In 2011, the pro-democracy Arab Spring was at its peak. Emirati activists joined the civil uprising and called for democratic and economic reforms. Despite the threat from their government, five brave activists initiated an online petition calling for the UAE President to introduce direct elections and invest parliament with legislative powers. In total, 133 UAE citizens signed the petition. In response, the five main activists were arrested by authorities and accused by government-controlled media of being “religious extremists” and Iranian foreign agents. The UAE five were designated by Amnesty International as prisoners of conscience.
Who Are the UAE Five?
- Nasser bin Ghaith – an economist and lecturer.
- Ahmed Mansoor – an engineer, a blogger and a human rights activist.
- Fahad Salim Dalk – an online activist.
- Hassan Ali al-Khamis – an online activist.
- Ahmed Abdul Khaleq – an online activist.
In June 2011, the trial of the UAE five began in Abu Dhabi. The five were prosecuted on five charges of “publicly insulting” the UAE’s President, Vice-President and Crown Prince in comments posted on an online pro-democracy discussion forum (which was later shut down by the government). The trial was condemned by human rights organizations as “fundamentally unfair“.
The five activists pled not guilty and demanded to open the hearings to the public. They protested their prolonged detention and the restriction of their procedural rights by starting a hunger strike. During the trial, the five activists faced extreme pressure by a UAE government campaign against them, which included protests by pro-government demonstrators, negative media campaigns, petition initiatives against the defendants, death threats, family harassment and more.
On 27 November, a panel of four judges sentenced the activists to 2-3 years’ imprisonment. However, the following day the five activists were granted presidential pardon and have since been released after spending 8 months in prison. The formal reason for their pardon was never revealed.
Following the Conviction
Following the activists’ release, bin Ghaith was quoted saying:
“I feel happy because I am back with my family, but I also feel ashamed and have deep sorrow for my country. All I can say is that it is a sad moment for our homeland, a beginning of a police state that has tarnished the image of the UAE forever”.
The Presidential pardon did not result in expunging the activists’ criminal record, which means their personal and professional future in the UAE will be held back.
After his release, Mansoor continued to act against human rights violations in the UAE through online platforms and the traditional media. He maintained strong ties to globally-known known human rights organisations as well as the UN.
A series of events convinced Mansoor that the UAE government’s harassment did not end when he was released. The authorities have refused to renew Mansoor’s expired passport and have imposed a travel ban, restricting his freedom of movement outside of the Emirates.
In September 2012, Mansoor was beaten in two different occasions by unknown individuals. Despite filing complaints to the local police, the attackers have never been identified or caught. Out of fear for his life, Mansoor was forced to suspend his studies towards a law degree.
The alleged conniving against Mansoor continued: a large amount of money was stolen from his private bank account by cheque fraud and his private car was stolen. At the same time, Mansoor claimed he was subjected to physical and electronic surveillance. His email and Twitter accounts were hacked and he says his phone lines are being monitored by the authorities. The source of the malware was traced back by The Citizen Lab in Canada, who found it came from an office owned by a member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family.