UAE: Three women held in secret detention over tweets
Three women who have been detained incommunicado for nearly two weeks in a chilling display of repression by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are at risk of torture or other ill-treatment and must be urgently released, said Amnesty International.
The women, three sisters, disappeared after they were summoned for questioning at a police station in Abu Dhabi on 15 February after speaking out about their brother, who is a prisoner of conscience, on social media.
“The authorities are clearly punishing these women for speaking out on Twitter to draw attention to their brother’s unfair trial. Shortly after posting a tweet that said ‘I miss my brother’, Asma Khalifa al-Suwaidi and her two sisters were summoned by police and now have vanished as if into a black hole,” said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.
“The authorities must recognize that attempts to silence critics and crush freedom of expression by resorting to deeply repressive tactics will backfire. They cannot arbitrarily lock up activists or their families indefinitely without charge, on a whim. The women must be immediately and unconditionally released, like all others detained solely for peaceful expression.”
The three women, Asma Khalifa al-Suwaidi, Mariam Khalifa al-Suwaidi and Alyaziyah Khalifa al-Suwaidi, had been peacefully campaigning online for their brother Dr Issa al-Suwaidi. He is one of 69 people convicted after the 2013 unfair mass trial of 94 government critics and reformists, widely known as the “UAE 94” trial.
After they went to the police station for questioning, they never came home and have had no contact with their family. Their mother received a brief phone call from someone claiming to be a State Security official the next day who said, “Your daughters are fine”, but provided no further information.
The sisters are believed to have been denied access to a lawyer. In cases that Amnesty International has documented, detainees held by the State Security are generally taken into secret detention facilities where they are held incommunicado for weeks or months with no access to their families or lawyers and where they are often tortured or otherwise ill-treated.
The women are among several other families of prisoners convicted following the UAE 94 trial who have been harassed, intimidated or arrested after criticizing proceedings or publicizing allegations of torture in detention on Twitter. A number of others have had travel bans imposed on them or had their passports confiscated.
“Despite trying to market itself as one of the most open and progressive states in the region, the UAE has a dark history of clamping down on dissent with an iron fist. The authorities are now making it nearly impossible for people to peacefully express criticism online without retribution,” said Philip Luther.
The UAE has subjected scores of government critics and activists calling for reform to arbitrary arrest since 2011 and subjected many of them to lengthy incommunicado detention and, in some cases, enforced disappearance. For more information see ‘There is no freedom here’: Silencing dissent in the UAE.
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