Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy websites] issued a joint public statement [text, PDF] Monday urging the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to stop its recent crackdown on political activists by ending arrests and releasing those in custody. The report claims that UAE authorities are holding political opponents based "solely on their affiliation with a non-violent political group and their peaceful criticism of the government." The group, the Reform and Social Guidance Association [advocacy website, in Arabic], is a non-profit organization that advocates Islamic principles, and its nine members currently in custody have not been charged with any criminal offense. Said AI's deputy Middle East and North Africa programme director Ann Harrison, "These men, who have not used or advocated violence, are held solely for exercising their right to freedom of opinion and expression. They are prisoners of conscience and should be released immediately and unconditionally." AI and HRW expressed concern that the UAE is threatening to revoke the prisoners of their UAE citizenship as a way of punishing them for expressing public dissent, an action that the advocacy groups contend violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [text]. "Depriving someone of nationality for having exercised the right of peaceful expression would be a disproportionately punitive measure," stated the report, "as leaving [the men] stateless would amount to arbitrary deprivation of nationality."
AI has previously called on the UAE government [press release] to release these "prisoners of conscience" in compliance with international law. Last November, the UAE Federal Supreme Court sentenced five of the nine activists to prison [JURIST report] for participating in a campaign seeking political liberties. All five were charged under § 176 of the UAE Penal Code for publicly insulting UAE president Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed [official website] and other government officials, and were arrested in April 2011 after signing an online petition demanding political reforms. HRW has also been critical of the UAE for its recent treatment of political activists, and called for the trial's end [JURIST report] in July 2011 along with other rights groups. Additionally, HRW criticized UAE officials [press release] in April 2011 for their arrest of a political blogger, and also urged international public institutions [press release] in the country to condemn the government's detention of other rights activists.