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UAE jails Syria rights activist for ‘insulting the prestige of the state’

September 9, 2021 at 1:38 pm

An Emirati flag fluttering above Dubai, 3 June 2021 [KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images]

The United Arab Emirates yesterday sentenced a Syrian human rights activist to ten years in prison on charges of terrorism and insulting the prestige of the state.

Abdul Rahman Al-Nahhas, the Syrian activist who founded Insan Watch Organisation which documents the Syrian regime’s human rights violations, was sentenced by the State Security Department of the UAE’s Federal Court almost two years after being arrested on 23 December 2019.

Al-Nahhas was charged by the Public Prosecutor with alleged membership in a terrorist organisation due to his contact with the Switzerland-based Al-Karama Organisation for Human Rights, as well as being charged for insulting the prestige of the state by sending an email to the French embassy requesting political asylum.

Following his arrest at the end of 2019, he was forcibly disappeared by Emirati authorities until his trial began in January 2021, when he was sent to Al-Wathba prison. There he was allowed to speak to his family over the phone for the first time since his disappearance, but after he revealed that he was threatened and tortured during his time in detention, the Emirati authorities forbade him from speaking again.

READ: The UAE’s torture in the shadows

According to the Emirates’ Detainees Advocacy Centre (EDAC), since 7 January 2021 Al-Nahhas has been completely cut off from communication with the outside world, and has even been forbidden communication with his legal representative.

Human rights advocates around the world have spoken out, voicing their concerns regarding Al-Nahhas’ treatment at the hands of Emirati authorities and the charges his sentencing is based on. On 25 August, United Nations’ Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor and other UN experts sent a joint letter to the UAE expressing those concerns.

Over the years, the UAE has led a campaign of suppression against human rights activists and aid workers, arresting and forcibly disappearing them before subjecting them to long sentences and torture in detention. Last year it was revealed that Abu Dhabi is detaining and torturing a Turkish aid worker who had missions in Syria, accusing him of terrorism-related crimes.

uaSuch human rights violations against activists related to the conflict in Syria come amid the UAE’s increasingly warm ties and cooperation with the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad over the past few years, resulting in Emirati authorities cracking down on any criticism of Al-Assad crimes against humanity.

READ: UN condemns UAE’s arbitrary detention of human rights defenders