The UAE’s Forgotten Mass Trial — Global Issues


  • Opinion by Joey Shea
  • Inter Press Service

“We hope that you will give us the chance to defend ourselves before you sentence us to death,” begged Sheikh Muhammad al-Siddiq, an Emirati political dissident, during a court hearing in March.

Public scrutiny of this case is necessary for these suspects to have any hope of freedom. The silence of the international community – now and over the past decade – has brought us to where we are today: 84 of the brightest members of the UAE’s civil society are at risk of losing their voices forever.

The trial was marked by violations of due process and due process. Emirati authorities restricted access to material and information in the case, shrouded hearings in secrecy and violated the principle of double jeopardy, an international legal rule that prohibits trying people twice for the same crime after they have received a final verdict. Judges brazenly orchestrated witness statements. Most disturbingly, defendants repeatedly described suffering ill-treatment in detention, including physical assaults, forced nudity and prolonged solitary confinement that amounted to torture.

Emirati authorities announced the mass trial in December 2023, while the eyes of the world were on the UAE at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai: The timing was shocking, during an international meeting in the UAE that promised to be “the most inclusive ever held”.

The bold timing can be attributed to the impunity the UAE has enjoyed over the past decade. Despite the country’s ongoing crackdown on political dissidents and civil society, few, if any, governments have dared to criticize the country’s human rights record. The UAE has become a key security ally for many governments and has fostered strong economic ties.

The new lawsuit has its roots in the 2013 case.VAE94”mass trial of political dissidents, in which an Abu Dhabi court sentenced 69 suspects to prison terms ranging from 5 to 15 years on charges related to their political activism.

Most of the defendants from the 2013 trial are being tried in the new case on nearly identical charges, even after they served their full sentences. Emirati human rights advocates believe the authorities have brought the new case to indefinitely detain the dissidents – leaving little hope of an alternative outcome unless allied governments speak out.

Diplomatic missions expressed concern about the UAE’s suppression of civil and political rights in 2011 and 2013. In 2013, international institutions investigated at least tried to send observers to the trial. As far as we know, no embassy sent observers to observe the trial.

But limited control was quickly traded for stronger economic and security relations. Human rights groups have been pushing for continued attention to the case for years, but instead silence has prevailed. This silence has led to the Emirati security authorities feeling emboldened and acting with greater impunity.

The UAE has long used its economic and security ties to avoid public criticism of its human rights record, but now the silence from the UAE’s Western allies is almost absolute. More than a decade after the UAE94 trial, the silence from the UAE’s partners is total. During my recent trip to the UAE, diplomatic missions told me that public expression of concern about the due process violations we had documented was out of the question; even private involvement was highly unlikely.

All governments committed to human rights, and especially the UAE’s close security and economic allies, should publicly condemn the trial’s violations and send observers to the July 10 hearing.

Continued public attention and pressure may have resulted in the release of the UAE94 suspects after completing their sentences. Instead, the case was lost due to political opportunism and the new case was announced.

While the 2013 trial coveredextended by the international press, the new case has barely made headlines. A few dedicated and brave sockets who have followed the trial closely, often at great personal risk to staff, but many more have not. Reporters who follow the trial can face travel bans, intimidation and deportation.

If neither the foreign press nor the diplomatic community exercise the necessary control, the 84 on July 10 may suffer for many years to come.

© Inter Press Service (2024) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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