US Ally UAE Attacks Leading Academic Naser Bin Ghaith

It’s emerged that leading human rights defender Naser Bin Ghaith, who was disappeared into the United Arab Emirates’s secret detention complex last August, was hauled before an Abu Dhabi court earlier this month.

Bin Ghaith is an economist and legal scholar who has worked as a lecturer at the prestigious Sorbonne University. He graduated with honors from Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Ohio with an LLM in U.S. and Global Legal Studies in 2001. The United Arab Emirates is a key military ally of the U.S., and the Obama administration has been very reluctant to criticize the Emirati regime’s repression.

On May 30, Americans Kamal Eldarat and his son Mohamed are due a verdict in a case where they too were disappeared for months, and they offer consistent and credible accounts of their torture. Even in this case involving Americans Washington has been muted in its public criticism.

Like many others in the UAE, Ghaith was taken into custody and not heard from for months. Then on April 4, he was brought before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi. The hearing was closed, except to family members and to state media. His next hearing will be held on May 2nd. His trial fails to meet international standards, and he says he was subjected to torture and other ill treatment in custody. He remains in secret detention, his whereabouts unknown except to authorities, and continues to be denied access to his lawyer. He was able to see his lawyer for the first time in court and, even then, he was not allowed to talk to him or meet him privately.

According to local sources, Bin Ghaith complained to the court (as soon as he was given the right to talk) that he had been beaten in secret detention and deprived of sleep for up to a week following his arrest. Instead of ordering an independent investigation into his torture allegations, the judge reportedly got angry and said “How do you know you are in secret detention?” and shut down the microphone on him, so that he could not be heard.

Local reports say Bin Ghaith is facing trumped up charges for peaceful activities, including posts on Twitter about the Egyptian government. Under the charges, based on the UAE’s repressive laws, including broad and vague provisions under the Penal Code, cybercrime law, and the 2015 counter-terror law, he could face a life sentence. His tweets about Egypt are considered to be an “instigation against the UAE” in a way that “endangers state security,” as well as a “hostile action against a friendly country.”

There is no right of appeal before the State Security chamber of the Federal Supreme Court. Should he be convicted and sentenced, he will have no right to appeal the verdict, in contravention of international fair trial standards.

Bin Ghaith was also arrested along with four others activists in April 2011 and charged with “publicly insulting” UAE officials for comments posted on an online discussion forum. After more than seven months in detention and following an unfair trial, the five were convicted by the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court. Bin Ghaith receiving a two-year jail sentence. Following an international outcry, the five were released under a presidential pardon.

Last week President Obama met the UAE rulers and the leaders of the other GCC countries at a summit in Saudi Arabia. He failed to speak out publicly about the Gulf countries’ violent attacks on their civil societies and leading academics such as Bin Ghaith. Such silence only enables the repression. The State Department should publicly and clearly condemn Bin Ghaith’s treatment and the pattern of disappearances and torture in the UAE before next week’s court date, and state what the consequences will be to the US-UAE relationship if its ally continues to violently repress peaceful dissent.

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