Authorities in the United Arab Emirates arrested hundreds of civilians during the Arab Spring as part of a wider crackdown on civil society. Journalists and human rights activists, both locals and foreigners, men and women, were detained for criticising government policies. Most of the detainees were subjected to forced disappearances and were often kept incommunicado for months without access to their families or lawyers.
Detainees have reported being brutally tortured at UAE prisons in an effort to force them to confess to crimes they had not committed, which often resulted in harsh sentences following unfair trials.Judges have refused to investigate claims that defendants were tortured to extract false confessions.
Of these cases, the “UAE Five” is perhaps one of the most notorious after five Emirati activists were arrested and tortured to extract false confessions. The “UAE 94” are another example, and more recently, the arrest and trial of Jordanian national Tayseer Al-Najjar. Those arrested were diverse in their nationalities including Egyptians, Libyans, Omanis, Qataris, Syrians and Lebanese nationals.
It is estimated that more than 170 political detainees are languishing in the UAE, many being held in in Al-Razeen and Al-Wathba prisons where they are subjected to torture and abuse. Prisoners at Al-Razeen have reported being stripped naked, abused and held in solitary confinement, which prompted many of them to engage in a hunger strike to protest the inhumane conditions. One prisoner, Imran Al-Radwan who has been on hunger strike for more than 41 days, has lost a significant amount of weight but refuses to break the strike. He insists that “it does not matter that one lives. What matters is how we live.”
UAE authorities’ abuses extend outside the country’s borders. Recent reports confirmed the existence of 18 secret prisons on the southern coast of Yemen run by the UAE in collaboration with Saudi Arabia and the US. The UAE hasdeveloped security forces from amongst local tribes, and provided them with funding, experts, and weapons on the pretext of fighting terrorism. Human rights reports have revealed that these militias attack civilians and arrest anyone suspected of belonging to any group deemed terrorist by the UAE. Sometimes family members are arrested to force suspects to turn themselves in or confess to crimes they had not committed. All detainees are tortured by UAE security forces and UAE-backed militias, including the notorious Hadramawt Elite in Hadramawt and the Security Belt security forces in Aden, Lahaj and Mukalla.
Torture methods include “grilling” victims like a roast in a circle of fire, beating them with blunt and sharp objects, stripping them naked, electrocution and sexual assaults, in addition to keeping them handcuffed and blindfolded for weeks inside large containers.
Recent figures estimate that more than 400 people, including children, were arrested by these security forces and militias, in addition to 2000 that are feared missing after being arrested and taken to unknown locations. Some of the detainees were taken to UAE-operated prisons in Eretria on the pretext that they pose a threat to national security.