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Arbitrary Detentions Spread in the UAE

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The arrest of Sultan bin Kayed al-Qasimi, cousin of Ras al-Khaimah's ruler, has resulted in a spike in the reporting of the abuses taking place in the UAE.

Sadly, this reporting has focused on propagating the idea of ideological warfare between the country's rulers and Islamists. With almost every headline containing the word 'Islamist', the rulers of the UAE will no doubt be satisfied that this is the angle that has been taken.

When seen through the prism of ideologies, the focus on human rights abuses is lost. The UAE authorities are arbitrarily detaining individuals and completely undermining the judiciary system. The UAE seven have become the UAE 13 over the past two weeks, with arrests spreading and detentions becoming ever more covert. 

Since my last piece outlining the current abuses in the UAE, we have witnessed the rearrest of the activist Saleh al-Dhufeiri as well as that of the engineer, Salim Sahooh. All of the other men detained continue to be held, with Sultan al-Qasimi being held under armed guard in the palace of Ras al-Khaimah and both retired judge Ahmed Za'abi and Ahmed al-Suweidi being held at unknown locations. 

Saleh al-Dhufeiri was rearrested after morning prayers outside a mosque in Ras al-Khaimah on 29 April. Ten plain clothed security men arrested him, put him the back of a car and took him away to an undisclosed location. His son, Hassan, was left asking the authorities where his father had been taken. After contacting the local authorities, he was told that car registration plate that his father had been taken away in was not in their records and thus, did not exist. Al-Dhufeiri was rearrested after criticising the arbitrary detentions undertaken by the UAE secret service. His current location remains undisclosed and no charges have been brought against him.

Incidentally, al-Dhufeiri had his Twitter account shut down by the authorities and was forced to open another; the authorities clearly see no red lines when it comes to contravening civil liberties.

Salim Sahooh's arrest is demonstrative of the more vicious side to the UAE authorities. On 30 April, Sahooh's house was visited by plain clothed security men and his house was searched from 8pm until 6am the next day. At the end of the long search, he was arrested (without warrant) and taken to an undisclosed location. He remains incommunicado, without access to legal representation. This whole situation took place in front of his children, leaving them terrified. 

Whilst these cases are spreading, it is vital to note that the abuses by the authorities have not begun recently. Over the past two years the UAE authorities have intimidated hundreds of individuals associated with calling for democratic reform, with many losing their jobs as a result. 

The latest case of an individual losing their job is Salim Handoon al-Shehhi. Following a television appearance where he criticised the UAE authorities for carrying out a growing number of arbitrary detentions, he lost his job at a privately owned law firm. Just two months previous al-Shehhi had been awarded an employee award for outstanding performance; he was given no specific reason when sacked. The authorities clearly did not appreciate his bravery in standing up to these abuses.

These latest developments describe a security service that is wildly out of control and acting without respect for the rule of law. When a security service is acting such as this, the most important issue is the abuse of human rights. Those being detained have been arrested without warrant, refused access to legal representation, have had no formal charges brought against them and in some cases held at undisclosed locations. 

The headlines must change. We have a duty and responsibility to speak up when fundamental human rights are being abuses. The UAE has a constitution that contains articles protecting their citizens and their rights. At the moment, this is being flagrantly abused by the security services. We must demand that the authorities adhere to the legal processes, by bringing charges against those held, disclosed their location and granting access to legal counsel.

These men, and all those involved with supporting the calls for democratic reform, have set out their requests transparently. To be clear, they have called for the Federal National Council to have full jurisdiction over the law making process and for that body to be elected by universal suffrage.

When considering if this story should be reported as the authorities fighting off a tide of growing Islamism in the UAE, it is vital to remember the case of the UAE five from last year. Those five men called for exactly the same reforms as those currently detained and they were broadly secular in their political outlook. Rather than reading as suppression of Islamism, the headlines should be reading "UAE authorities suppressing democracy."

If that isn't enough to understand that the authorities are simply stamping on any voice calling for democracy, know that their intimidation stretches across their borders.

I was due to visit the UAE last week, to accompany a journalist on a visit to speak with family members of those currently detained. Hours before my departure, I was telephoned by a contact in the UAE and told that should I travel there, I was in danger. It became clear that my last piece detailing the human rights abuses did not go down well in some quarters. 

It may be an inconvenient truth, given our vast trade links with the UAE, but surely we can no longer ignore the events taking place in the Gulf State. If not for the principle of humanitarianism, then for our trade links there we must speak up. If the naivety of the rulers continues in the same vein, those very links might be put in danger.

Finally, the ruler of Ras al-Khaimah Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al-Qasimi, has come out and said he has heard there are people attempting to tamper with the security of the UAE. He couldn't be more wrong, as those calling for democratic reform are trying to protect the security of the UAE through engaging citizens in the political process to foster a public that will feel included by the state in decision making processes. 

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al-Qasimi also spoke of the open channels of communication with the state and citizens. My question to him would be, if communication is encouraged then why are there currently thirteen men being held without charge after calling for dialogue with the authorities?

Around the Web

Family: Islamist Activist Detained in UAE - ABC News

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UAE Islamist detained in ruler's palace - FT.com

U.A.E. Detains National Democratic Institute Workers - NYTimes.com