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Emirati rights defender Obaid Al-Zaabi released

A view of Abu Dhabi, 25 March 2013
A view of Abu Dhabi, 25 March 2013

Flickr/Fintrvlr, Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This statement was originally published on on 22 December 2017.

On 21 December 2017, human rights defender Obaid Al-Zaabi was released from imprisonment in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), more than three years after a court found him innocent. He spent four years in prison since his arrest in December 2013.

Al-Zaabi, now 60 years old, was being kept in the prisoners' ward of Al-Khalifa hospital under heavy security due to serious medical conditions, including a form of arthritis that prevented him from moving without assistance and medications.

On 26 May 2014, the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi declared Al-Zaabi to be innocent of the charges brought against him, but the State Security Apparatus refused to release him. He had been arrested in Abu Dhabi immediately after he gave an interview to CNN on 11 December 2013 during which he commented on the case of a young American, Cassim Shezanne, who was jailed in the UAE for making a parody video with his friends.

The charges against Al-Zaabi, of which he was found innocent, solely related to the legitimate and peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of opinion and expression. They included "setting up a Twitter account," "networking and dissemination of information that incites hatred," "accusing the State Security Apparatus of torture," and "accusing the rulers of UAE of injustice."

Al-Zaabi had been arrested previously in July 2013 and jailed for over a month in relation to tweets he posted on Twitter in support of the jailed members of the UAE 94, a group of human rights defenders, activists, jurists and political opponents (including his brother, Ahmed Yousef Al-Zaabi, a former judge and law professor,) who had all called for reform.

More information on his case can be found here.

While welcoming Obaid Al-Zaabi's release, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) expresses deep concern that he has been incarcerated for four years, including three years following his acquittal. GCHR is concerned that Obaid Al-Zaabi and other human rights defenders are being targeted simply for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, opinion and belief.

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