Friday, April 12, 2013

Human rights defender must be released immediately!

An April 11, 2013 article from the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), an organization that advocates for human rights in the Middle East, reports that Abdullah Al-Hadidi, a human rights defender in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has been sentenced to 10 months in jail for tweeting. According to the GCHR, the Abu Dhabi Court of First Instance made the decision to sentence Al-Hadidi on April 8, 2013. His conviction is the first under the UAE's new cyber crime law and refers to the supposed publication of misinformation related to the UAE94 case. (The UAE94 case refers to the trial of 94 UAE activists. For more information, please visit: 

The GCHR also notes that court access to the UAE94 trial was severely limited, and entry was denied to journalists and several members of the international community. However, Al-Hadidi was allowed into the courtroom and made notes of the trial, posting the information on Twitter. He also helped families of the victims who were being persecuted by documenting their cases.

In the early morning hours of March 22, 2013, Al-Hadidi was arrested by plainclothes policemen at his home located in Sharjah, a city in the UAE, in the presence of his three children and wife. The policemen did not show a warrant for his arrest, and he was taken to a police station in Sharjah. At the police station, the family was told that Al-Hadidi was wanted for a financial offence, and prevented them from bailing him out.

He was taken to Abu Dhabi the same day, as a court security official filed a complaint against him because Al-Hadidi allegedly used force against officers from the General Command of Abu Dhabi Police. This security guard had also removed Al-Hadidi from the courtroom during the most recent trial related to the UAE94 case, which happened on March 19, 2013.

Al-Hadidi was questioned about the information he posted on Twitter, and maintained that he is telling the truth about what happened during the UAE94 trial. He was taken to the office of the general prosecution of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, and charged under Article 265 of the Penal Code and the new cyber crime law for publishing information about the UAE94 trial dishonestly and deceptively. He was unable to receive bail.

On April 2, 2013, the Court of First Instance permitted the defence to submit its evidence before sentencing. On April 4, 2013, the defence witnesses, who are all families of the victims in the UAE94 case, stated that Al-Hadidi did not use force against the security guard who removed him from the courtroom. Al-Hadidi was found not guilty after court examination. However, the victims' families were not questioned about the information he posted on Twitter, and Al-Hadidi was charged with posting the information on Twitter.

Al-Hadidi's arrest highlights once again the widespread disregard for human rights and freedom of expression across the Arab world. By punishing Al-Hadidi for posting information that UAE citizens have every right to know about, the UAE authorities are setting themselves up for criticism. It does not matter how much the UAE tries to sell itself as a tourist paradise--as long as crackdowns on dissent continue, the ugly truth about the UAE's human rights abuses will remain.

Citizens around the world also have a responsibility to pressure the UAE government into respecting human rights. Aside from raising awareness about what's happening in the UAE, let's withhold our tourism dollars from the UAE government. Boycott all travel and study abroad opportunities in the UAE until the UAE finally releases all innocent victims from jail and respects human rights--let's not feed a draconian regime with our money.

How do you feel about Al-Hadidi's arrest? Please share your comments below.

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