United Arab Emirates

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  • CIVICUS' UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on civil society space in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) & Burundi

    The United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States once every 4.5 years.

    CIVICUS and its partners have submitted UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on two countries in advance of the 43rd UPR session in April-May 2023. The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 3rd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations. 

    United Arab Emirates -  See consolidated report | See full version in English –The submission by CIVICUS, Emirates Detainees Advocacy Centre (EDAC), Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) highlights concerns over the increasing barriers against civil society organisations (CSOs) operating independently in the UAE and the persistent targeting of  civil society organisations (CSOs). The UAE authorities have created a hostile environment for CSOs and denied labour unions the right to operate and advocate for the rights of workers. The report also documents the use of security-related legislation to persecute human rights defenders (HRDs), academics, journalists and bloggers, who have been subjected to harsh prison conditions and kept in detention beyond their sentences.

    Burundi - See consolidated report | See full version in English –In this submission, CIVICUS, Defend Defenders, Ligue Iteka and Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH) report the persistent human rights violations and abuses in Burundi, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and arbitrary arrests, as well as severe restrictions on civil and political rights and widespread impunity. The submission further highlights the targeting of CSOs and HRDs through restrictive laws and practices, and judicial harassment in the form of fabricated cases and unfair trials.

  • COP28: ‘To truly end the fossil fuel era, bold visions must now turn into historical action on the ground’

    KaisaKosonen.pngCIVICUS speaks with Kaisa Kosonen, Senior Policy Advisor at Greenpeace Nordic, about the outcomes of theCOP28 climate summit and the vital role played by civil society in setting the agenda for fossil fuel phase-out. Kaisa was Greenpeace International delegation’s lead at COP28.


    What were the opportunities for civil society to influence the negotiations at COP28?

    I think the biggest influence civil society made was in agenda setting. Fossil fuel phase-out was never an official agenda item at this COP, but we managed to make it the number one topic for the global stocktake, and the main benchmark for success.

    Within the United Nations (UN) space at COP28 civil society was guaranteed a certain level of participation and access. However, areas dedicated to civil society, such as side event and press conference rooms and pavilions for civil society organisations, were noticeably separated from negotiation areas, government press conferences and media zones.

    On top of this, a unique aspect of COP28 was the record number of fossil fuel lobbyists who participated, securing more passes than all delegates from the 10 most climate-vulnerable nations combined. This influx of lobbyists introduced a different dimension of economic influence to the summit.

    Were climate activists, both local and international, able to exercise their right to protest?

    Greenpeace chose to focus its activities exclusively within the UN area, known as the blue zone. Within this area, protests were allowed if prior permission had been sought and granted. However, we encountered increased constraints and a lot of back-and-forth this time, with some unfounded wordsmithing on banner texts. Other groups also mentioned that their protests were redirected to less relevant locations and some activists experienced an atmosphere of intimidation.

    It is crucial that the UN Secretariat and security safeguard civil society spaces in COPs. Freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly should not be subject to negotiation with the host country’s presidency.

    What’s your assessment of the COP28 final declaration?

    The COP28 outcome delivered a long-awaited signal on ending the fossil fuel era, along with a call to massively scale up renewables and energy efficiency this decade. But it fell short in some aspects, containing potentially dangerous distractions and loopholes. The lack of sufficient means to achieve the proposed goals raises questions about the practical implementation of the commitments. Real progress will be determined by actions taken on the ground.

    Civil society played a crucial role setting the agenda at COP28, successfully steering the focus of world governments towards the urgent need for a fossil fuel phase-out aligned with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degrees warming limit. This shift in attention, sustained for almost two weeks, marked an unprecedented achievement during a UN climate summit. There’s no way back now.

    Despite its weak language, the declaration sent a clear signal that the fossil fuel era will come to an end. The practical requirement for ‘transitioning away from fossil fuels’ to achieve ‘net zero by 2050’, if implemented sustainably, would mean a near-complete phase-out of fossil fuels within the next three decades. To truly end the fossil fuel era, bold visions must now turn into historical action on the ground.

    The call for countries to contribute to the phase-out in a ‘just, orderly, and equitable manner’ emphasises the responsibility of wealthy states to take the lead and support global south countries in their transition.

    The operationalisation and initial capitalisation of the loss and damage fund also mark a turning point for global climate action – but only if it is built on.

    In the year ahead, the fund must be set up so that funding can start flowing to those who need it. Permanent, predictable funds must be established to meet the growing needs, flowing from the countries and corporations that have contributed most to the climate crisis towards those that have contributed less but are disproportionately impacted on by its effects. We must prevent further losses and damages through a fast and fair fossil fuel phase-out.

    What further steps need to be taken for the COP28 outcomes to have a tangible and positive impact?

    With this COP28 outcome we now have new global benchmarks for aligning action with the Paris Agreement 1.5 degrees limit and climate justice. This crucial roadmap includes accelerating global emission cuts, increasing reliance on renewables and energy efficiency, expediting the transition away from fossil fuels, putting an end to deforestation and fostering the growth of climate finance. Focus must now shift to real action on the ground.

    Over the next year, states face a critical period where they must formulate new national climate targets and plans to deliver their fair contributions to all these global goals. Simultaneously, countries need to collaboratively design the future landscape of international climate finance, moving beyond existing commitments to fill the growing gaps.

    What are your thoughts on the choice of Azerbaijan as COP29 host?

    The choice of Azerbaijan as the host for COP29 raises many concerns, given its economy’s very high reliance on oil and gas exports, and poor track record on human rights. The upcoming COP should primarily focus on delivering climate finance to those made vulnerable and lacking capacity, and on redirecting financial flows away from problems and towards solutions. Key to this is holding the fossil fuel industry and major polluters accountable for the damage they have caused, which won’t be easy with a host that’s highly invested in fossil fuels.

    That said, as the history of this process shows, when a determined group of progressive countries come together to drive change, and they are supported by the global climate movement, breakthroughs can happen. So the priority now is to ensure that by COP29 next year, countries will have taken key steps to accelerate the fair and swift transition away from fossil fuels on the ground, and that they’re ready to take the bull by the horns and make polluters pay.


    Get in touch with Greenpeace through itswebsite,Instagram andFacebook accounts, and follow@Greenpeace and@kaisakosonen on Twitter.

    The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIVICUS.

  • Council must heed warning signs and address rights violations in Russia, India and elsewhere

    Statement at the 49th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Item 4 General Debate

    Delivered byLisa Majumdar

  • Detention and disappearance of activists is widespread

    42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    -Statement on report of Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

    CIVICUS thanks the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention for their report. We are concerned that it shows Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia - Human Rights Council member states from the Middle East – as well as Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, and the UAE, all using arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance to silence civil society and shut down dissent with impunity. 

    Bahrain arbitrarily detained Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab on 9 April 2011 and 13 June 2016 respectively. They are among dozens of human rights defenders whom the authorities have arbitrarily detained, including Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace and Naji Fateel, both subject to mistreatment by officials. The authorities denied them medical treatment and interfered with their family visits. We are particularly alarmed by the Working Group’s reports of reprisals against those who have been subject of an urgent appeal or opinion in Bahrain. This falls far short of the standards that every state, but particularly members of the Human Rights Council, should uphold.

    We condemn Egypt's arbitrary arrest of lawyer Ibrahim Metwally in 2017 en route to attend an HRC session, to present cases of enforced disappearance, and his ill-treatment. His and the cases of 12 others arbitrarily arrested in June 2019 reflect Egypt's closure of civic space.

    In Iraq, we condemn the detention of journalists, protesters and civil society activists. During protests in Basra, at least seven Iraqi journalists were assaulted or detained including Reuters photographer Essam al-Sudani.

    Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on women’s and other human rights defenders forms its systematic use of arbitrary detention in which thousands have been detained.

    Those detained in 2018 included Aziza al-Yousef; Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan and other women’s rights advocates who also campaigned to end the driving ban, as well as writers, academics and family members of WHRDs. “Charges” were only brought against them in March 2019. They remain in prison, alongside members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA); Mohammed al-Qahtani, and Abdullah al-Hamid; blogger Raif Badawi and human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair.

    Iran systematically arbitrarily detains trade unionists, HRDs, minority rights activists and lawyers like Nasrin Sotoudeh and Narges Mohammadi.

    Kuwait’s arbitrary arrest in July, of stateless rights activists including Abdulhakim al-Fadhli exemplifies the intersectionality of rights and how guaranteeing civil space bolsters other rights. 

    The UAE’s March 2017 arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance of HRD Ahmed Mansoor continues to tarnish the UAE, showing that its “year of tolerance” does not include human rights.

    Mr. President, the report of the Working Group shows that the use of arbitrary detention – often without charge, recourse to access independent legal representation, and in poor conditions of detention – remains an active method to quell dissent across the Middle East. 

    CIVICUS joins civil society in calling for full cooperation with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and we call on states who have instrumentalized arbitrary detention to immediately release those detained and provide justice and remedy to victims and their families. 

    We ask the Working Group: what more can be done to ensure implementation of its appeals and opinions in states where arbitrary detention remains so widespread?

  • Emirati Women continue to face Systemic Oppression by Authorities

    Women in the United Arab Emirates continue to face incredible barriers to their rights to civic freedoms by state and non-state actors. Living under the male guardianship system, that grants control over their movement, finances and interactions, these women can face detainment for merely reporting sexual violence in authorities. Because of this already patriarchal system, women human rights defenders face additional barriers in campaigning for their rights – they are frequently targeted and shamed by state and non-state actors (including family, communities and society at large). While imprisoned, women are also subject to torture and violence – but largely erased from the public sphere because of entrenched patriarchy. During CSW63, we highlight the great challenges facing WHRDs in the UAE and ask you to stand with them – calling for greater protections for Emirati women by state actors. The United Arab Emirates is rated ‘closed’ on the CIVICUS Monitor.

    UAE Infographic

  • Open Letter to Drivers, Teams and Performers at the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix 2018

    Joint Logos

    Dear friends,

    As you ready yourselves to hold the limelight on the stages and tracks of the final Formula One race of the season, we the undersigned NGOs, wish to draw your attention to the reality of the human rights situation in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is a far cry from the glitz and glamour the country intends to project to the world.

    Since 2011, the UAE authorities have embarked on a crackdown to silence their critics including human rights defenders, judges, lawyers, academics, students and journalists. They have been harassed, arbitrarily detained, subjected to enforced disappearance, tortured and otherwise ill-treated, and convicted following trials that failed to meet international standards of fairness. Critics and dissidents in the UAE are serving lengthy prison sentences simply for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and we consider them to be prisoners of conscience who should be released immediately and unconditionally.

    The UAE authorities have tightened and amended their already repressive laws to further suppress human rights and particularly to silence peaceful dissent and other expression on public issues. As a result, human rights defenders and other critics of the government have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

    The UAE is listed as ‘closed’ on the CIVICUS Monitor which is the lowest and most oppressive category as far as protection of civic freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly is concerned.

    Today we are launching a campaign to call for the release of prisoners of conscience in the UAE and we urge you to lend us your support.

    We call upon you, drivers, teams and performers to be the champions of human rights on the circuit and on stage; to be the voices of those who have been silenced and unfairly detained. We urge you to use your celebrity status to call on the UAE authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience who have been detained solely for peacefully criticizing the authorities, or for calling or advocating for the respect and protection of human rights.

    Please tweet, post and speak about their stories online and in your media appearances so that these prisoners are not forgotten. You can use the hashtags #AbuDhabiGP #F1 and #Formula1.

    These are the stories of some of the hundreds of prisoners of conscience detained for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression:

    Blogger and poet Ahmed Mansoor is a prominent human rights defender, who received the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2015. He is a member of the advisory committee of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division, as well as of the advisory board of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR). He has documented the human rights situation in the UAE since 2006 and has publicly spoken out in defence of human rights in his blog, social media and in interviews with international media. Up until his arrest on 20 March 2017, Ahmed Mansoor was the last remaining human rights defender in the UAE who had been able to criticize the authorities publicly. On 29 May 2018, Ahmed Mansoor was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. The trial was held in secret, and there is no public record of the proceedings. It is unclear if he had a lawyer. On 4 October, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for his release. He is held in solitary confinement at al-Sadr prison in Abu Dhabi.

    Dr Mohammed al-Roken is a prominent human rights lawyer from the emirate of Dubai, and former president of the UAE’s Jurists Association. He was arrested on17 July 2012 and for the next three months, he was held in solitary confinement at an undisclosed location. His fate and whereabouts were unknown in what amounted to enforced disappearance. He was sentenced in July 2013 to 10 years’ imprisonment, at the end of the grossly unfair trial of 94 reform advocates which became known as the “UAE 94” trial.

    Many of the UAE 94 defendants and others standing trial before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court have alleged in court that they were tortured or otherwise ill-treated in pre-trial detention, where they were often held incommunicado for months in secret State Security detention facilities. The State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court has not adequately investigated these allegations, despite mounting evidence that State Security is abusing detainees.

    Online activist Osama al-Najjar was arrested on 17 March 2014 and sentenced to three years in prison after sending tweets to the Minister of Interior expressing concern that his father Hussain Ali al-Najjar al-Hammadi had been ill-treated in prison, where he is serving over 11 years. Osama al-Najjar was due for release from al-Razeen Prison in Abu Dhabi in March 2017, having fully served his prison sentence. However, the authorities decided to extend his detention on the pretext that he remained a threat. Following his arrest, Osama al-Najjar was denied access to a lawyer for over six months. After his arrest he was held in solitary confinement for four days at a secret detention facility where he said he was tortured and otherwise ill-treated.

    Prominent economist, academic and human rights defender, Dr Nasser bin Ghaith,was arrested in August 2015 and subjected to enforced disappearance for more than seven months. He did not have access to a lawyer until the beginning of his trial in April 2016 and was not allowed to prepare an effective defence. In March 2017, he was sentenced to ten years in prison on charges including “posting false information” about UAE leaders and their policies on Twitter.


    Americans for Democracy and Human Rights (ADHRB)

    Amnesty International


    FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

    Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR)

    International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

    Martin Ennals Foundation

    Pen International

    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders


  • Open letter to the Emirati authorities to free HRD, Ahmed Mansoor on his 50th Birthday

    On 22 October, Ahmed Mansoor will turn 50 in prison so CIVICUS and partners have organised a series of actions to help #FreeAhmed and offer #BirthdayWishes4Ahmed. The United Arab Emirates authorities have convicted and imprisoned him for 10 years solely for his human rights work and for exercising his right to freedom of expression.  We are looking for signatories to a joint letter calling upon the Emirates government to immediately and unconditionally release the human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, whose life we believe may be at risk following beatings and hunger strikes to protest deplorable and inhumane prison conditions. 

    Please add your signature to this letter at either the bottom of this page or at the following link by 14 Octoberhttp://eepurl.com/gFtjJr

    You can find information about protests worldwide (NYC, DC, Toronto, London and more) at: https://www.facebook.com/FriendsofAhmedMansoor/

    Le 22 octobre, Ahmed Mansoor célèbrera ses 50 ans en prison, nous avons donc organisé une série d'actions pour aider à sa libération #FreeAhmed et lui offrir nos voeux #BirthdayWishes4Ahmed. Les autorités l'ont condamné et emprisonné pendant 10 ans uniquement pour son travail en faveur des droits humains et pour avoir exercé son droit à la liberté d'expression. Nous recherchons des signataires pour une lettre commune commune (en anglais) appelant le gouvernement des Émirats Arabes Unis à libérer immédiatement et sans condition le défenseur des droits humains Ahmed Mansoor, dont nous pensons que la vie pourrait être en danger à la suite de brutalités et des grèves de la faim entreprises pour dénoncer des conditions carcérales déplorables et inhumaines.

    Merci d'ajouter votre signature à cette lettre au bas de cette page ou sur le lien (en anglais) suivant avant le 14 octobre: http://eepurl.com/gFtjJr

    Vous pouvez trouver des informations sur les manifestations dans le monde entier (NYC, DC, Toronto, Londres, etc.) en anglais sur: https://www.facebook.com/FriendsofAhmedMansoor/

    El 22 de octubre, Ahmed Mansoor celebrará sus 50 años en la cárcel, por lo que hemos organizado una serie de acciones para ayudar a su liberación #FreeAhmed y felicitarle #BirthdayWishes4Ahmed. Las autoridades lo han condenado y encarcelado durante 10 años únicamente por su labor en el ámbito de los derechos humanos y por ejercer su derecho a la libertad de expresión. Estamos buscando signatarios para una carta conjunta (en inglés) en la que se pide al gobierno de los Emiratos Árabes Unidos que libere inmediata e incondicionalmente al defensor de los derechos humanos Ahmed Mansoor, cuya vida creemos que puede correr peligro tras las agresiones y las huelgas de hambre emprendidas con el fin de protestar contra las condiciones deplorables e inhumanas que sufre en prisión.

    Por favor agregue su firma a esta carta al final de esta página o en el siguiente enlace (en inglés) antes del 14 de octubre:  http://eepurl.com/gFtjJr

    Puede encontrar información sobre las protestas en todo el mundo (NYC, DC, Toronto, Londres y más) en inglés en: https://www.facebook.com/FriendsofAhmedMansoor/

     في 22 أكتوبر/تشرين الأول، سيبلغ أحمد 50 عاماً وهو في السجن، لذلك قمنا بتنظيم سلسلة من الإجراأت للمساعدة في إطلاق سراح أحمد وتقديم الأمنيات له عن طريق الوسوم

    #FreeAhmed و#BirthdayWishes4Ahmed

    لقد أدانته السلطات الإماراتية وحُكم عليه بالسجن 10 سنوات بسبب عمله في مجال حقوق الإنسان وممارسته حقه في حرية التعبير. نحن نبحث عن موقعين على الرسالة المشتركة التي تدعو حكومة الإمارات إلى الإفراج فوراً ودون شرط عن المدافع عن حقوق الإنسان أحمد منصور، حيث أن حياته في خطر بعد تعرضه للضرب وإضرابه المتكرر عن الطعام للاحتجاج على ظروف السجن المزرية وغير الإنسانية

    يرجى توقيع هذه الرسالة المفتوحة في أسفل هذه الصفحة أو على هذا الرابط بحلول 14 أكتوبر

    يمكنكم العثور على معلومات حول الاحتجاجات في جميع أنحاء العالم (نيويورك، واشنطن، تورنتو، لندن وغيرهم) باللغة الإنجليزية على



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  • UAE: Ahmed Mansoor remains on hunger strike in poor conditions as eyesight deteriorates

    Imprisoned human rights defender and blogger Ahmed Mansoor has been on hunger strike since 17 March 2019 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and is in very poor condition. He started the hunger strike to protest poor prison conditions and his unfair trial which led to a ten-year prison sentence for his human rights activities. We call on the UAE to immediately and unconditionally release Mansoor, and other unlawfully detained human rights defenders.

  • UAE: Freedom of expression must be upheld at all times

    Freedom of expression must be upheld at all times, not only tolerated during Hay Festival Abu Dhabi


    As the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi opens on 25-28 February 2020 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), we the undersigned call on the Emirati authorities to demonstrate their respect for the right to freedom of expression by freeing all human rights defenders imprisoned for expressing themselves peacefully online, including academics, writers, a poet and lawyers. In the context of the Hay Festival, the UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance is promoting a platform for freedom of expression, while keeping behind bars Emirati citizens and residents who shared their own views and opinions. We support the efforts of festival participants to speak up in favour of all those whose voices have been silenced in the UAE. We further support calls for the UAE authorities to comply with international standards for prisoners, including by allowing prisoners of conscience to receive books and reading materials.

    The country’s most prominent human rights defender, Ahmed Mansoor, is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence after being convicted on the spurious charge of “insulting the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols including its leaders” in reprisal for his peaceful human rights activism, including posts on social media.

    Mansoor is being held in solitary confinement in an isolation ward in Al-Sadr prison, Abu Dhabi, in dire conditions with no bed or books. In the nearly three years since his arrest in March 2017, he has only been permitted to leave his small cell for a handful of family visits, and only once has he been allowed outside to the prison sports yard for fresh air. In protest, he went on two separate hunger strikes which have harmed his health - harm which has been exacerbated by the lack of adequate medical care. By holding Mansoor in such appalling conditions, the UAE authorities are violating the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment under international law. We urge the Emirati authorities to comply with international law and we appeal to the humanity of members of the government to provide Mansoor with acceptable conditions until he is released.

    Mansoor, who has four young sons, is also an engineer and a poet. He serves on the advisory boards of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division. In October 2015, Mansoor gained international recognition for his vital work when he received the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

    Mansoor undertook a month-long hunger strike in March 2019 to protest his punitive prison conditions, arbitrary detention, and unfair conviction. In May, seven United Nations independent experts expressed grave concern about Mansoor. Again, in early September 2019, after being tortured through beatings by prison guards, he began a second hunger strike. Due to the lack of independent human rights NGOs in the country, it is very difficult to obtain news about his current situation, including whether or not he remains on the hunger strike since the last report that he was still not eating solid food in January 2020, leaving him unable to walk.

    In October 2019, over 140 NGOs worldwide appealed to the UAE authorities to free Ahmed Mansoor, who spent his 50th birthday in isolation and on hunger strike.

    UAE Activists

    Other prisoners have been tortured in prison in the UAE. A Polish fitness expert, Artur Ligęska, was held in the same isolation ward as Mansoor, in conditions he described as “medieval”. After his charges were dismissed and he was freed in May 2019, Ligęska wrote a book in which he recounted the prison conditions in Al-Sadr’s isolation wing, where prisoners were held without running water for many months in very unhygienic conditions, and some were subjected to torture, abuse and sexual assault. He was instrumental in getting the news about Mansoor’s hunger strike out to the world from prison in March 2019, at great personal risk.

    Other human rights defenders have faced similar mistreatment in prison, where they are often held in isolation, resorting to hunger strikes to try to bring attention to their unjust imprisonment and ill-treatment in detention.

    Human rights lawyer Dr Mohammed Al-Roken, who has been detained since July 2012 solely for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association, including through his work as a lawyer, is serving a 10-year prison sentence for signing - along with 132 other people - an online petition calling for political reform. He was convicted and sentenced following a grossly unfair mass trial of 94 people (known as the “UAE 94” trial) including human rights lawyers, judges and student activists. Among them, was another human rights lawyer, Dr Mohammed Al-Mansoori who was also arrested in July 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Dr Al-Mansoori had not been allowed to contact his family for over a year, and was only permitted to do so recently. Both men are being held in Al-Razeen prison, a maximum-security prison in the desert of Abu Dhabi, which is used to hold activists, government critics, and human rights defenders. They face arbitrary and unlawful disciplinary measures, such as solitary confinement, deprivation of family visits, and intrusive body searches.

    Dr Al-Roken was a member of the International Association of Lawyers (UIA) and the International Bar Association, and both Dr Al-Roken and Dr Al-Mansoori served as president of the UAE’s Jurists Association before its arbitrary dissolution by the Emirati authorities in 2011. Dr Al-Roken has authored books on human rights, constitutional law, and counterterrorism. He dedicated his career to providing legal assistance to victims of human rights violations in the UAE, for which he was awarded the Ludovic Trarieux International Human Rights Prize in 2017. Over two dozen NGOs called for his release in November 2019.

    Academic and economist Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith, a lecturer at the Abu Dhabi branch of the Paris-Sorbonne University, was sentenced on 29 March 2017 to 10 years in prison for critical comments he made online about human rights violations in the UAE and Egypt.

    In a letter written from prison, Dr. Bin Ghaith stated that “the verdict proves that there is no place for freedom of speech in this country” and announced that he would begin a hunger strike until he was released unconditionally. He has also undertaken subsequent hunger strikes to protest conditions in Al-Razeen prison, including to demand his immediate release following the pardon of British academic Matthew Hedges on 26 November 2018, a week after he was sentenced to life in prison on spying allegations. Hedges was held, mainly incommunicado and in degrading and inhuman conditions for seven months, until he faced an unfair trial on charges of spying for the United Kingdom government.

    In October 2018, the European Parliament adopted a resolution, calling on the UAE to, among other demands, stop all forms of harassment and immediately lift the travel ban against human rights defenders, and urging the authorities to “guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders in the UAE are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities, both inside and outside the country, without fear of reprisals”.

    The Hay Festival Abu Dhabi is supported by the UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance, in a country that does not tolerate dissenting voices. Regrettably, the UAE government devotes more effort to concealing its human rights abuses than to addressing them and invests heavily in the funding and sponsorship of institutions, events and initiatives that are aimed at projecting a favourable image to the outside world.

    With the world’s eyes on the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi, we urge the Emirati government to consider using this opportunity to unconditionally release our jailed friends and colleagues, and in the interim, to at least allow prisoners of conscience to receive books and reading materials, to have regular visits with family, to be allowed outside of their isolation cells to visit the canteen or go outside in the sun. In particular, we ask that Ahmed Mansoor be given a bed and a mattress so that he no longer has to sleep on the floor, and that prison officials cease punishing him for public appeals that are made on his behalf. We ask the authorities to improve their prison conditions as a sign of goodwill and respect for people who wish to organise and participate in events in the UAE, such as the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi or the upcoming Expo 2020 Dubai, in the future. By doing so, the UAE would demonstrate that the Hay Festival is an opportunity to back up its promise of tolerance with actions that include the courageous contributors to freedom of expression who live in the country.


    Access Now
    Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain

    Amnesty International

    Arabic Network for Human Rights Information

    Association for Victims of Torture in the UAE 

    Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC)

    Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)

    Campaign to FreeLatifa


    Committee to Protect Liberties and Human Rights in Tunisia

    Detained in Dubai

    Detained International

    Electronic Frontier Foundation

    European Center for Democracy and Human Rights 

    FIDH, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

    Front Line Defenders

    Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)


    International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE

    International Centre for Justice and Human Rights 

    International Press Institute (IPI)

    International Publishers Association (IPA)

    International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

    Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada 

    Maharat Foundation

    MENA Rights Group

    No Peace Without Justice 

    Norwegian PEN

    PEN America

    PEN International

    Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)

    Rights Realization Centre

    Tunisian Association for the Defense of Individual Liberties

    Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights

    Tunis Center for Press Freedom

    Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State, Tunisia

    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

    April Alderdice, CEO MicroEnergy Credits

    Fadi Al-Qadi, author and MENA human rights expert

    Noam Chomsky, Professor

    Ronald Deibert, Director of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto

    Brian Dooley, human rights advocate

    Drewery Dyke, human rights advocate

    Jonathan Emmett, author

    Stephen Fry, author and presenter

    Ahmed Galai, Ex-Vice President of the Tunisian Human Rights League (member of the National Dialogue Quartet, co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2015)

    Melanie Gingell, human rights lawyer

    Chris Haughton, author

    Matthew Hedges, PhD candidate and former prisoner in the UAE

    Bill Law, journalist

    Artur Ligęska, Polish activist and former prisoner in the UAE

    Danielle Maisano, novelist, poet and activist

    Michael Mansfield QC, Barrister

    Albert Pellicer, poet and lecturer

    Simone Theiss, human rights advocate

  • UAE: Release all prisoners of conscience now

    Joint letter calling on the President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, to intervene immediately in favour of the release of prisoners of conscience.

    Your Highness,

    We, the undersigned organisations, write to you to urge Your Highness to release prisoners of conscience in UAE prisons and to address this issue decisively.

    We appeal to Your Highness as President of the United Arab Emirates to treat the issue of prisoners of conscience as a high priority and consider it an urgent humanitarian situation that requires your direct and immediate intervention.

    Your Highness- the absence of such policies, rooted in human rights standards, is a stain on the country’s international reputation and runs counter to the Emirati government's image of the UAE as a country that believes in the values of tolerance and openness. It is the primary responsibility of Your Highness to uphold constitutional principles by putting an end to all human rights violations.

    We call on Your Highness to assume full moral and legal obligations and to work for the respect of human rights. Therefore, we appeal to you not only to release all prisoners of conscience in UAE jails but also to ensure that such violations will not be repeated.

    Pending their release, we hope that Your Highness will work to demonstrate your commitment to human rights and compliance with international standards for prisoners by granting prisoners of conscience their rights, such as medical care and regular family visits, and ending all forms of violations they are being exposed to.

    With great respect and appreciation


    1. ALQST for Human Rights
    2. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
    3. CIVICUS
    4. Emirates Detainees Advocacy Centre
    5. Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor
    6. European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights
    7. FEMENA
    8. Geneva council for rights and liberties
    9. Gulf Centre for Human Rights
    10. HuMENA for Human Rights and Civic Engagement
    11. International Campaign for Justice and Human Rights
    12. International Centre for Justice and Human Rights
    13. MENA Rights group
    14. Skyline International for Human Rights
  • UAE: Release all those unjustly imprisoned before COP28


    Authorities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) should release all those unjustly imprisoned in the country before the start of COP28, which will be held at Expo City Dubai between 30 November and 12 December 2023. UAE authorities continue to detain dozens of people who completed their prison sentences some years ago, including 55 dissidents, lawyers and other people convicted in a mass trial known as the “UAE94” case. The UAE also continues to detain prominent human rights defenders, including Ahmed Mansoor and Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith, and to retaliate against people, including Amina Al-Abdouli and Maryam Al-Balushi, for speaking out about abuses in prison.

    The authorities should also put an end to other human rights violations, including: monitoring government critics with sophisticated surveillance technology to stifle dissent; using repressive laws to imprison human rights defenders and dissidents; effectively denying the right to freedom of peaceful assembly through draconian legal restrictions and practices; and denying migrant workers, who suffer a range of violations linked to the abusive kafala system, the right to form unions.

    Detaining people long after they have served their sentences

    There are at least 58 people being held past the end of their sentences in the UAE. (See detailed list in the appendix below.)

    The authorities appear to have used Article 40 of Federal Law No. 7 of 2014 on Combating Terrorism Offences, which includes a vague and overbroad definition of terrorism, to indefinitely detain people who have completed their sentences.

    In its first paragraph, Article 40 states: "A terrorist danger exists in a person if he has adopted extremist or terrorist thinking, such that it is feared that he will commit a terrorist crime." The second paragraph states: "If a terrorist danger is present in a person, he shall be put in a counselling centre by a court judgment based on a request from the prosecution."

    The process of detaining people beyond the completion of their sentences is not transparent and lacks minimum standards of fairness and due process. The Federal Court of Appeal in Abu Dhabi, at the request of the State Security Prosecution, issues referral orders to counseling centers without any fair trial guarantees. Such detention for "counselling" can apparently be extended indefinitely.

    Authorities argue that many of the people held beyond their sentences pose a threat to state security and are in need of rehabilitation. Although the law speaks of "counselling centres," people whose detention is extended in this way often continue to be held in the same prison where they served their regular sentence. Prisoners scheduled for release are transferred from Al-Razeen Prison to the Munasaha (“Counselling”) Centre which is often just another building in the same prison that is isolated from the other wings.

    The majority of the people being held beyond their completed sentences are part of the “UAE94”, a group of government critics who were arrested in 2012 and sentenced to between seven and ten years in prison after a grossly unfair mass trial in 2013. Among the “UAE94” group, 55 of them have completed their sentences, yet remain in prison. They include human rights lawyers Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken and Dr. Mohammed Al-Mansoori. In addition, Khalifa Rabia was arrested in July 2013 and sentenced to five years in prison on charges related to a tweet he wrote after the verdicts of the UAE94 case were issued, yet he remains in prison.

    One of the main catalysts for the “UAE94” arrests and subsequent mass trial was a reform petition launched on 03 March 2011. The reform petition was signed by hundreds of men and women from across the Emirati intellectual, legal and political spectrum and had two main demands: democratic elections for the UAE’s Federal National Council and constitutional amendments to shore up the Federal National Council’s legislative and oversight powers. More than 30 petition signatories were charged as defendants in the UAE94 trial.

    In addition to holding many beyond their sentences, UAE authorities have obstructed contact between some UAE94 prisoners and their families by only allowing calls or visits months apart, and have denied all calls between UAE94 prisoners and their immediate family members who are outside the UAE. This is a violation of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules).

    No tolerance forhuman rights defenders and dissidents

    The UAE has a Ministry for Tolerance but insists on charging, sentencing, detaining and mistreating human rights defenders and dissidents. The UAE should immediately release prominent human rights defenders, including Ahmed Mansoor, who has been held in prolonged solitary confinement since his arrest on 20 March 2017 for his human rights activities, and academic Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for tweeting about a previous imprisonment.


    The undersigned organisations call on the international community, especially governments that have influence with the United Arab Emirates, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and the members of the European Union, in addition to all United Nations mechanisms including concerned special rapporteurs, to urgently call for and take steps to obtain the immediate and unconditional release of the prisoners listed in this appeal and to seek an end to grave human rights violations in the UAE. We also call on the international community to demand that independent monitors be granted permission to visit these prisoners in order to ensure their physical and mental health and safety.

    We call on the UAE authorities to:

    1. Release all human rights defenders and dissidents who were arrested, detained, charged or sentenced for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, or other human rights including Ahmed Mansoor, Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith, Amina Al-Abdouli, Maryam Al-Balushi, and members of the “UAE94” case;
    2. Release all detainees who are being held past the end of their sentences, in flagrant violation of their human rights, and end the practice of arbitrarily detaining human rights defenders and dissidents in Munasaha (Counselling) Centres after they have served their full sentences.
    3. Repeal the text of Article 40 of Federal Law No. 7 of 2014 on Combating Terrorism Offences, which allows people to be detained indefinitely;
    4. Protect human rights in the country, including freedom of expression, assembly and association, and ensure nobody is arrested in violation of these rights; and
    5. End restrictions on civic space and uphold human rights, including freedom of expression and assembly, during the COP28 and beyond.


    1. Access Now
    2. ALQST for Human Rights
    3. Amnesty International
    4. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
    5. CIVICUS
    6. Emirates Detainees Advocacy Centre (EDAC)
    7. FEMENA
    8. Front Line Defenders
    9. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
    10. Human Rights First
    11. Human Rights Sentinel
    12. Human Rights Watch
    13. IFEX
    14. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
    15. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    16. MENA Rights Group
    17. Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
    18. Rights Realization Centre
    19. Salam for Democracy and Human Rights
    20. SMEX
    21. Stand up for UAE Detainees (SANID) Campaign
    22. Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
    23. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

    Appendix: Prominent human rights defenders currently detained

    Civic space in the United Arab Emirates is rated as "Closed" by the CIVICUS Monitor

  • United Arab Emirates at UN Human Rights Council: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Report

    38th Session of UN Human Rights Council
    Adoption of the UPR report of the United Arab Emirates 

    The Gulf Centre for Human Rights, the International Service for Human Rights and CIVICUS welcome the chance to engage in the process of the UAE’s UPR. However, we are deeply dismayed that having gone through the UPR process for the third time, the conditions under which civil society operate are worsening, despite it being clearly an issue of concern in the last review.

    Since its last review, the UAE has not implemented any of the 17 recommendations relating to civic space. We regret that no recommendations pertaining to the full protection of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly were accepted by the government.

    Mr. President, the UAE continues to use Federal Law 6 of 1974 Concerning Public Utility Associations to interfere in the operations of civil society organisations. The law goes as far as allowing the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs to send representatives to monitor meetings of CSOs.

    The UAE continues to use anti-terror laws to punish human rights defenders. The “’UAE94” - a group of political activists, human rights defenders, lawyers, academics, teachers and students – are still serving heavy sentences handed down in 2013, on spurious charges of attempting to overthrow the government.

    Journalists and researchers are still arrested, deported and jailed for carrying out their work. Ahmed Mansoor, who was jailed in 2017 for making posts on social media, was sentenced to 10 years in prison last month. Academic Nasser Bin Ghaith is also serving a 10-year prison sentence after he was arrested in 2015 for making posts on social media and continues to be denied access to medical treatment. Both men are believed to be held in solitary confinement.

    We call on the Government of the UAE to cease persecuting human rights defenders, reverse these draconian laws and create an enabling environment for civil society.


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