(Dubai) – The United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2013 stifled free expression, and subjected dissidents to manifestly unfair trials marred by credible allegations of torture, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2014.
A court sentenced 69 dissidents to prison terms of up to 10 years in July on charges of aiming to overthrow the government, though most of the evidence the court cited in the 243-page judgment suggested that they had only engaged in peaceful political activities. Many of those convicted, and another group of 30 dissidents facing similar charges, said they experienced mistreatment in pretrial detention that in some cases amounted to torture.
“The UAE’s repressive laws and dysfunctional justice system belie the government’s efforts to present the country as moderate and progressive,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The UAE might seem like a safe place to shop, do business, or take a winter holiday but it’s becoming a very dangerous place to express a political opinion.”
In the 667-page world report, its 24th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. Syria’s widespread killings of civilians elicited horror but few steps by world leaders to stop it, Human Rights Watch said. A reinvigorated doctrine of “responsibility to protect” seems to have prevented some mass atrocities in Africa. Majorities in power in Egypt and other countries have suppressed dissent and minority rights. And Edward Snowden’s revelations about US surveillance programs reverberated around the globe.
The UAE authorities used a restrictive 2012 cybercrime decree to arrest journalists and convict amateur filmmakers of damaging national security.
In April, an Abu Dhabi court sentenced Abdulla al-Hadidi, who had attended four court sessions of the mass trial and had posted comments about what he witnessed on social media sites, to 10 months in prison for publishing false details of a public trial session via the Internet. Authorities denied the international media and independent observers access to the trial sessions.
The UAE has made little progress on migrant workers’ rights and women’s rights. In May, after hundreds of workers at a site in Dubai went on strike demanding better pay and conditions, immigration officials issued at least 40 deportation orders.
UAE labor law excludes domestic workers, almost exclusively migrant women, and denies them basic protections, such as limits to hours of work and a weekly day off. A regional unified contract for domestic workers, expected to be approved in 2014, falls well short of the minimum standards outlined in the International Labour Organization’s 2011 Domestic Workers Convention.
In July, a Norwegian woman was sentenced to 16 months in prison for extramarital sex after she reported to the police that she had been raped. The case exposed longstanding problems with procedures for victims of sexual violence.