UAE - Amnesty International Report 2008

Human Rights in UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

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Head of State : Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan
Head of government : Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Death penalty : retentionist
Population : 4.8 million
Life expectancy : 78.3 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f) : 9/8 per 1,000
Adult literacy : 88.7 per cent

Two men were detained incommunicado for long periods during which they alleged they were tortured; one was later sentenced to a prison term after an unfair trial. Scores of teachers suspected of Islamist views were transferred to other state jobs. Courts sentenced journalists and internet owners and writers to prison terms on defamation charges. At least one sentence of flogging and two death sentences were passed.

Incommunicado detention and torture

In February, ‘Abdullah Sultan al-Subaihat was arrested by Amn al-Dawla (State Security) officers in the Emirate of ‘Ajman. He remained held incommunicado at an undisclosed location until June when he appeared before the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi on charges of “obtaining secret information on state security”. The court, whose verdicts cannot be appealed, sentenced him to three years’ imprisonment in September. During the trial, whose sessions were held in secret, ‘Abdullah Sultan al-Subaihat alleged that he had been tortured while detained by Amn al-Dawla by being beaten with a hosepipe, deprived of sleep, forced to hold a chair above his head for prolonged periods and threatened with sexual assault. The court failed to order any investigation into these allegations. ‘Abdullah Sultan al-Subaihat had previously been detained with two others in August 2005; all three were held incommunicado and for undisclosed reasons until October 2005, when they were released uncharged.

Pakistan national Rashed Mahmood was detained in the Emirate of ‘Ajman in June and held incommunicado for more than three months. He was released without charge in September and expelled to Pakistan. He was reported to have been severely beaten during the first two weeks of detention.

A Sudanese national who was arrested and detained for two days without explanation after he arrived in the UAE in September subsequently went missing, raising fears that he was the victim of an enforced disappearance. Al-Sadiq Sediq Adam Abdalla was still missing at the end of the year.

Freedom of expression

A court in Ras al-Khaimah sentenced Mohammed Rashed al-Shehhi, the owner of an internet website (majan.net), to one-year’s imprisonment and a fine in August for defaming a local official. The court ordered the website to be closed. In September, Mohammed Rashed al-Shehhi received a five-month prison sentence and a fine in a second defamation case involving another local official. He was released on bail at the end of September and in November his two prison sentences, totalling 17 months, were overturned by an appeal court after the officials who he was alleged to have defamed withdrew their complaints. In November, Mohammed Rashed al-Shehhi received a one-year suspended prison sentence after he was convicted in a third defamation case.

In September, after two journalists working for the Khaleej Times were sentenced to two-month prison terms for defamation, Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Vice-President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, decreed that no journalist should receive a prison sentence for press-related offences. He also urged for the enactment of a new press and publications law.

In November, in an administrative measure widely seen as punitive, the UAE authorities moved more than 80 teachers to other state jobs apparently because they were suspected of holding Islamist views.

Cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment

A court in al-‘Ain convicted an unnamed teenage girl to 60 lashes for having “illicit sex” with a man when she was 14. The sentence was upheld on appeal in June. It was not known if the sentence was carried out.

Migrant workers

A draft labour law intended to streamline employment practices was issued in February. It provided for the punishment of striking workers, but not for the right to organize, bargain collectively or strike. The draft excluded domestic workers, who do not formally have the right to a weekly day of rest, limits on hours of work, paid holidays or forms of compensation, as well as farmers, public sector workers and private security staff.

In August and October, hundreds of construction workers went on strike in Dubai to protest against low salaries and poor housing conditions, including a lack of safe water supplies. By the end of the year, their demands had not been met.

International human rights bodies

The government failed to respond to UN human rights bodies in respect to requests for access and on individual cases raised in 2006. Citing concerns about trafficking for the purposes of forced labour, in May the Special Rapporteur on the trafficking in persons reiterated a previously unmet request to visit the UAE. In March the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants expressed “his interest in receiving a reply” on cases of abuses against migrant workers in previous years. The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions reported in March that the UAE government had not responded to concerns from 2006 on death penalty safeguards.

UN Special Rapporteurs, including those responsible for human rights defenders, violence against women, the independence of judges and lawyers, and freedom of expression, all reported that the government failed to reply to concerns raised by their offices.

Death penalty

At least two people were sentenced to death for murder. In November the UAE government voted not to oppose a UN resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.