Two Emirati men have been convicted of criticising state security investigations on Twitter, sentenced to serve 5 years in prison and given a 500,000 AED (£81,875) fine in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Khalifa Rabeiah, a 35-year-old businessman from Fujairah, and Othman al-Shehhi, a 40-year-old Etisalat engineer from Ras al-Khaimah, were convicted on Monday after a trial that lacked due process and in which allegations of torture were not investigated.
Both men were arrested on July 24th 2013 and spent at least 6 months detained at an unknown location, where they allege that they were subjected to torture. During that time they had no access to a lawyer and authorities failed to provide any information to their families about why they had been arrested.
On the day of their arrest the government-linked Abu Dhabi channel 24.ae broadcast a report analysing Rabeiah’s Twitter account, accusing him of seditious activity in relation to his use of hashtags that called for the release of Emirati political prisoners.
They were convicted of violating articles 24 and 41 of the cybercrime law, which criminalises the use of the Internet to “damage national unity or social peace” and makes it legal for the government to close down websites related to criminal activity.
Both men are members of al-Islah and used their Twitter accounts, @binrabeiah and @othmanalshehhi, to demonstrate support for jailed members of their organisation and criticise state security investigations. Although domestic media regularly refer to al-Islah as being a banned organisation there is no published law that makes membership a punishable offence.
The judge in this case was Falah al-Hajiri, who also presided over the case of 94 political dissidents in 2013 that led to 69 activists being jailed in a trial described by the International Commission of Jurists as “manifestly unfair”. A recent report by a United Nations expert called for an investigation into torture and described the judiciary as being controlled by the executive.
Rori Donaghy, director, said:
“These unjust convictions for criticising state security reveal how little respect authorities in the UAE have for free expression. The only way to deal with criticism of the security services is for authorities to investigate allegations of torture, uphold the rule of law and hold officers accountable when they abuse the rights of prisoners.”
For further information please contact Rori Donaghy on +44(0)7850062105 or at firstname.lastname@example.org