UAE: Human rights officials condemn government crackdown


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Human rights advocates decried what they called a “crackdown on civil society” in the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday after authorities replaced the leadership of the country’s teachers association, a well-established group that had called for democratic reforms, with government officials sympathetic to the administration.

“This attack on civil society is further proof that those in power in the UAE see anyone calling for reform as fair game,” Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director of the New York-based nonprofit organization Human Rights Watch, said in a Tuesday statement. “UAE authorities should immediately stop their hostile takeover of civil society and free the peaceful democracy activists.”


The teachers group, which was founded in 1980 and had grown to include about 280 members, saw its board dismissed Monday by UAE Social Affairs Minister Mariam Mohammed Khalfan Roumi. Al Roumi alleged the group violated the country’s law on associations, which bars nongovernmental organizations from interfering ‘in politics or in matters that impair state security and its ruling regime.’

It was not clear how long state officials intended to maintain control of the teachers group. Roumi’s office has apparently sent a letter to the group’s former leader, Isa Sari, promising a new board will be elected in six months, according to the National, an Abu Dhabi newspaper.

Roumi had issued a similar order dissolving the board of the country’s legal, or jurists, association April 21.

‘We expected this after they dissolved the Jurists Assn.,’ Ahmad Nuaimi, vice president of the teachers association, told the National. He said the group planned to contact Roumi’s office and file a legal appeal, ‘because the dissolving of the board has been done illegally and without reason.”

The government took action against the two groups after they joined two others in signing a public appeal for increased democracy on April 6. Within two days, UAE officials began detaining pro-democracy activists, according to Human Rights Watch.

As of Tuesday, at least five prominent activists had been arrested, the group said, including Ahmed Mansoor, a member of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East advisory committee; Nasser bin Ghaith, an economics lecturer at the Abu Dhabi branch of the Sorbonne; and online activists Fahad Salim Dalk, Hassan Ali Khamis and Ahmed Abdul Khaleq.

UAE Atty. Gen. Salim Saeed Kubaish said the activists were arrested for ‘opposing the government system and insulting the vice president.”

-- Roula Hajjar in Beirut