UAE: Unfair Mass Trial of 94 Dissidents

Investigate Allegations of Torture, Grant Public Access to Sessions
APRIL 3, 2013

(Beirut)– The United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities have compounded serious pre-trial violations of fair trial rights by arbitrarily denying family members, international observers, and the international media access to the mass trial of 94 critics of the government, a coalition of seven international human rights organizations said today. The organizations urged the UAE authorities to investigate allegations of torture and to grant full public access to trial sessions.

The detention of Abdulla al-Hadidi, the son of one of the 94 defendants, on March 21, 2013, on charges of publishing in bad faith false details of a public trial session via the Internet heightens concerns about the trial’s fairness, the organizations said. Al-Hadidi had attended four court sessions since the trial began on March 4, and had written about them on social media websites. The day before his detention, officials from the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi informed al-Hadidi and several other relatives of the defendants that the authorities would no longer allow family members to attend the trial.

“Preventing independent monitors and family members from entering the court only increases the suspicions as to why the authorities need to hide what is being said and done inside,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “If the UAE authorities can present admissible and credible evidence that these defendants have committed crimes, why would they shroud the proceedings in secrecy?”

The coalition consists of Alkarama, Amnesty International, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, and the International Federation for Human Rights.

The 94 defendants, eight of whom are being tried in absentia, face sentences of up to 15 years in prison 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. The detainees include the prominent human rights lawyers Mohamed al-Roken and Mohamed al-Mansoori, as well as judges, lawyers, teachers, and student leaders. Among them are Judge Mohammed Saeed al-Abdouli and Dr. Hadef al-Owais, a jurist and university professor.

Many of the detainees are members of a local group, Reform and Social Guidance Association (Al-Islah), a non-violent group that has been engaged in peaceful political debate in the UAE for many years and advocates greater adherence to Islamic precepts. Representatives of local UAE news media, whom the authorities have allowed to attend the trial, have reported that prosecutors have claimed to have evidence that the defendants set up a parallel organization, Dawat al-Islah, which they claim has different goals and ideology.

The UAE places restrictions on the right to freedom of association that contravene international human rights law, the organizations said. In 2011 the UAE authorities closed down the Jurists Association and the Teachers’ Association, claiming that both organizations had violated article 16 of the 2008 Law on Association, which prohibits nongovernmental organizations and their members from interfering “in politics or in matters that impair state security and its ruling regime.”

The detention of Abdulla al-Hadidi appears to be an escalation of the authorities’ attempts to obstruct independent scrutiny of the trial, the organizations said. Authorities charged al-Hadidi on March 28 under article 265 of the penal code for publishing details of a public trial session “without probity and in bad faith.” The authorities invoked the 2012 federal decree on cybercrime, article 46 of which makes the use of the Internet or information technology an aggravating factor in the commission of crimes. The judge at the Court of First Instance in Abu Dhabi denied al-Hadidi bail.

Prior to the March 4 opening of the trial, security officials denied entry to the UAE to Ahmed Nashmi al-Dhafeeri, the international observer for Amnesty International, and Noemie Crottaz, a representative of the Geneva-based human rights organization Alkarama. Several international observers did make it into the country, but authorities prevented them from entering the court despite the fact that they had complied with the stipulated procedures and furnished the requisite documentation.

The serious violations of due process in the pre-trial period included holding at least 64 of the detainees at undisclosed locations for periods of up to one year before the trial. Many of the detainees did not have access to legal assistance until late February. When they did finally meet with their lawyers, a representative of the state security prosecutor was in the room and within earshot, in violation of the requirement under international law for confidentiality in conversations between lawyers and clients.

In a statement given to the state news agency on March 8, the Emirates Human Rights Association (EHRA), which has close ties to the UAE authorities, praised the first hearing. “The judge allowed the defendants the right to speak and to express their demands through the defense lawyers,” the association said. The EHRA stated that “the defendants looked in good health, and there was no evidence of torture,” although the organization also reported that some of the defendants said they had been tortured when arrested and that two of them said they had been subjected to enforced disappearance for five months.

Groups in the coalition of human rights organizations have documentedcredible allegations of torture at UAE State Security facilities for many years, as well as the prolonged incommunicado detention of one of the detainees, Ahmed al-Suweidi, which amounted to an enforced disappearance. People who were in the courtroom on March 4 said that al-Suweidi, whose well-being is of grave concern because of the deterioration in his physical and mental condition, declared his innocence. They quoted him as saying, “I know that what I’m going to say may cost my life, but I deny the charges, and I ask the court to protect my life and the life of my family.”

In November 2011, an American civil liberties lawyer who monitored sessions of a trial of five political dissidents and who had studied all the case documents described the case as “riddled with legal and procedural flaws right from the beginning” and concluded that “flagrant due process flaws” essentially had denied the five men the right to a fair trial.

The UAE authorities have not granted independent monitors access to this trial, but there have been indications that proceedings have followed a similar pattern. Well-informed sources have reported that lawyers and defendants have not had adequate time to question witnesses and that the judge on at least one occasion intervened to prevent the court registrar from officially registering potentially exculpatory testimony from the official record of proceedings. The sources also said that the judge denied a request from one of the defense lawyers to investigate the alleged forgery of some of the detainees’ signatures on documents submitted by the prosecution.

The organizations strongly urge the UAE authorities to:

  • Clarify the charges and to strike down any charges that relate solely to the free peaceful expression of political opinion or free association;
  • Grant access to the proceedings to the public, including family members, the international media and independent monitors;
  • Provide independent forensic medical examinations to defendants who say they have been tortured;
  • Exclude any evidence obtained by torture from the trial;
  • Ensure  prompt, independent, and impartial investigations  into allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearances, and other serious human rights violations and bring suspected perpetrators to justice in proceedings that comply with international fair trial standards; and
  • Ensure that victims of torture, enforced disappearance, and arbitrary detention receive full reparations.

The UAE is party to the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which states in article 13 that“Trials shall be public, except in exceptional cases that may be warranted by the interests of justice in a society that respects human freedoms and rights.”

“When the UAE was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council in November, it promised to uphold the highest standards in promoting and protecting human rights,” said Ann Harrison, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Amnesty International.  “But the authorities’ handling of this trial raises troubling questions about the UAE’s commitment to holding fair trials and respecting other fundamental human rights standards.”


Bill restricting peaceful protest threatens to worsen

 confrontations between police and Egyptian people

Yesterday, 3 March 2013, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) participated in a meeting held by the Shura Council to discuss the bill presented by the Cabinet to regulate protests.  During the meeting, a representative of CIHRS expressed his opposition to the proposed bill, explaining that it contradicts international standards on the right to freedom of assembly and even provides legal cover for the use of violence against peaceful assemblies by security forces.  Indeed, the bill fails to restrict the use of force in order to circumvent breaches which frequently exacerbate the political situation during protests and lead to further human rights violations.

CIHRS asserted that the human rights violations witnessed in Mansoura in recent days, as well as the crimes committed in front of the Ittihadiyya Presidential Palace, bear witness to the fact that Egypt is not in need of a law to regulate protests, but rather the implementation of legal means of accountability for crimes committed by members of the security forces or of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political party the Freedom and Justice Party against peaceful demonstrations and sit-ins.  Failing to take the performance and practices of the security forces into account when passing legislation to deal with demonstrations would surely turn even the best law on protests into grounds for further violations.

Mohamed Zaree, Manager of the Egypt / Roadmap Program at CIHRS, commented on the bill, stating, “The draft law to protect the right to demonstrate in public places, as presented to the Shura Council, evidences a lack of political will on the part of the government of the Freedom and Justice Party to respect the right to demonstrate.  Instead, it would seem that this government will continue to deal with protests as a necessary evil which must be tolerated, rather than a positive political act aiming to bring about democratic and social change through legitimate means,” which is how the Muslim Brotherhood had viewed political demonstrations prior to the revolution.  Zaree affirmed that the Brotherhood’s post-revolution view is reflected in the bill, saying, “After the Brotherhood assumed power, they went to the extreme in imposing arbitrary restrictions on the exercise of the right to demonstrate, while neglecting to impose sufficient restrictions on the use of force by the Ministry of Interior to disperse protests.  This is seen clearly in Articles 15 and 16 of the bill.”  Despite the fact that the name of the bill refers to “the protection of the right to protest,” a review of the text itself reveals that the bill does not protect this right, but rather establishes the right of the security forces to use violence against protesters.

The bill employs broad, vague language such as references to “public order” and “general security.” It further establishes acts that could be considered to “hinder the interests of citizens” (Article 4) as grounds for dispersing a protest (Article 14).  It is within the sole jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry to determine what acts or slogans fall under these provisions, thus leaving these terms wide open to interpretation at the whim of the Ministry to justify breaking up protests at any time.

CIHRS affirms that the right to assembly should be seen as a form of expression of opinion, and as such CIHRS notes that further restrictions placed on the freedom of expression and opinion in the penal code and other laws represent in practice restrictions also to protestors who exercise their right to express their opinions through demonstration.

CIHRS notes also that among the most important legal principles which are absent in this bill but which should be included in any Egyptian law regulating protests is that the use of force by the authorities should not be without limits. Rather, the law should establish that force must be used proportionally according to what is necessary to achieve a legitimate purpose and to the severity of the breach committed by protestors to which it seeks to respond.  Any law should also provide a clear understanding of what is meant by the “use of force.”  Force must be used only when strictly necessary and as a method of last resort, meaning that force and firearms are not to be used except in cases in which all other methods are deemed to be ineffective.  The use of force must also be in compliance with local laws as well as international standards, particularly the Basic Principles for the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, adopted by the 8th United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders in Havana, Cuba, September 1990.

Finally, CIHRS draws attention to the need for the government of Dr. Morsi to ensure that accountability for the crimes committed against peaceful protestors since the January 25thRevolution is made a priority, whether these crimes were committed by members of the security forces or by supporters of the previous or current regimes.  The Shura Council must immediately begin the process of making the necessary legal amendments to limit the power of the security apparatus, including the use of lethal force against peaceful protestors.  The current regime must fully understand the complex reasons behind the protests seen daily in the country and undertake to remedy them, rather than merely resorting to the suppression of such demonstrations.

The proposed bill on demonstrations currently being discussed in the Shura Council is the same draft law that was prepared by the Ministry of Justice at the beginning of February and presented to the Cabinet in a meeting on 13 February 2013. The Cabinet supported the bill on 18 February, after inserting a number of limited amendments, and submitted it to the Shura Council on 19 February.

On 5 February 2013, the Ministry of Justice had called upon a number of Egyptian and international rights organizations to comment on the bill regulating the right to peaceful protest in public places.  The organizations which were invited to comment on this draft were CIHRS, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International.  The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was also invited to submit comments.  For its part, CIHRS sent a commentary on the bill on 10 February to the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry responded to a limited number of the amendments proposed therein.  For example, the revised text clearly stipulates the annulment of Law 10 of 1914 on assemblies(Tagmhor) and Law 14 of 1923 on public assemblies and demonstrations in public streets.  However, the response of the Ministry of Justice did not address a number of fundamental issues related to guaranteeing the respect of the right to demonstrate according to international standards.  In fact, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement on 19 February, asserting that the observations which it had sent had not been taken into consideration by the Ministry of Justice.  This is demonstrated clearly in the latest version of the bill, dated 16 February 2013.

The bill on “protecting the right to peaceful protest in public places” was discussed in a meeting held by the joint committee made up of members from the Committees for Arab and Foreign Affairs, National Security, and the Human Rights Committee.  Representatives of rights organizations also attended the meeting, including from CIHRS, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, and the United Group – Attorneys at Law, and Human Rights Advocates.