I had vowed never to return to the United Arab Emirates.
In 2008-09, I represented Naji Hamdan, a Lebanese-American businessman who was tortured for three months in a secret prison and prosecuted on baseless terrorism charges. I observed Naji’s trial in the United Arab Emirates and came face to face with the injustices of its criminal justice system.
I had vowed never to return to the UAE but human rights abuses happen in every part of the world, and the case of the men the media are calling the “UAE 5” drew me in.
I’ve just arrived in the United Arab Emirates to observe the trial of Ahmed Mansoor, Nasser bin Gaith, Fahid Salim Dalk, Hassan Ali Khamis and Ahmed Abdul Khaleq. The UAE 5 were arrested in April, detained in Abu Dhabi for several months, and then charged under article 176 of the UAE penal code, which states:
Any person who insults by any means of publicity the President of the State, its flag or its national emblem shall be punishable by confinement for a period not exceeding five years.
I’ll be monitoring their trial, which begins on September 26, on behalf of Amnesty InternationalHuman Rights Watch, the Arabic Network For Human Rights Information (ANHRI), and Front Line Defenders.
Our requests for access to the trial have been met by silence from the Emirati government, and we don’t yet know whether observers, including the media, will be allowed inside the court. Regardless, my colleague Samer Muscati from Human Rights Watch and I will be there.
We will be there to bear witness and to call for fair and open proceedings. And we will restate our demand that all charges be dropped against the activists who have been jailed for expressing their views and for calling for greater democratic freedoms.