Skip to main content

Cop28 will be tarnished if 'UAE 94' prisoners not freed, Amnesty says

On 10th anniversary of 'unfair' mass trial of 94 activists, rights group calls for their release ahead of UN climate conference
'Cop28 UAE' logo is displayed on the screen during the opening ceremony of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) in Abu Dhabi on 16 January 2023 (Reuters)
The Cop28 UAE logo is displayed on the screen during the opening ceremony of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) in Abu Dhabi on 16 January 2023 (Reuters)

Governments participating in Cop28 later this year must pressure the host nation, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), to release "unjustly imprisoned" activists, Amnesty International said on the 10th anniversary of their infamous mass trial. 

To ensure the annual UN climate conference is "not tarnished by repression", governments around the world must pressure Abu Dhabi to release the prisoners who are part of what has been dubbed the UAE 94 case, said Amnesty's Heba Morayef on Sunday 

"Governments that could influence the UAE have stayed disappointingly silent on the need for these prisoners to be immediately released," Morayef, who is the regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty, said. 

"COP28 will not bring about the ambitious action we need to avoid climate breakdown if it is held in an environment where the host state has laws that restrict the freedom of expression of participants and a track record of throttling civil society." 

At the height of Arab pro-democracy uprisings in 2011, UAE authorities arrested dozens of people for trying to overthrow the Emirati government, a charge the defendants vehemently denied.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


The crackdown saw 94 pro-democracy lawyers, professors, activists and students convicted in a mass trial, widely criticised by rights groups as "grossly unfair", that concluded on 2 July 2013.  

Two years earlier, the 94 individuals had reportedly signed a petition calling on the Emirati government to institute a set of democratic reforms.

Though at least 51 of them have finished their sentences, UAE authorities are still holding them beyond their terms. Overall, 60 people out of the 94 activists are still behind bars. 

'Governments that could influence the UAE have stayed disappointingly silent'

- Heba Morayef, Amnesty International regional director

Last month, the UN's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at least 12 of them were being held "arbitrarily" and that the UAE should immediately release them. 

UAE authorities have previously said the allegations that the men were held beyond their prison terms were unsubstantiated and false.

Hamad al-Shamsi, executive director of the Emirates Detainees Advocacy Center, previously told Middle East Eye that without international pressure on the UAE, he doesn't believe the prisoners will be released.

"We think that the UAE is willing to keep them in prison until they die," Shamsi said. "There is no force or any pressure. The community inside the UAE is very weak. Nobody can speak."

The Cop28 climate conference, which will be held in Dubai from the end of November, could be an opportunity for such pressure, he said, while also warning that holding the event in the country "puts all activists at risk".

According to the Financial Times, some speakers have already been warned not to criticise and protest against the "UAE government, corporations or individuals", with written guidance that cites the UAE's laws, and that "disruptive protesting" would be handled by local authorities

A UAE Cop28 spokesperson told the Financial Times that conference organisers would ensure "there are safe spaces where all voices may be heard".

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.