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UAE: Amnesty report ahead of Formula One Grand Prix exposes "ugly reality" for government critics

Scores of activists in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been harassed, arrested and in some cases tortured in custody according to a new report by Amnesty International.

The report entitled: "There is no freedom here": Silencing dissent in the UAE lifts the lid on the climate of fear that has taken hold in the country since 2011, with the authorities going to extreme lengths to stamp out any sign of dissent, criticism or calls for reform in the wake of the mass popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa.

The clampdown on dissent was sparked by a petition from a group of 133 people addressed to the authorities in March 2011, calling for political reform and for the right to vote and elect a parliament.

More than 100 peaceful activists and government critics have been prosecuted or jailed for politically motivated national security or cybercrimes offences since then. More than 60 of them continue to languish in prison, serving sentences of up to 14 years.

Some of those jailed said they were tortured and ill-treated, describing how interrogators had pulled out their fingernails; beaten them severely and suspended them upside down for long periods; torn hair from their beards and chests; and threatened them with electric shock torture, rape and death.

The report, published ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi this weekend, exposes the huge gulf between the public image the UAE tries to project of a dynamic, modern and burgeoning economic power; and the darker reality of activists routinely persecuted and subjected to enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment.

"Beneath the façade of glitz and glamour, a far more sinister side to the UAE has emerged showing the UAE as a deeply repressive state where activists critical of the government can be tossed in jail merely for posting a tweet," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Programme.

"The scale of the crackdown has been chilling and the truth is that the UAE's dreadful treatment of activists critical of the government, and their families, has gone largely ignored by the world. It is time for the UAE's international allies to stop turning a blind eye to the rampant abuses by the authorities and to place human rights firmly before business interests."

"Millions of spectators from across the world are expected to tune in to watch the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix this weekend – yet most of them will have little clue about the ugly reality of life for activists in the UAE," said Sahraoui.

Those targeted include lawyers, university professors, students and civil society activists, some of whom are linked to the Reform and Social Guidance Association (al-Islah), a peaceful grassroots organization that the government claims has links to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. The clampdown has also targeted their family members.

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