Update May 17, 2023:
On May 17, 2023, the Emirati state news agency reported that the United Arab Emirates had “received” Khalaf Abdul Rahman al-Romaithi from Jordanian authorities, confirming his extradition to the UAE. Al-Romaithi’s family and lawyers have not heard from him nor known his whereabouts since May 9.
The exceptional Jordanian extradition appears to have circumvented the country’s normal extradition process. Authorities in the UAE should reveal al-Romaithi’s whereabouts and release him immediately.
(Beirut) – Jordanian authorities have detained a dual Emirati-Turkish citizen and may extradite him to the United Arab Emirates, where he is at serious risk of arbitrary detention, unfair trial, and possibly torture, Human Rights Watch said today.
The authorities detained Khalaf Abdul Rahman al-Romaithi, 58, at Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport on May 7, 2023, upon his arrival from Turkey. They released him on bail later that day but detained him again on May 8. His lawyers said they lost track of his whereabouts after May 9.
In July 2013, the UAE’s Federal Supreme Court sentenced Al Romaithi in absentia to 15 years in prison following the grossly unfair and infamous “UAE94” mass trial of 94 critics of the government, convicting 69 of them. The convictions were based on their peaceful exercise of the rights to free expression, association, and assembly. Since the conviction, al-Romaithi has been living in exile in Turkey. Article 21 of Jordan’s constitution prohibits extradition of “political refugees” based on “their political beliefs or for their defence of liberty.”
“Emirati authorities have been violating the rights of al-Romaithi’s ‘UAE94’ co-defendants for over a decade, and Jordan risks complicity in these abuses if it sends him back to near-certain persecution,” said Joey Shea, United Arab Emirates researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Jordanian authorities should also reveal al-Romaithi’s whereabouts immediately.”
On May 7, al-Romaithi attempted to enter Jordan on his Turkish passport, but Jordanian authorities stopped him after an iris scan at the airport revealed that Jordanian police had issued a warrant for his arrest based on a request from the United Arab Emirates. He was released later that day on 3,000 JOD (US$4,200) bail, his lawyers said, and permitted to enter Jordan.
Al-Romaithi’s lawyers told Human Rights Watch that he was with a friend at a coffee shop in Amman the next day, when four plain clothes police officers arrested both of them. Jordanian police later went to al-Romaithi’s hotel room and confiscated his bags, clothing, and electronic devices, one of his lawyers said. Al-Romaithi sent a text message to his lawyer; writing, “they took me.” His lawyer tried to visit him that day but was turned away from the police station.
On May 9, the lawyers said, a Jordanian court held a session in which they and al-Romaithi were present and presented a copy of the extradition request. The court cancelled the bail, ordered his transfer to prison, and set a hearing date for May 16.
When al-Romaithi’s lawyers were browsing the Justice Ministry’s electronic system on May 10, they said they discovered a release order issued by the court. But al-Romaithi’s lawyers have been unable to locate him, and said no one has seen or been in contact with him since May 9.
Human Rights Watch received unconfirmed reports that al-Romaithi was deported to the UAE the morning of May 12, but was not able to independently confirm the report. As of the afternoon of May 12, al-Romaithi’s lawyers in Jordan have not been able to get any official information about his whereabouts.
If Jordanian authorities did deport al-Romaithi, they appear to have circumvented the country’s normal extradition process, one of the lawyers said. He said: “This would be a catastrophe for the country, and the authorities who did this would have violated the constitution of Jordan.”
The “UAE94” case began in March 2012 with a wave of arbitrary arrests amid an unprecedented crackdown on dissent. Abu Dhabi’s Federal Supreme Court convicted al-Romaithi and 68 others for allegedly violating article 180 of the Penal Code, which prohibits founding, organizing, or operating a group that aims to overthrow the country’s political system, according to court documents viewed by Human Rights Watch. The court sentenced 5 defendants to 7 years in prison, 56 to 10 years, and 8 in absentia to 15 years. Another 25 were acquitted.
It is nearly certain that al-Romaithi will be immediately detained by Emirati authorities, and could be tortured and ill-treated or held for an unfair retrial based on charges related to his peaceful criticism and political affiliation, Human Rights Watch said.
Many of the defendants in the case were arrested solely because they were affiliated with a non-violent political group, the Reform and Social Guidance Association (al-Islah), which advocated greater adherence to Islamic precepts and engaged in peaceful political debate in the UAE for years.
The verdict could not be appealed, in violation of international law, because it was issued by the UAE’s highest court. The trial was marred by violations of fair trial standards, including the denial of legal assistance during pretrial incommunicado detention, and allegations of torture. Emirati authorities are continuing to incarcerate at least 51 Emirati prisoners in the case who completed their sentences between one month and nearly four years ago, using baseless counterterrorism justifications.
“Khalaf al-Romaithi faces the same terrible fate as many other UAE94 co-defendants who have been unjustly languishing in Emirati prisons for over a decade,” Shea said. “The Jordanian government should stand up to the UAE and uphold the values of its own constitution.”