'Disappeared' UAE academic claims prison torture in first court session

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Nasser bin Ghaith says he was beaten and starved of sleep at a secret UAE prison after his arrest for criticising leaders of Egypt's military coup

Emirati economist Nasser bin Ghaith claims that prison guards tortured him in the UAE (HRW)
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Thursday 28 April 2016 7:40 UTC
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A prominent Emirati academic appeared in court for the first time since his arrest more than eight months ago for comments deemed critical of the Egyptian government, according to an Emirati rights activist who spoke to Middle East Eye on Wednesday.

Nasser bin Ghaith was arrested on 18 August by 13 plain-clothes state security officers and taken to his home in Dubai, which was searched before being held at an unknown location where he has remained since, the rights activist told MEE on condition of anonymity.

The activist said that on 4 April Ghaith appeared in a closed court session at the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi, where he was accused of violating the UAE’s cybercrime and counter-terrorism laws.

The court appearance was the first time Ghaith’s family had seen him since his arrest, according to the activist, who claimed that the legal process is “failing to meet international standards”.

“He remains in secret detention in an unknown location,” he said, adding that Ghaith told the court he had been beaten and deprived of sleep for up to a week at a time by prison guards.

When Ghaith made the allegations of torture in court, the judge, according to the activist, “got angry” and said: “How do you know you are in secret detention?”

“Nasser has been denied access to his lawyer. He was only 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,” the Emirati rights activist said.

Ghaith is an Emirati economist who has lectured at the Abu Dhabi campus of the Paris-based Sorbonne University, which declined to comment on his detention to MEE. He also worked as an economic and legal consultant to the UAE army.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both called for Ghaith’s release, warning that he is at risk of being tortured while being held secretly by UAE state security.

UAE authorities have not commented on Ghaith’s case, and the charges made against him in court did not explicitly mention his comments on social media, and instead referred to violations of cybercrimes legislation passed in 2012, which was criticised by rights groups for restricting free speech and assembly.

Four days before his arrest, Ghaith posted on Twitter about deaths of hundreds of people in Rabaa square, Cairo, who were protesting against a military coup against Mohamed Morsi, the country's first democratically elected president.

Translation: On this day, worshippers were murdered and a mosque was burnt down by the Mongols of this age…It happened in Egypt

Translation: My critical stance towards the regime in Egypt does not mean I do not want the country to progress and develop. On the contrary, it is because the regime is short-lived, and Egypt will remain. Just to clarify

Ghaith is also accused of violating counter-terrorism laws by meeting with Emirati dissidents living overseas, which UAE authorities described in court as “cooperating with terrorist and secret organisations”.

It is not clear which individuals Ghaith met with while overseas, but there are a number of Emirati dissidents scattered across the region and in Europe who are members of the banned Islah organisation, a reform group linked to the Muslim Brotherhood that was declared a terrorist group by Abu Dhabi in late 2014.

This is not the first time Ghaith has been detained for his political activism. He was imprisoned between April and November 2011 on charges of “insulting” UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Vice President and ruler of Dubai Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

He was jailed along with four other activists, who were collectively known as the UAE Five, for signing an online petition that called for the country’s Federal National Council to be wholly elected by universal suffrage and to have full legislative powers. Half of the council, which plays a purely advisory role in legislative matters, is currently elected by 12 percent of the population.

The UAE Five were released and pardoned after eight months in prison following international pressure.

The Emirati activist told MEE that Ghaith is a “very peaceful person”.

“He has never been involved in any kind of aggression or linked to any kind of organisations,” he said.

“It was clear to us [activists] when he was arrested in August 2015 that his arrest was linked to his peaceful activities on Twitter and the UAE authorities simply want to silence him again.”

UAE authorities did not respond to a request for comment.

Ghaith’s next court appearance is scheduled for 2 May.