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UN expert calls on UAE to release prominent human rights defenders

The five activists are accused of trying to overthrow the Emirati government, but the United Nations says they should have never been detained in the first place.
A general view of the city skyline at sunset from Dhow Harbour on Feb. 5, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

A United Nations rapporteur called on the United Arab Emirates Friday to immediately release five human rights campaigners detained since 2013.

Mohamed al-Mansoori, Hassan Mohammed Al-Hammad, Hadif Rashed Abdullah al-Owais, Ali Saeed Al-Kindi and Salim Hamdoon Al-Shahhi were among a group of 94 lawyers, rights advocates and academics accused of plotting to overthrow the Emirati government. 

In July 2013, 69 of the defendants in the “UAE-94” case were sentenced, eight of them in absentia, up to 15 years in prison.  

The detentions came amid Abu Dhabi’s crackdown on an Islamist association called al-Islah and other activists calling for political reform in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. 

“They should have never been detained in the first place for legitimately exercising the freedoms that all people are entitled to,” said Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. 

Lawlor called the five activists' sentences “excessively severe” and noted that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has declared their sentences arbitrary

She noted allegations that the rights defenders have been subjected to long periods in solitary confinement, which could amount to torture. Other allegations include prison guards shutting off the air conditioning amid scathing hot temperatures and covering windows to prevent the prisoners from getting sunlight. 

The prisoners have severely limited or no access to legal counsel, Lawlor said, potentially violating their right to a fair trial. 

“I call on the Emirati authorities to release these human rights defenders from detention in order to continue their meaningful and necessary human rights work,” Lawlor said.

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