The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) has expressed its deep concern about the fate and condition of Emirati academic, economist and human rights defender Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith who has not had any contact with the outside world since his transfer to Al-Razeen Prison in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on 30 March 2017.
The UAE authorities must immediately disclose the fate and condition of Bin Ghaith, who began a hunger strike almost six weeks ago, and allow him to contact his family and lawyer.
On 30 March 2017, Bin Ghaith was transferred from Al-Sadr Prison to Al-Razeen Prison, which is a maximum security prison in the middle of the Abu Dhabi desert used to hold activists, government critics, and human rights defenders. He had been sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, following a grossly unfair trial, the previous day.
Prior to his transfer, Bin Ghaith had written a letter from inside Al-Sadr Prison announcing that he would start a hunger strike on 02 April 2017 in protest at his sentence. In the letter, he said that he rejected the trial sessions and the verdict of the Federal Criminal Court of Appeal, which is a court of first instance, and said that he would not appeal the verdict as it would not change anything except “give legitimacy to the court’s political order.”
In an excerpt from the letter, Bin Ghaith wrote: “I was hoping to receive a fair trial despite all the violations I have been subjected to before and during the court sessions. However, the verdict proves that there is no place for freedom of speech in this country. I was brought to court not for any crime that I had committed but for views in which I exercised my right to freedom of speech as guaranteed by national and international laws… I insist on my innocence and I deny all the charges against me. I feel really depressed about the fact that I have been unfairly tried by my own people and in my own country which is proclaimed to be the land of tolerance and happiness.”
In his letter, Bin Ghaith questioned the independence and impartiality of appointing an Egyptian judge to rule over the case against him, especially since one of his charges related to his peaceful criticism of the Egyptian government’s human rights record and his calls for greater accountability in Egypt.
He went on to say that he had decided to go on an open-ended hunger strike starting from Sunday 02 April 2017 until he is released unconditionally. He said “Unfortunately, I was forced to take this decision as I have no other choice but to go on hunger strike to restore my stolen freedom.
On 29 March 2017, following a grossly unfair trial, the UAE authorities sentenced Bin Ghaith to 10 years in prison after holding him in solitary confinement in pre-trial detention for over 19 months. Following his arrest in August 2015, Bin Ghaith was kept in solitary confinement in an undisclosed location for nine months, during which time he has said that he was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment including through beatings and sleep-deprivation. In May 2016, long after his trial had already begun, he was moved to the maximum security wing of Al-Sadr Prison in Abu Dhabi where the authorities continued to hold him in solitary confinement until his transfer to Al-Razeen Prison.
Bin Ghaith’s conviction and sentence are based solely on his peaceful activities, including his posts on Twitter expressing peaceful criticism of the human rights records of the UAE and Egyptian governments and his calls for greater respect for human rights, freedoms and accountability in both countries. His charges also relate to unplanned meetings that he had during his travels in the region with political activists whom the UAE government has claimed are members of banned “terror” organisations. The charges were brought under vague and broad provisions in the Penal Code, 2012 cybercrime law, and the 2014 counterterror law.