• Sheet of paper Report

Annual Report: United Arab Emirates 2013

May 29, 2013

United Arab Emirates

Head of state Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan

Head of government Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid

More than 90 government critics, including human rights defenders, were in detention at the end of the year without charge or trial amid increasing restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. At least two were prisoners of conscience. Seven of those detained were arbitrarily stripped of their nationality and one was then deported. At least six people faced charges for content they posted on social media. Women faced discrimination in law and practice. Foreign migrant workers continued to be exploited and abused. At least 21 death sentences were imposed; at least one person was executed.


In February and June, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) concluded that the arrests in 2011 of Abdelsalam Abdallah Salim, Akbar Omar and activist Ahmed Mansoor were arbitrary. The WGAD requested that the government provide reparations to the three men and ratify the ICCPR; the government had not fulfilled either request by the end of the year.

The UAE acceded to the UN Convention against Torture in July. It did not recognize the competency of the UN Committee against Torture to investigate allegations of torture. The government also made a declaration on the Convention, stating that in its view “pain and suffering arising from lawful sanctions” did not fall under the treaty's definition of torture.

Freedoms of expression, association and assembly

The authorities extended limitations on the exercise of freedoms of expression, association and assembly, intensifying the crackdown on peaceful dissent which began in 2011 and particularly targeting dissent in social media.

Syrian nationals who demonstrated outside the Syrian consulate in February faced questioning; around 50 were deported, although none to Syria.

Waves of arrests targeting government critics resulted in the detention without charge or trial of around 90 people linked to al-Islah (the Reform and Social Guidance Association), a UAE-based organization loosely modelled on Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

  • Sultan al-Qasimi was detained along with around nine others during a wave of arrests in March and April. He was still held without charge or trial at the end of the year. His arrest was in connection with his role in al-Islah.
  • In July, government allegations that a “foreign-based” group was threatening state security coincided with a second wave of arrests of over 50 individuals connected with al-Islah. Their families were not informed of their whereabouts and they were denied access to lawyers. One had been tried by the end of the year. Family members were threatened with arrest and one lawyer was subjected to a smear campaign in state media.
  • Dr Mohammad al-Roken, a lawyer and human rights defender, was arrested together with his son and son-in-law in July. Dr al-Roken had acted as defence lawyer for some of the so-called “UAE 5” – prisoners of conscience sentenced to prison terms in 2011 after an unfair trial. He, his son and son-in-law remained in detention without charge or trial.
  • Ahmed Abdul Khaleq, one of the UAE 5, was one of seven people arbitrarily stripped of their UAE nationality. In July, the UAE authorities deported him to Thailand in contravention of international law.
  • Ahmed Mansoor, another of the UAE 5, was physically assaulted twice in apparently politically motivated attacks. No one was held to account.
  • Dr Ahmed al-Zaabi, a former judge, was sentenced to two six-month prison terms and fined in July by an Abu Dhabi court that convicted him on apparently politically motivated fraud charges.

In November, the federal government enacted a decree on cybercrime, which provided for the prosecution, fining or imprisonment of those using the internet to criticize government figures or to call for demonstrations or political reform.

Independent trade unions remained prohibited.

Arbitrary arrest, torture and other ill-treatment

An investigation into a death in custody resulted in one-month prison terms for five officials, while 13 others were acquitted of torture. A second case resulted in a finding of death by natural causes. Torture allegations made by two Syrian nationals and one US national were not known to have been investigated.

Most al-Islah detainees could not meet with family or legal representatives and in most cases their whereabouts remained unknown. They were permitted in rare cases to telephone their families.

Death penalty

At least 21 death sentences were imposed, mostly on people convicted of murder and drug trafficking. At least one person was executed.

In November, UAE abstained on a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.

Amnesty International visits/reports

  • United Arab Emirates: Crackdown on fundamental freedoms contradicts human rights commitments – Amnesty International Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review, July 2012 (MDE 25/009/2012)