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UAE: Arrests among apparent precautions to keep a lid on discontent

April 26, 2011 |  6:20 am

Five activists are in detention and under investigation for posing a threat to state security as the broad crackdown on dissidents in the UAE continues.

It's long been assumed that the authoritarian United Arab Emirates' oil riches would protect it from the pro-democracy demands sweeping the Arab world. 

But the hostile takeover of the Jurist Association rights group a few days ago and arrests of pro-democracy activists appear to be among precautions the government of the UAE is taking to contain any civil discontent.

The activists detained are among the most prominent and vital voices in a country long considered a political backwater. 

Ahamad Mansoor, a vocal human-rights activist who spearheaded an online petition (link in Arabic) signed by Emirati intellectuals last month, was arrested for his criticism of the government on April 8 by uniformed police officers after security personnel carried out a three-hour unwarranted search of his apartment.

Before his detention, Mansoor was the victim of ongoing harassment and intimidation, reported Human Rights Watch, a New York-based advocacy group. Despite Mansoor being the target of six death threats, the government of the UAE did nothing to protect him, reported HRW. 

Nasser bin Ghaith, another proponent of reform and professor of economics at the Abu Dhabi branch of Paris' Sorbonne University, was arrested a couple of days after Mansoor.

Emirati authorities also have taken into custody Fahad Salim Dalk, Hassan Ali Khamis and Ahmed Abdul Khaled, three other cyber dissidents and signatories, human-rights activists say. 

The online petition posted in March and signed by hundreds of Emirati intellectuals and activists calls for an elected parliament with the ability to implement political and social reform.

The UAE parliament, the Federal National Council in Abu Dhabi, is a 40-member advisory body with limited legislative power. Members of the council are selected by the rulers of the seven sheikdoms or elected by an elite group Emirati citizens. 

 -- Roula Hajjar in Beirut