Geneva - Emirati court issuance of a 10-year prison sentence against a Syrian activist is grossly unfair since the trial did not meet the minimum due procedures, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said in a statement.
The State Security Court in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi, issued a 10-year prison sentence on Wednesday against Syrian activist and founder of Insan Rights Watch, Abdul Rahman Al-Nahhas, on charges of belonging to terrorist organizations and insulting the prestige of the state.
Al-Nahhas left Syria for Lebanon in 2012 and established the Insan Rights Watch to document human rights violations in Syria. He then moved to Egypt and registered the organization there. After that, he moved to the UAE and resided in Abu Dhabi.
He has been subjected to constant harassment in the UAE due to his human rights work. This prompted him to contact several European embassies in the UAE requesting asylum to work in a safer environment. Euro-Med Monitor reviewed a copy of one correspondence.
The Emirati authorities forcibly disappeared Al-Nahas from September 2019 until December of the same year, when he contacted his family to inform them of his detention on charges of affiliation with terrorist organizations and insulting the prestige of the state.
On March 23, 2020, the State Security Prosecution charged Al-Nahhas with belonging to Al-Karama human rights organization, which the authorities considered a terrorist organization, and offending the state's prestige by communicating with the French embassy and requesting asylum there.
Euro-Med Monitor reviewed a document issued by Al-Karama, stating that the activist Al-Nahhas is not a member of it and has never worked with it.
In January 2021, Al-Nahhas was imprisoned in Al-Wathba prison. When his trial began, he was not allowed to hire a lawyer, while the UAE State Security Prosecution assigned a lawyer for him.
Khalaf Al-Nahhas, brother of the detained activist, told Euro-Med Monitor, "My brother informed us in a phone call that he had signed confessions, under torture and the threat of a forcible return to Syria, condemning him. After that call, he was denied contact with us for a long time.”
“My brother's lawyer, who was assigned by the State Security Prosecution, told us in her first conversation with us that the charges against my brother will lead to his imprisonment for 10 years,” he said. “The lawyer did not meet my brother from his detention until his trial, did not present the defenses required to exonerate him, and even refused to inform us of the indictment and the number of the criminal case that my brother is being tried.”
He indicated that on Tuesday, his family received a phone call from the detained activist, in which he sounded in a very bad psychological condition and asked them to help him by all means, but he was apparently prevented from talking about the details of his detention and trial.
Youssef Salem, a legal researcher at the Euro-Med Monitor, said, “While the Emirati authorities provide all facilities for economic and technical work on their lands, they constantly tighten the screws on human rights defenders, and practice serious violations against them, including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, and deportation.
“Al-Nahhas’ 10-year prison sentence is marred with legal violations, from his enforced disappearance, preventing him from communicating with his family, forcing him to confess under torture and threats to acts he did not commit, to denying him legal representation in court sessions.”
Al-Nahhas’ trial did not respect the minimum fair trial guarantees, according to Emirati law. Criminal Procedure Law No. 35 of 1992, in its fourth article, guarantees the accused to appoint a lawyer. Article 160 of the same law requires the presence of the accused in person in their court sessions accompanied by their attorney, which did not happen in the case of the activist Al-Nahhas.
On June 25, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Mary Lawler, along with three UN experts, sent a letter to the UAE government expressing their concerns about the Al-Nahhas’ trial, expressing their concerns about his safety, and the UAE authorities' violation of the due procedures during the trial.
The UAE authorities should provide guarantees of a fair trial for the Syrian activist, including allowing him to appoint a lawyer and attend his trial sessions or his immediate release if the allegations against him are not proven.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention should address the UAE authorities to clarify the legal measures they have taken in Al-Nahhas’ case to examine all the details that may contribute to achieving justice for the Syrian activist.