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RSF concerned about UAE's deeply flawed judicial system

Reporters Without Borders has written to Gabriela Knaul, the UN special rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, who is to begin a one-week visit to the United Arab Emirates tomorrow [26 January 2014]. The letter expresses concern about deep flaws in the UAE's judicial system and the lack of impartiality in the sentences imposed on information providers.

Ms. Gabriela Knaul
Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers
c/o Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland

Paris, 24 January 2014

Dear Special Rapporteur Knaul,

In view of your upcoming visit to the United Arab Emirates (from 28 January to 5 February), Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that defends freedom of information, would like to draw your attention to problems with the UAE judicial system that it has observed while monitoring the trials of information providers and the lack of impartiality in the sentences some of them received.

The cyber-crime law that was adopted at the end of 2012 (Federal Legal Decree No. 5/2012) is used to restrict fundamental freedoms and to gag and imprison government critics in a country where the judicial system is under government control.

Two Emirati netizens were convicted under this law in 2013 for posting information about a trial during the first half of the year in which 94 Emiratis (known as the“UAE 94”) were accused of being members of Al-Islah, a local group with links to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, and plotting against the government.

One of these two netizens, Abdullah Al-Hadidi, who was arrested on 22 March 2013, received a 10-month jail sentence that was confirmed on appeal on 22 May. He was released on 1 November after being deemed to have completed his sentence.

The other, Waleed Al-Shehhi, who was arrested on 11 May 2013, was sentenced on 18 November to two years in prison and a fine of 500,000 AED (100,360 euros) for tweeting about the trial.

He was convicted under articles 28 and 29 of the cyber-crime law, which forbid the use of information technology for activities“endangering state security”and“harming the reputation of the state.”Shehhi said he was mistreated and tortured following his arrest but these claims were never investigated, in violation of article 12 of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Other information providers accused of breaking the cyber-crime law have also been the victims of the lack of judicial independence. Mohamed Al-Zumer, for example, was sentenced on 25 December to three years in prison and a fine of 500,000 AED on charges of“insulting the country's leaders”and“attacking the reputation of the security apparatus”on Twitter and YouTube for accusing them of torturing prisoners of opinion. In a video, he also reportedly criticized a contract that Abu Dhabis crown prince signed with the security company Blackwater for the creation of a private militia to suppress any civilian unrest. His YouTube account (islamway11000) has since been closed.

In the same trial, Abdulrahman Omar Bajubair, a netizen currently living in Qatar, was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison on a charge of defaming judges for creating and running the @intihakatand and @uaemot Twitter accounts, which document the mistreatment of prisoners of opinion. Khalifa Al-Nuaimi was acquitted under the cyber-crime law but is still serving the sentence he received in the UAE 94 trial.

Reporters Without Borders has repeatedly criticized the authorities for obstructing coverage of certain trials, such as the UAE 94 trial, by barring foreign media and observers from the courtroom and allowing only carefully chosen local media to send representatives. A similar news blackout was imposed on the trial of 30 persons (20 Egyptians and 10 Emiratis) before the UAE supreme court over their alleged links to the Muslim Brotherhood and their alleged attempts to overthrow the government. They were given sentences ranging from three months to five years in prison on 21 January.

We think that these issues, linked to the lack of independence of judges in cases involving freedom of information and obstruction of the principle of transparent coverage of trials, should be raised by you, as the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, with the Emirati authorities during your forthcoming visit.

Your intervention is all the more important because the Emirati authorities tend to ignore the reports of human rights NGOs. They have, for example just banned Human Rights Watch from holding a news conference in Dubai in which it was to have unveiled a report critical of the UAE. In its 2014 world report, HRW accuses the Emirati authorities of continuing to violate freedom of expression and association and condemns the lack of fair trials.

I thank you in advance for the attention you give to this request.

Sincerely,

Christophe Deloire
Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General

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