Authorities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have freed activist and political prisoner Osama AlNajjar after detaining him for more than five years over tweets defending his father, himself also imprisoned for human rights activism. He was released on August 8 alongside two other prisoners of conscience, Badr AlBahri and Othman Ibrahim AlShehhi.
Osama AlNajjar’s father, human rights defender Hossain AlNajjar – who advocated for improved prison conditions and circulated information about reported ill-treatment in detention via social media websites – is serving eleven years in prison. He is one of the so-called “UAE 94” – 94 individuals including human rights defenders and political activists sentenced to between 7 and 15 years’ imprisonment on charges of “attempting to overthrow the government.” Osama AlNajjar’s father also appeared on television and spoke publicly on the case of the UAE 94.
In May 2014, blogger Osama AlNajjar was sentenced to three years in prison under the Cybercrime Law for posting tweets in defence of his father. Osama was violently arrested on 17 March 2014 and was not taken to court until 23 September that year. He was charged with allegedly belonging to Al-Islah, offending the State via Twitter, instigating hatred against the State via Twitter, and “spreading lies” about the torture of his father.
During a hearing which lasted only ten minutes, presiding judge Mohammad AlTunaigi also ordered the confiscation of the on-line activist’s electronic equipment and the permanent closure of all his social media accounts. There was no opportunity to appeal the sentence. He was charged with “designing and running a website on social media with the aim of publishing inaccurate satirical and defaming ideas and information that are harmful to the state institutions,” “offending the state,” “instigating hatred against the state and contacting foreign organisations and presenting inaccurate information.” Prior to his arrest, Osama AlNajjar advocated for detainees’ rights and disseminated information regarding prison conditions and ill-treatment particularly via social media websites.
Osama AlNajjar had been due for release over two years ago, on 17 March 2017. However, at the prosecutor’s request, the court labelled him a “threat” to national security and extended his detention indefinitely. AlBahri was supposed to be released on 12 April 2017 while AlShehhi was due for release on 23 July 2018.
According to the local sources cited by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, there are several other prisoners of conscience who served their full sentences but are still detained. This practice in the UAE is contrary to international human rights standards and the country’s own laws.
The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) welcomes Osama AlNajjar’s release as well as the release of other prisoners of conscience. ECDHR calls on the United Arab Emirates to continue releasing prisoners who have been convicted in unfair trials, arbitrarily arrested, or who have otherwise had their human rights violated. In addition, victims must be compensated for these violations.