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UAE: Government targets rights group in widening crackdown on dissent

April 23, 2011 |  8:48 am

Weeks after UAE authorities reportedly detained three human-rights activists who called for greater political reforms, the nation's government has dissolved the board of directors of a prominent legal group and replaced it with state appointees, according to a statement by the U.S.-based rights watchdog Human Rights Watch.

"UAE authorities have staged a hostile takeover of one of the country’s leading rights groups,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

The move was the latest blow to civil liberties in the already tightly controlled confederation of authoritarian kingdoms. It came weeks after the organization in question -- the Jurist Assn. -- signed along with three other civil-society groups a petition that called for direct elections in the UAE and the granting of legislative powers to the parliament. The motion has been signed by hundreds of other Emirati activists and intellectuals.

Three pro-democracy campaigners, some of whom had who signed the petition, were arrested earlier this month, including the prominent Emirati blogger Ahmed Mansoor, who was nabbed by authorities on April 8.

Media reports say Mansoor is facing charges of alcohol possession.

According to Reuters news agency, Mansoor sent an email to his colleagues a day before his arrest in which he said he was afraid of police planting something in his car to create a reason for his detainment. Prior to his arrest, the blogger had had death threats on the Internet for signing the petition, added the report.

Human Rights Watch said the UAE government's decision to dissolve the Jurist Assn. board was part of "a broader crackdown on peaceful dissent" in the country. 

“The government is reacting to domestic criticisms by banning websites," said Human Rights' deputy director Stork, "detaining peaceful activists and intensifying its chokehold on civil society.”

Human Rights Watch says the targeted association had been facing mounting pressure by authorities in recent times. Last year, the government prevented representatives from the group from attending meetings outside the country and canceled its symposiums in the Emirates, according to the watchdog group. 

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut


 

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