By Chris Benoist
NGOs AlKarama, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said they received handwritten letters smuggled out of jail from 22 members of the “UAE 94,” a diverse group of doctors, academics, lawyers, judges and other professionals who have been accused of building a secret network to plot the coup.
Many of the defendants are allegedly part of a loosely knit Islamist network known as al-Islah, which advocates a greater public voice in UAE’s tightly controlled affairs. The group says it is a peaceful movement committed to non-violent reform.
The letters detail what the NGOs qualify as “systematic mistreatment…consistent with other allegations of torture at UAE state security facilities.”
“UAE 94” members have described – both in the letters and during past hearings – their life conditions in detention, which include solitary confinement, exposure to continuous lighting, inadequate heating, insults, threats, and being forced to wears hoods when taken outside of their cells.
“I heard muffled sounds and screams, suggesting systematic torture, knocking on the iron doors to prevent me from sleeping, and very loud noises from the AC hatch, like airplane engines,” one detainee testified, as another said that he had been beaten with plastic tubes and threatened with electrocution.
For Noemie Crottaz, a human rights officer for AlKarama, the new revelations by the “UAE 94” show an escalation of violence in Emirati prisons.
“We have reached a new level now,” she told Al-Akhbar. “The fact that we are now using the word ‘systematic’ is very telling.”
She said that torture was not just used in political cases in the UAE, citing the case of three British tourists sentenced to four years in prison on drug charges and were allegedly beaten and given electric shocks while in custody.
Crottaz said that the testimonies of torture had originally been addressed to the United Nations committee against torture (UNCAT). The defendants have repeatedly brought up their ill-treatment during hearings, but they have not been investigated.
The UAE ratified the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in July 2012. UNCAT is expected to do a review of the Gulf country in upcoming months.
AlKarama, Amnesty and HRW called for prompt investigations into the allegations of torture and human rights violations.
The court in charge of the “UAE 94” trial – which has the subject of negative coverage by local press, putting the defendants’ families at risk – is due to issue a final verdict on July 2.
“The court should throw out the case,” Crottaz said. “The trial is just based on their (the “UAE 94’s) political opinions, which are protected under international law.”
“But there is no independence of justice,” she added, noting that the prosecution has had special privileges and access to the judges which have not been granted to the defense.
While the UAE touts the lack of protests in the country despite several uprisings in the region, it regularly arrests members of the opposition. The UAE also ranks as 114th out of 179 countries in the 2013 World Press Freedom Index issued by Reporters Without Borders.