(Beirut) – UAE authorities have detained a Jordanian journalist without trial or access to a lawyer for over a year, Human Rights Watch said today. Tayseer al-Najjar was apparently detained over three Facebook posts in which he criticized Egypt, Israel, and gulf countries.
On December 3, 2015, UAE authorities at Abu Dhabi airport prevented al-Najjar from boarding a flight to Jordan to visit his wife and children, al-Najjar’s wife, Majida Hourani, told Human Rights Watch. She said that UAE authorities have repeatedly questioned him since his arrest and, on October 17, a prosecutor told him that he is to be put on trial. Although he has not been informed of the charges, it appears they will relate to violations of the UAE’s cybercrime law. Al-Najjar’s detention and potential prosecution for the exercise of free speech is a violation of fundamental human rights. He should be released immediately, Human Rights Watch said.
“The UAE should release Tasyeer al-Najjar immediately and Jordanian authorities should be making public calls to that end and to have his rights respected,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “There is no justification for throwing a journalist, or anyone else, into prison for expressing an opinion.”
Al-Najjar’s wife said he had been a journalist for more than 15 years, and had been working in the UAE since April 2015, when he became a culture reporter for the UAE-based newspaper Dar.
After blocking him from travelling, UAE authorities summoned al-Najjar to a police station in Abu Dhabi on December 13, 2015, and detained him there.
Authorities held al-Najjar incommunicado for nearly two months. His detention was only confirmed on February 10, 2016, when Jordanian media outlets reported that the Jordanian Foreign Affairs Ministry had confirmed with UAE officials that al-Najjar was in detention. He was not able to contact his family until several days later. Al-Najjar told his wife he was not aware of the name or whereabouts of the detention center where he was held before his transfer in early March 2016 to al-Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi, where he is currently held. His wife said that he has been able to call her twice a week since his transfer to al-Wathba.
Majida Hourani said that authorities questioned al-Najjar about comments he made on Facebook during Israeli military operations in Gaza in 2014, before he had moved to the UAE. He expressed support for “Gazan resistance” and criticized the UAE and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt. She said that investigators also questioned him over two 2012 Facebook posts in which he apparently criticized Gulf Cooperation Council countries, but al-Najjar denied writing those comments.
Majida Hourani said he has not seen a lawyer since his detention, but hoped that the court would appoint one once his case went to trial. She also said that her husband told her that his health has deteriorated in detention because of influenza and lack of appropriate nutrition.
Article 29 of the UAE’s 2012 cybercrime law provides for prison sentences of between three and 15 years for publishing information online with “intent to make sarcasm or damage the reputation, prestige or stature of the State or any of its institutions.”
The UAE’s 2003 State Security Apparatus Law allows the head of the state security apparatus to detain a person for up to 106 days “if he has sufficient reasonable causes to make him believe” that the person is involved in, among other things, “activities that undermine the state… or jeopardize national unity,” “activities deemed harmful to the economy,” or anything that “could undermine, weaken the position of, stir animosity against or undermine trust in the State.”
The UAE has ratified the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which in article 32 protects the right to freedom of expression and in article 13 protects the right to a fair trial. Although the UAE has not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Human Rights Committee, the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the treaty, has provided an authoritative interpretation of the right to fair trial, on which the Arab Charter’s provision is based.
The committee stated in its interpretation that the “the right of the accused to be tried without undue delay... is not only designed to avoid keeping persons too long in a state of uncertainty about their fate and, if held in detention during the period of the trial, to ensure that such deprivation of liberty does not last longer than necessary in the circumstances of the specific case, but also to serve the interests of justice.”