Media and Human rights watchdogs have expressed their concern at an ongoing crackdown in the UAE which has reportedly seen some 18 bloggers, human rights lawyers and activists arrested over the past two weeks.
Members of the Islamist organisation, Al Islah (the Reform and Social Guidance Association) have been targeted in recent weeks, with a number of prominent human rights lawyers and political activists among those arrested. Only one of the 18 arrested has been released, and 31 prisoners of conscience currently remain in detention in the UAE, all of whom have been arrested since March.
According to reports, the Abu Dhabi's Public Prosecutor has said that the suspects are under investigation for allegedly plotting "crimes against state security," "opposing the UAE constitution and ruling system," and ties to "foreign organisations and agendas."
Flagrant violation of basic freedoms
Reporters Without Borders has called for the release of the prisoners: "The authorities must put an end to successive arrests of campaigners and human rights campaigners, which flagrantly violates basic freedoms."
"The authorities wilfully regard any sign of criticism of the system as a danger to national security in order to stifle dissent. These attempts at intimidation are doomed to fail."
Prominent blogger deported
One of the most recent arrests was that of the blogger Ahmed Abdul Khaleq, 35, a member of the 'UAE 5' who was deported to Thailand earlier this month and told that he is not allowed to return to the UAE in the future.
Amnesty International has expressed concern over the case, describing Khaleq as a prisoner of conscience and stating that his deportation is a clear example of a worsening human rights record in the UAE.
Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International, Ann Harrison stated: "Ahmed Abdul Khaleq should never have been forced to leave the country and this event sets alarm bells ringing regarding the fate of others held in the UAE in connection with alleged plots against state security."
"The UAE authorities simply must not force peaceful political activists out of the country and must allow Ahmed Abdul Khaleq to return unconditionally to his home," she added.
Harrison urged the authorities to bring the suspects to trial, or to set them free, but also expressed her worries that any legal proceedings might not meet international standards. "Any detainee suspected of crimes against the UAE's state security must be promptly charged with an internationally recognisable criminal offence and tried fairly, or be set free," she said. "Based on our knowledge of trial proceedings in the UAE - including last year's ‘UAE 5' trial which was attended by an independent NGO observer - we have serious concerns that if these detainees are brought to trial, they will not be tried in accordance with international fair trial standards."
The UAE 5 was a group of five bloggers and activists who were arrested last year because of participating in a campaign demanding political reform. As a result of pressure from international governments and agencies the group was released, however Khaleq, who has consistently campaigned for reform, freedom of expression and the rights of stateless citizens, has now been deported following a two month detention.
Mohammed al-Roken, a prominent human rights lawyer who has been arrested during the crackdown, provided legal counsel to the UAE 5 last year.
The detention of al-Roken and others has prompted Human Rights Watch to speak out against Emirati authorities.
"The only conspiracy that Emiratis should worry about is that of the government to stamp out any and every semblance of dissent," said the Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch, Sarah Leah Whitson, asking "just how many Emiratis does the government intend to jail for expressing political opinions?"
UN officials have echoed calls to the UAE authorities to guarantee the safety of the activists. Earlier this week, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville stated: "We are concerned about what appears to be an accelerating crackdown on human rights defenders in the United Arab Emirates through harassments, denial of travel, termination of work contracts, arrests, denaturalisation and expulsion from the country."