Climate activists fear surveillance, detention at COP28 talks in UAE

Climate activists fear surveillance, detention at COP28 talks in UAE

Rights groups are preparing for the COP28 climate talks in the United Arab Emirates with trepidation, fearing surveillance and detention under the oil-rich monarchy’s strict criminal justice system.

Highly attuned to international scrutiny, the UAE, where unauthorised protests are illegal, has said it would permit demonstrations in designated areas of the COP28 site, a far-flung development in the Dubai suburbs surrounded mostly by desert.

But those assurances, and a pledge to host the “most inclusive” edition yet of the United Nations climate talks, have done little to assuage campaigners, who say they plan to raise human rights issues during COP28.

“We are deeply concerned about people being detained and arrested,” said Asad Rehman, lead spokesperson for the Climate Justice Coalition, which is planning actions on the ground.

“Then there is the wider concern about the scale of surveillance, particularly digital surveillance,” the activist told AFP, adding: “We know the UAE has the technology to monitor digital communications.”

The UAE, an autocratic federation of seven sheikhdoms, bans unauthorised protests, outlaws homosexuality and prohibits criticism of rulers and speech that is deemed to create or encourage social unrest.

Defamation as well as verbal and written insults, whether published or made in private, are prosecutable by law.

The country’s penal code also criminalises offending foreign states or jeopardising ties with them.

In 2020, a Jordanian resident of the UAE received a 10-year prison sentence over Facebook posts criticising the Jordanian royal family and government, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

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