Beirut — United Arab Emirates authorities should charge or release 13 Egyptians with alleged ties to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and grant them immediate access to lawyers, Human Rights Watch said today. UAE security services detained the Egyptians between November 21, 2012 and January 7, 2013. While no charges have been filed, local media have alleged that Egyptians had formed a covert Muslim Brotherhood cell attempting to establish a foothold in the UAE.
UAE security forces held the 13 Egyptians incommunicado until February 7, when authorities permitted the detainees to call family members inside the UAE, Human Rights Watch found. The detainees include doctors, engineers, and university professors, all of whom have lived and worked in the UAE for many years. Eight of the detainees have been in the UAE for between 20 and 30 years.
"Most of the 13 Egyptians have now been detained for several months with no opportunity to challenge their detention," said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "This case provides yet another sad example of the UAE authorities' ignoring due process of law and basic legal protections."
Egypt's ambassador to the UAE, Tamer Mansur, told the Emirates News Agency (WAM) on February 10 that the Egyptians have been treated "well," but did not say whether his embassy had been able to visit the detainees. Authorities have not granted access to lawyers or in-person visits with family members, family members of seven of the detainees told Human Rights Watch.
Under the UAE's criminal procedure law, authorities must transfer detainees to the Public Prosecutor within 48 hours for charges to be filed, after which the prosecution may extend detention indefinitely with the approval of a judge. UAE authorities have released no public information regarding the legal procedures followed in this case, and family members do not know if or when the prosecution will file charges against the detainees. An Emirati lawyer with knowledge of criminal procedure issues in the UAE confirmed to Human Rights Watch that there is no provision in Emirati law for prolonged detention without charge.
The family members of seven of the Egyptians told Human Rights Watch that in most cases Emirati security services went to the Egyptians' homes in the Emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharja, and Ajman without warrants, arrested them, and confiscated papers and computers.
A group of men in civilian clothes arrested Dr. Abdulla Zaazaa at his dental clinic in the Emirate of Um al-Quwain on December 11, in front of his patients and staff, and took him to an unknown place, a relative outside the UAE told Human Rights Watch.
"I cannot understand why he was arrested, no one is giving us any answers or explanations," his son told Human Rights Watch. He added that his father, who has worked in the UAE for 28 years, suffers from a variety of medical conditions, and the family has not been told where he is being held. The Egyptian embassy informed family members that all detainees are imprisoned in undisclosed locations in Abu Dhabi, but the UAE authorities have not allowed the detainees access to lawyers.
Following most of the arrests, the independent Emirati daily al-Khaleej published an article on January 1 saying that the detained Egyptians constituted a secret cell linked to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, whose members had held "secret meetings" and "recruited Egyptian expats in the UAE to join their ranks," according to an "informed source." Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has confirmed that several of the 13 are members, but said that none of them have committed a crime, and that all have been wrongfully arrested.
A representative of Egyptian Medical Syndicate, a professional group in Egypt, who is a family member of one of the detainees told Human Rights Watch that authorities permitted the detainees to phone family members on February 7, but that such contact is irregular and that the detainees' specific whereabouts remain unknown.
The detention of the Egyptians, including holding them incommunicado for up to two months, appears to violate Emirati and international law, and is therefore arbitrary. It has followed on the heels of similar violations of the rights of 94 Emiratis also detained arbitrarily for months without charges amid a broader crackdown on freedom of expression and critics of the government. On January 27, the UAE attorney general accused the 94 of "seeking to seize power in the country." Authorities have referred the 94 to the Federal Supreme Court for trial.
The whereabouts of 64 of these detainees with ties to a peaceful Islamist group, al-Islah, remain unknown, prompting concern for their safety. The Emirati detainees include two prominent human rights lawyers, Mohammed al-Roken and Mohammed al-Mansoori, as well as judges, teachers, and student leaders. Human Rights Watch has previously documented how lawyers employed by the only Emirati law firm currently offering legal assistance to the detainees have been arrested, deported, and intimidated.
The Arab Charter on Human Rights, to which the UAE is signatory, guarantees that "anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest ... of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him. He shall be entitled to contact his family members" (article 14.3). It also states that "anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release."
With regard to the Egyptian detainees, international law recognizes that detained foreign nationals may be at a disadvantage or have problems preparing their defense. The UAE is a States Party to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, article 36 (c) of which states that consular officers "shall have the right to visit a national of the sending State who is in prison, custody or detention." The purpose of this article is to ensure that detainees have the benefit of conferring with their consul, to satisfy their right to a trial with the proper guarantees.
"If the UAE government can show the Egyptian detainees have engaged in criminal behavior, why hasn't it charged them with a crime." Houry said. "Authorities should stop this shameful practice of arresting people only to hold them without charge for months on end."