The United Arab Emirates authorities have detained three sisters as part of the continued crackdown on political freedom and campaign against political activists. The three sisters of UAE 94 defendant Issa Khalifa Al-Suwaidi were summoned to a police station on 15th February. They have since been detained and their whereabouts are unknown. Human rights organisations are concerned by these latest developments and the disappearance of the three women.
Asma Khalifa Al-Suwaidi, Mariam Khalifa Al-Suwaidi, and Alyazia Khalifa Al-Suwaidi have not been charged with any offence and their family has had no contact with them since their detention.
The UAE authorities have been clamping down on political activism and the UAE 94 saw a number of human rights and political activists convicted and detained for their calls for democratic reform. Issa Khalifa Al-Suwaidi is serving 10 years in prison.
These arrests and detentions are in violation of international law and there is real concern that the UAE authorities are able to carry out arbitrary arrests and detentions with no further explanation. The three sisters are still in detention.
What was the UAE 94 trial?
Dr Issa al Suwaidi was detained and imprisoned as part of the crackdown on political activism by the UAE authorities. The UAE 94 trial was a mass trial of social and political activists who were calling for reform of the UAE government. The trial was widely criticised as being unfair and international organisations raised a number of concerns about the trial and the conditions of the detainees. The trial was not up to international standards for a fair trial. Those detained included high profile judges, human rights lawyers and student leaders. A mission of British lawyers went to observe the trial in 2013 and concluded:
- that breaches of a fair trial were made
- that the detainees had been mistreated and tortured
- that the detainees had not been guaranteed security having been held for long period in undisclosed locations
What were the activists campaigning for?
In 2011 a group of activists petitioned the President of the United Arab Emirates calling for democracy, an elected parliamentary body and legislative powers for the Federal National Council.
Detentions in the UAE
The United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention reported to the General Assembly in February 2014. They noted that the UAE was not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. During the trial of some of the detainees in 2013 the Working Group submitted their report to the UAE government, but the UAE government did not respond to the allegations raised in the communications from the Group.
They concluded that the convictions of those that had been detained were based on charges for acts which were legitimate acts of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Whilst the UAE declared that those activists who had been involved in calling for democratic reform were actually planning a coup against the government and to subvert the state, the UN Working Group declared that
“expressing criticism of one’s county and its leaders and communication with other political actors in a peaceful way should not be categorized as an attempt to overthrow a Government”.
UAE crackdown turns to female activists
Dr Issa al-Suwaidi has been detained since July 2012 and is currently being held at the al-Razeen prison in the UAE. During his detention he has become an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience.
During his detention his sisters launched a campaign to highlight the human rights violations that he had been subjected to during his detention. The sisters campaigned via Twitter to campaign for their brother. Despite these campaigns being peaceful in nature it is assumed that it is for this reason they have been targeted.
There have been few cases of women being the target of the political crackdown by the UAE. Amnesty International did highlight one case, the wife of public prosecutors Mohammed Saqer al-Zaabi, Aisha Ibrhaim al-Zaabi, who was held for five days in solitary confinement when she was arrested by security officials at the UAE-Oman border.
There is concern that the UAE are now targeting the families, in particular female members, as part of their ruthless crackdown on political activism. By targeting women the UAE’s relentlessness has become even more vicious, separating families from one another and ensuring that various relatives will also be targeted for one individual’s activism.
Since their arrest the three sisters have had no contact with their family and their family suspect that they have had no access to a lawyer. The only contact so far was a brief telephone call from the “security body” telling their mother that the daughters were “fine” the day after their detention.
International human rights organisations have condemned the detention and enforced disappearance of the three sisters.
The Emirates Centre for Human Rights condemned the detention and called on the UAE authorities to “immediately release these women and cease all violations committed against the families of prisoners.”
Amnesty International have released an Urgent Action and have asked activists to write to the UAE authorities to ask them to disclose the location of the three sisters, explain why they have been detained, urge them to be released and call on them to ensure that the sisters are protected from torture and ill-treatment and are given access to a lawyer and their family.
Please sign and share this petition calling for the release of the al Suwaidi sisters who have been detained by the UAE since February