“This is just another tactic, part of the UAE’s decadelong whitewashing campaign to make themselves look like a tolerant, respectful and open country,” said Hiba Zayadin, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, who focuses on abuses in the Gulf states.
“But the situation on the ground is very different,” she told DW. “In fact, there is absolutely no room for dissent in the UAE. There have been no independent civil society groups there since 2012 and so many people have been jailed. There is a lot of fear of retaliation for speaking out and a high level of censorship, even amongst UAE-based international journalists and academics.”
Other human rights organizations and media watchdogs have come to similar conclusions.
In its 2020 report, Freedom House, which assesses how democratic and open countries are, rated the UAE as “not free.” The country has “one of the most restrictive press laws in the Arab world,” researchers wrote. Additionally, “local human rights activists are at serious risk of detention, prosecution, and mistreatment in custody,” the report said.
Amnesty International maintains a long list of “prisoners of conscience” in the UAE, “including well-known human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor,” who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for posts on social media about human rights violations in the UAE.
In June, the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders called on the UAE to release a number of people who had been imprisoned since 2013 for speaking out against the government.
“They should have never been detained in the first place for legitimately exercising the freedoms that all people are entitled to,” said Mary Lawlor.
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