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UAE: UN concerned about arbitrary detention and trial conditions of a Syrian human rights defender   

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News briefing  

Translated and edited by: Committee for Justice   

Geneva, August 30 2021  

United Nations human rights experts have expressed their concerns about the suffering of Syrian human rights defender, Abdulrahman Muhammad al-Nahhas, founder of Insan Human Rights Watch, which monitors human rights violations and international crimes in Syria, and the conditions of his trial in the United Arab Emirates.  

Arrest, disappearance and torture:  

The experts explained in their UN memorandum sent to the UAE government on June 25, 2021, that Al-Nahhas was arrested in Syria in 2011 by state security forces after he filmed human rights violations taking place in his hometown in the country, and he was released at the end of 2012. He fled to Egypt, then moved to the UAE in July 2013, working as a procurement supervisor in the Zayed City Municipality in Abu Dhabi, where he continued his human rights activities.  

The experts added that Al-Nahhas in January 2017, wrote to the French embassy asking for political asylum in France, fearing for his safety in the Emirates. On December 23, 2019, the UAE authorities arrested Al-Nahhas from his home in Abu Dhabi and forcibly disappeared him in a secret detention centre, where he was held incommunicado until his transfer to Al Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi in January 2021.  

The experts indicated in their memorandum that “Al-Nahhas” was forced to sign a document while he was blindfolded, under the threat of the Public Prosecutor to deport him to Syria and hand him over to the Syrian authorities for execution, and it was reported that he was subjected to various acts of torture during this period. On March 23, 2020, the UAE State Security Prosecution charged him with “providing false information about the state to an international organization”, “communicating with a terrorist organization”, in relation to his contact with a Swiss-based human rights NGO, and “undermining the prestige of the state,” due to an email sent to the French embassy. The sentencing hearing will take place on September 8 2021, before the State Security Court, and if convicted, he will face life imprisonment.  

Unfair trial:  

The experts expressed deep concern about reports of the enforced disappearance of the human rights defender, incommunicado detention, torture and ill-treatment, and arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as allegations of violations of due process during his trial, in particular his denial of access to his lawyer, and that these acts were carried out apparently in retaliation for his legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression and peaceful work to promote and protect human rights. 

UN demands from the UAE:  

At the conclusion of their memorandum, the experts called on the UAE government to provide details on the legal basis for charging Al-Nahhas, explain how this trial is in line with Articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 32 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, and provide information on how the email he sent to the French embassy amounts to “undermining the prestige of the state.” 

The experts also requested the UAE to provide information on the reason for bringing charges related to terrorist acts against the human rights defender, reasons for restricting access to his lawyer during the criminal proceedings relating to him, and explaining how this complies with due process and fair trial standards.  

The experts called on the UAE to provide information on allegations that Al-Nahas was subjected to enforced disappearance, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, to provide details of any investigation and prosecution conducted in this regard, and to provide information on the measures taken by the UAE to guarantee the right of persons to obtain effective remedy for human rights violations.  

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