(New York) — Amnesty International today called on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to halt the detention and arbitrary arrest of innocent citizens in the name of "state security" following the forced deportation of a political blogger.
Ahmed Abdul Khaleq, a 35-year-old blogger and activist from the UAE's stateless Bidun minority who was previously named a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, was forcefully deported from the country today to Thailand. He had been detained twice since last year when he was convicted of being linked to the Reform and Social Guidance Association (al-Islah), a non-violent political group which has been engaged in peaceful political debate and discussion in the UAE for many years.
"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," said Ann Harrison, deputy Middle East and North Africa Program director at Amnesty International. "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."
Last month, UAE authorities reportedly gave the detained blogger a choice of remaining in detention in the Abu Dhabi or being released on the condition he went into exile in one of a list of countries. He chose Thailand despite having no personal ties to the country, and the authorities obtained a visa and booked him on a flight leaving Abu Dhabi early on Monday morning for Bangkok. A representative of the UN Officer of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was reportedly due to meet him upon his arrival.
Forcing a stateless man born in the UAE to choose between indefinite detention or exile in Thailand symbolizes a further decline in the UAE's human rights situation, Amnesty International said after a new wave of arrests occurred under state security provisions.
The forced departure of Abdul Khaleq comes a day after Abu Dhabi's Public Prosecutor announced an investigation into a group of people who allegedly plotted "crimes against state security," "opposed the UAE constitution and ruling system,” and held ties to "foreign organizations and agendas."
Since that announcement, at least seven members of al-Islah have been arrested in the UAE. Amnesty International believes they may be prisoners of conscience, held solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and association.
Abdul Khaleq was first arrested in April 2011 along with four other activists – known collectively as the 'UAE 5' – who were later tried and jailed on charges of "publicly insulting" the UAE president and other officials in an online forum which the authorities had blocked in 2010.
Amnesty International and other organizations have repeatedly said there were no grounds for charging the activists and have pointed to grave procedural flaws in their trial, which failed to meet the minimum international standards for a fair trial.
In November 2011, Abdul Khaleq was released, and on May 21, 2012 he was granted a Comoros passport. But he was re-arrested the next day and was not released until he was forced to leave the country on Monday.
"Any detainee suspected of crimes against the UAE's state security must be promptly charged with an internationally recognizable criminal offence and tried fairly, or be set free," Harrison 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."
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.