The UAE views COP28 as an opportunity to cover up its poor human rights history. While the world’s attention is on the UAE, we must not overlook the suffering of political prisoners. Over 50 political prisoners are currently incarcerated in UAE jails for advocating democratic reforms and equal treatment under the law in their country. All of the political prisoners have been detained arbitrarily and most of them far beyond their initial prison sentence. In addition to prominent prisoners of conscience like Nasser bin Ghaith, Ahmed Mansoor, and Mohammed Al-Roken, there are numerous other human rights advocates in the UAE who have been imprisoned for simply exercising their civil and political rights. However, their stories have received less attention and recognition.
The international community must stand united in demanding their freedom, and if necessary, consider the option of reevaluating the UAE’s hosting of COP28. Every available opportunity should be utilized to advocate for the release of all Emiratis who have been unjustly detained solely for expressing their opinions. Leaders of democratic nations, who have unwaveringly supported the UAE, must now confront a crucial question: Why has the country been entrusted with hosting COP28, despite the fact that its brightest minds remain imprisoned with no signs of their release?
The Infamous ‘UAE 94’ Trial: Wrongful Accusations and Severe Sentences
Abdulsalam Al Marzooqi was among the 94 defendants who were part of the infamous “UAE 94” mass trial in 2012. This trial took place after a wave of arrests targeting 133 academics, lawyers, and students who had signed a petition urging the UAE president and federal Supreme Council to pursue democratic reforms. All of these signatories were peaceful Emiratis who were wrongfully accused of attempting to overthrow the government solely for expressing their aspirations for democratic changes in their country. Out of the 94 defendants, 69 received severe prison sentences following an egregiously unfair trial.
Al Marzooqi’s Ordeal: Disappearance, Torture, and Ongoing Detention
After Al Marzooqi’s arrest in July 2012, he was subjected to a 21-day disappearance by the authorities. Since then, he has endured torture and solitary confinement. Despite having completed his 10-year prison sentence, he remains in detention. Al Marzooqi’s family has not received any communication from him for over five months, and the last visit they had with him was in 2020. His well-being is entirely unknown. Furthermore, the family itself has faced retaliation from the Emirati authorities. Their bank accounts and pension payments have been frozen, his daughter has been targeted with vicious online attacks, and all his children have been stripped of their Emirati citizenship.
Violations of Human Rights and Restricted Civic Space in the UAE
The persistent incarceration of these nonviolent dissenters, the mistreatment they have endured during their detention, and the retaliatory actions against their families go against both international human rights laws and the UAE’s own legal framework. The UAE severely limits civic space, leaving little room for peaceful expression and activism.
Western Countries’ Cooperation with UAE Overlooks Human Rights Abuses
Despite the Human Rights violations, Western countries, including the U.S., U.K., and several European nations like France, have shown a growing inclination to collaborate with the UAE, disregarding the significant human rights violations committed by its government. Relations with the UAE have become so normalized that the country has been entrusted with hosting the COP28 climate conference in November. Meanwhile, the authorities persist in extending the detentions of individuals who have bravely put their lives and freedoms on the line to advocate for a brighter future for all Emiratis.
UAE Human Rights Review: Extensive Recommendations and Calls for Prisoner Release”
On May 8, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) underwent its fourth evaluation at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. However, the UAE delegation presented a highly favorable portrayal, asserting that their institutions “respect human rights” and emphasize a culture of “peace, tolerance, coexistence, and dialogue.” Nonetheless, a recent report by Human Rights Watch shed light on the distressing situation faced by 51 prisoners, who have had their sentences extended indefinitely, in clear violation of fair trial guarantees
In a significant development on May 1, more than 40 human rights NGOs joined forces to sign a petition urging the UAE government to release all political prisoners. The petition also drew attention to the concerning practice of Emirati authorities obstructing U.N. experts from conducting on-site investigations and visiting prisons and detention facilities within the country..
More than 100 U.N. member states participated in the comprehensive review held in Geneva. While the delegates largely maintained a fraternal tone, a staggering 323 recommendations were put forward to guide the UAE in improving its human rights record. Notably, Belgium, the United States, and the Netherlands explicitly called for the release of prisoners held on arbitrary grounds and beyond their designated sentences. Furthermore, Switzerland, the U.S., Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Czechia, Finland, Greece, Honduras, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom all emphasized the importance of guaranteeing freedom of expression. The substantial number of recommendations received by a country claiming to uphold human rights highlights a significant contradiction.
The UAE views both the human rights review and the upcoming COP28 as opportunities to gloss over their deeply concerning human rights record. With the world’s attention directed toward the UAE, it is crucial not to overlook the plight of political prisoners.
In the lead-up to COP28, it is of utmost importance to capitalize on every available opportunity to advocate for the release of all Emiratis who have been unjustly detained for simply expressing their opinions. The international community must stand united in demanding their freedom, and if necessary, consider the option of reevaluating the UAE’s hosting of COP28. By actively addressing the issue of political prisoners and promoting freedom of expression, we can ensure that COP28 truly reflects the values it seeks to uphold. Leaders of democratic nations, who have unwaveringly supported the UAE, must now confront a crucial question: Why has the country been entrusted with hosting COP28, despite the fact that its brightest minds remain imprisoned with no signs of their release?