We, the undersigned NGOs, call on the authorities to immediately release human rights defender and professor of economics Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith, who remains in detention in an unknown location in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for his social media posts and human rights activities. He has been denied proper access to his lawyer or family since his arrest in August 2015, and reportedly subject to torture in custody. The continued detention and charges violate his human rights, including his right to free expression.
On 18 August 2015, security officers in civilian clothes arrested Dr. Bin Ghaith in Abu Dhabi and searched his home and confiscated personal items including electronic memory sticks. He was held incommunicado until finally being brought to the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi on 4 April 2016, when he told the court he had been tortured and beaten in detention and deprived of sleep for up to a week.
On 2 May 2016, a second hearing took place to examine charges against Dr. Bin Ghaith relating to his online postings. He stated that he is still being held in secret detention, a fact he had previously brought to the judge’s attention during his hearing on 4 April. The judge refused to listen to his complaints for a second time. Neither his family nor his lawyer knows where he is being detained, and his lawyer’s request to visit him has been denied repeatedly.
Dr. Bin Ghaith is one of a group of men known as the “UAE5” who were imprisoned in 2011 and tried for “publicly insulting” UAE officials. That trial also breached international human rights law and was widely criticised by human rights groups, including signatories of this letter.
Charges in the current case against Dr. Bin Ghaith include allegedly “committing a hostile act against a foreign state” in reference to statements he made on Twitter about the authorities and judicial system in Egypt. He was also charged with “posting false information in order to harm the reputation and stature of the state and one of its institutions” relating to a other statements he made on Twitter claiming that he had not been granted a fair trial as part of the “UAE5” case.
A further charge brought against Dr. Bin Ghaith of allegedly “posting false information about UAE leaders and their policies, offensively criticizing the construction of a Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi, and instigating the people of the UAE against their leaders and government” was related to a statement he made on Twitter intending to promote tolerance.
Dr. Bin Ghaith was also accused of allegedly “communicating and cooperating with members of the banned Al Islah organization” referring to visits and meetings with members of the “UAE94”, a group of human rights defenders, government critics, and advocates of reform tried jointly in 2013 and sentenced to long prison terms. He was also accused of allegedly “communicating and cooperating with” the banned Emirates Ummah Party, based on a presentation he was invited to make on the Islamic Economy by a member of the Ummah party, in his capacity as a professor of economics.
At the latest hearing on 2 May, the court ordered the case to be adjourned until 23 May when the defence’s arguments will be heard.
We, the undersigned organisations, view Dr. Bin Ghaith’s arrest, detention in an unknown location and without access to his family or a lawyer, and the baseless charges brought against him as a direct result of his human rights activities and non-violent expression. His conduct is protected under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is considered to be reflective of binding customary international law. These charges, taken in the context of other charges against non-violent political groups and human rights defenders, appears to be an attempt by authorities to stifle any criticism, dissent or activities promoting human rights in the UAE.
We call on the UAE authorities to:
Immediately and unconditionally release Dr. Bin Ghaith and drop all charges against him;
Pending the above, immediately disclose his current location and ensure proper access to his family, counsel and any medical treatment he may require;
Ensure that if his case proceeds, that it does so in a manner consistent with the UAE’s obligations under international law, in particular internationally recognised standards of due process and fair trial;
Investigate reports of torture and ill treatment in detention; and provide justice for those responsible and effective redress to Dr. Bin Ghaith;
Sign and ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and bring all national laws into compliance with international freedom of expression standards.