Behind UAE Detentions, Fears of a Transnational Brotherhood Plot

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An employee arranges jewelry at a window display in a shop at the Gold Souq in Dubai, 10 January 2013. (Photo: Reuters - Ahmed Jadallah)

By: Rori Donaghy

Published Thursday, January 17, 2013

On 9 January 2013, a statement from the Emirates News Agency revealed that local authorities had launched investigations into the “women’s branch” of an organization that authorities claim was plotting to seize power in the UAE.

Although the attorney general stated that the women would be investigated with full respect to the norms and traditions of an Islamic society, the interrogated released a statement accusing officers of disrespecting these values.

After a year of investigations into this alleged organization, with those held claiming they have simply called for democratic reforms, have Emirati authorities done all they can to uphold the rule of law?

In July 2012, with 11 men already in detention, the Abu Dhabi district attorney announced that a foreign plot had been uncovered with the aim of seizing power in the UAE. This led to a wave of arrests resulting in the continued imprisonment of 77 men as part of this investigation.

Those held have yet to be charged, let alone face trial, with human rights groups claiming that detainees have been refused regular family visits and legal representation, as well as accusing authorities of torture and enforced disappearance.

In response to a European Parliament resolution criticizing human rights abuses in the handling of the investigation, a number of prominent Emirati politicians and commentators rushed to defend the state’s actions. Squabbling over whether the authorities are acting correctly or not is likely to continue with this latest announcement of investigating detainees’ wives.

Around 15 of the detainees’ wives have been interrogated at state security offices since the new year. Those interrogated claim to have been lured to state security under false pretenses, having been called to process power of attorney requests, only to face several hours of interrogation on arrival. They say they were taken to a room alone with no female officers or legal representation present, and interrogated by the chief prosecutor who told them that should their husbands be convicted the verdict would also apply to them, although they are yet to face any charges.

Step back from the debate surrounding the treatment of those being investigated and it quickly becomes clear that the broader issue here is one of fear.

The Emirati authorities are concerned that the Muslim Brotherhood is seeking to increase its influence in the Gulf, after successes elsewhere in the region. The Chief of Dubai Police Dhahi Khalfan has made it clear, in often provocative terms, that the Brotherhood are not welcome. The recent arrest of 11 Egyptian citizens in the UAE suspected of being Brotherhood members has demonstrated the level to which relations have soured between the leaderships of both countries.

Of the 77 men held in the UAE crackdown, the vast majority are said to be members of a local Islamist group, al-Islah. Although the group claims to have no official links to the Muslim Brotherhood, the authorities believe otherwise.

The core of the investigation appears to be proving whether al-Islah has links to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and, by consequence, if there is an international plot to overthrow the rulers of the UAE. While there may be fears concerning the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that is viewed by some as acting without respect for national boundaries, the UAE authorities are doing themselves no favors in their heavy-handed approach to such concerns.

After more than a year of investigations, allegations of torture and arbitrary detention have become synonymous with the crackdown. As long as detainees are held incommunicado at an unknown location, these allegations can neither be wholly proved nor disproved. Indeed, whether or not detainees have been given fair access to legal representation and family visits will also continue to be debated.

However, what cannot be disputed is that these men have not been officially charged or put on trial.

Article 28 of the UAE Constitution states that a person accused will be presumed innocent until proven guilty. The law states that a fair trial must take place in a timely fashion. After more than a year of detention without charge for some detainees, there is still no sign of a trial beginning.

Throughout their detention it is fair to say that they have hardly been presumed innocent. A state-backed smear campaign on social media has painted those detained as traitors and terrorists, accusing them of establishing a military wing and receiving foreign funds.

Rather than putting the detainees on trial, the authorities have focused on suspending bank accounts of detainees’ relatives, imposing travel bans, and passing legislation criminalizing all forms of dissent.

By failing to charge these men, the authorities have not upheld the law and constitution. Furthermore, there are serious questions to be answered regarding the treatment of detainees as well as the upholding of their right to legal representation and access to regular family visits.

This case may be underpinned by wider concerns over the impact of the Arab Spring, but the authorities have failed in their responsibility to protect the rights of their citizens.

The UAE must either charge these men or release them, as they have a duty to prove that laws have been broken, and any evidence obtained under duress must be dismissed. Fear of intrusive Muslim Brotherhood activities does not remove the responsibility of the UAE authorities to uphold the rule of law.

Rori Donaghy is the Campaign Manager at the London-based Emirates Centre for Human Rights, an organization committed to monitoring the state of human rights in the UAE.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.

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