Target: Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates
Goal: Abide by international fair trial standards and retry prisoners whose trials did not meet them
When Obaid Yousef al-Zaabi was arrested and put on trial for criticizing the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Twitter, his lawyer didn’t show up for his first hearing. That’s because, in violation of fair trial standards, the authorities did not inform Al-Zaabi’s legal representation that a hearing was even taking place. Unfortunately, Al-Zaabi’s story is far from unique. A number of individuals in the UAE face or are currently serving jail time as a result of unfair charges and trials.
The UAE has come under fire from activists both at home and abroad for its stifling anti-free speech laws, its underhanded legal machinations, and its use of torture. In particular, Amnesty International reports, the mass trial of ninety-four “government critics and reform activists” has drawn harsh criticism from other UAE citizens, many of whom have subsequently been targeted themselves. Obaid Yousef al-Zaabi’s brother, Ahmed Yousef al-Zaabi, was among the “UAE 94” and Obaid Yousef al-Zaabi had previously been arrested for his criticism of his brother’s unfair trial. Other targeted activists include Osama al-Najjar, whose Twitter campaign on behalf of his imprisoned father, prisoner of conscience Hussain Ali al-Najjar al-Hammadi, made him the target of arrest, imprisonment, and torture; Abdulla al-Hadidi, who questioned why his father Abdulrahman al-Hadidi’s trial did not address accusations of torture and the fact that defendants were denied access to legal representation prior to the trial; and activist Waleed al-Shehhi, who raised similar concerns about the fairness of the same trial. All three men remain in prison.
The UAE’s unfair legal practices, which include prohibiting communication between lawyers and their clients prior to a trial and refusing convicted prisoners the right to appeal their sentences, violate international fair trial standards. It goes without saying that torture is also a severe violation of human rights. Sign the petition and demand that the UAE abide by the same rules as the rest of the world.
The arrests, trials, and imprisonments of Obaid Yousef al-Zaabi, Ahmed Yousef al-Zaabi, Osama al-Najjar, Hussain Ali al-Najjar al-Hammadi, Abdulla al-Hadidi, Abdulrahman al-Hadidi, and Waleed al-Shehhi, among many others, have been riddled with violations of international fair trial standards and human rights laws. Although the UAE has attempted to silence each and every one of these men, global outcry cannot be silenced. I add my voice to the many – both within the UAE and outside of it – calling for justice for these unfairly imprisoned men.
International fair trial standards dictate that the accused must have access to a lawyer prior to the trial. It is also imperative that both lawyers and prisoners know when hearings will begin. In at least two of the cases I mentioned above, defendants’ access to legal representation was severely limited prior to the trial, and in the case of Obaid Yousef al-Zaabi, legal representation was not even present at the first hearing due to the authorities’ refusal to inform al-Zaabi’s lawyer of the trial date. This is underhanded and unjust, and betrays the weakness of the government’s position; if the charges against the accused were well-founded, there would be no need for all this subterfuge to secure a guilty verdict.
If a guilty verdict is reached, however, there is no option of appeal for the accused, which further violates international fair trial standards. All convicted prisoners have the right to appeal to a higher authority. The UAE must recognize this and provide a fair and impartial appeals process in line with international agreement.
Finally, torture is among the most unacceptable violations of international agreements. The UAE must therefore accordingly investigate every allegation of torture thoroughly, impartially, and promptly. It must take immediate steps to ensure that no other prisoners are mistreated in custody, and it must make amends to those who have suffered torture or ill-treatment.
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