater adherence to Islamic precepts. Human rights organizations are not aware that any member of the group has advocated or participated in violence. The detainees include the prominent human rights lawyers Mohamed al-Roken and Mohamed al-Mansoori (doctoral graduates of Warwick and Glasgow Universities), judge Mohammed Saeed al-Abdouli, university professor Dr Hadef al-Owais, and other judges, lawyers, teachers and student leaders.
“There’s a suspicion that the UAE’s considerable wealth helps shield it from criticism over its disturbing human rights record,” said Allan Hogarth, head of policy and government affairs at Amnesty International UK. “David Cameron has got to dispel this impression with some straight talking. Sheikh Khalifa needs to be left in no doubt that his country’s human rights record is simply unacceptable.”
The letter urges the prime minister to follow his government’s own guidance from the 2011 Foreign and Commonwealth Strategy for the Prevention of Torture, and to call publicly on the UAE to conduct transparent, independent investigations into allegations of torture across the country, and further to allow the UN Committee against Torture to investigate reports of ill-treatment in the UAE.
The letter from human rights groups also asks the prime minister to call on the UAE authorities to allow international trial observers to attend future sessions of the trial of the 94 dissidents.
“Rolling out the red carpet for a regime which has tortured our fellow citizens will be deeply unsettling for many Britons,” said Kate Higham, an investigator for Reprieve. “It’s crucial that the torture of three British tourists by Dubai police – and the wider context of human rights abuses across the UAE – is top of the agenda during this visit.”