The move to suppress Islah reflected Emirati rulersʹ concerns regarding the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, though some Islah members had also publicly endorsed the UAE 5 petition in 2011. When the Islah defendants finally went to trial in early March 2013, their number had swelled to 94, eight of whom were tried in absentia.

According to the official news agency, they were charged with "opposing the constitution and the basic principles of the UAE ruling system" as well as "affiliations with organisations with foreign agendas" – meaning the Muslim Brotherhood, which in March 2014 authorities officially designated a terrorist organisation, along with the Islamic State, al-Qaida and other groups. (The main evidence of alleged Islah subversion cited by the prosecution was the confession of Ahmed Bin Ghaith al-Suwaidi, which he insisted at trial had been secured under torture.)

The trial, which the International Commission of Jurists determined was rife with violations, especially torture and forced confessions, concluded in June 2013: 69 defendants were sentenced to between seven and fifteen years in prison, and 25 were acquitted.

The trial of the UAE 94 was the largest single case aimed at quashing all manner of peaceful dissent. In another example, in November 2014, a court handed Osama al-Najjar a three-year sentence for criticising the UAE 94 convictions (he remains in prison despite the expiration of his sentence). In May 2015, Ahmed Abdullah al-Wahdi was sentenced to ten years in prison for running a social media account that "insults the UAEʹs leadership".

In August 2015, authorities detained Nasser Bin Ghaith, the economist who had earlier been arrested with Ahmed Mansoor in the UAE 5 case, and a court sentenced him to ten years in prison in March 2017. One charge was that he "intended to damage the UAE" by "claiming that he was tortured". Authorities held him incommunicado and in solitary confinement for the nineteen months prior to his trial and, after his conviction, reportedly transferred him to Al-Razeen, a maximum-security prison in the Abu Dhabi desert.

Washington has been silent about the totalising repression in the UAE, long before the Trump administration. One looks in vain for a single public criticism of the UAEʹs human rights record from the White House or U.S. Department of State over the past ten years. In the U.S. Congress, especially since the Saudi murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, one can hear criticism of UAE participation in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, but not about internal repression.

The UAE chapter in the Department of Stateʹs human rights report for 2018 does not once mention Ahmed Mansoor by name or even allude to his case.

Joe Stork

© sada | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 2019

Joe Stork is chair of the advisory board of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and former deputy director of Human Rights Watchʹs Middle East division.

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