United Arab Emirates: Jordanian activist sentenced to 10 years in prison for criticising corruption in his home country

United Arab Emirates: Jordanian activist sentenced to 10 years in prison for criticising corruption in his home country

On May 14, 2020, Ahmed Al Atoum was arrested by state security forces in Shakhbout, Abu Dhabi. He was then detained incommunicado for two and a half months before he was formally charged. On October 7, 2020, he was sentenced by the Chamber of State Security of the Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal to ten years in prison, in relation to content published online. On his Facebook profile, he had denounced allegations of corruption in his country of origin. The sentence was based on vaguely defined provisions contained in the Penal Code and the Cybercrimes Law.

Ahmed Al Atoum is a Jordanian private teacher currently residing in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Al Atoum was frequently campaigning against corruption in Jordan. A few months before his arrest, he submitted a request for asylum at the British Embassy in the UAE, out of fear of being subjected to reprisals in Jordan, in case of return.

On May 14, 2020, Al Atoum was arrested without warrant by state security forces as he was buying bread in a bakery located in Shakhbout, Abu Dhabi. In August 2020, his Facebook account was deactivated before being reactivated later.

Immediately after his arrest, Mr Al Atoum was sent to Al Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi, where he was detained incommunicado for nearly two months and a half. He was detained there in solitary confinement until January 14, 2021. Despite his prolonged detention, Al Atoum was only able to meet with his counsel during his court hearings. His lawyer was not able to visit his client in prison in order to prepare his defence ahead of the trial.

On July 27, 2020, Al Atoum was referred to the Chamber of State Security of the Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal. He was then charged under the Cybercrimes Law in relation to content published on his Facebook profile, in which he criticized the Jordanian authorities on issues related to corruption.

On October 7, 2020, he was sentenced by the Chamber of State Security of the Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal to ten years in prison with a deportation order at the end of his sentence. The sentence specifically mentioned content he had published on his Facebook profile regarding allegations of corruption in his country of origin.

Al Atoum was sentenced on the basis of several provisions contained in the Cybercrimes Law and the Penal Code. Among other charges, the Court found him guilty of deliberately “taking action against a foreign country (Jordan) that would offend political relations through his Facebook account and through publishing news and information that include mockery and insulting of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan”.

Although the maintenance of friendly relations with a foreign nation, Jordan in this case, may be a legitimate aim, silencing an individual who has peacefully commented on allegations of corruption on social media cannot be rationally connected to that aim.

In addition, Al Atoum’s trial failed to comply with the international norms relating to the right to a fair trial, established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Arab Charter on Human Rights. Most notably, his right to have his sentence reviewed by a higher court was not respected since the Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal acts as a court of first instance and appeal when it sits as a state security court. On November 4, 2020, Al Atoum’s lawyer applied for a judicial review’s request before the Supreme Federal Court, but to no avail.

It must also be noted that both the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Federal Court, which examined the judicial review submitted by Al Atoum’s lawyer, do not qualify as “independent and impartial tribunal” under article 10 UDHR. Generally, the judiciary in the United Arab Emirates lacks independence from the executive. The former UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers highlighted in 2015 that the mechanism for appointing judges lacks transparency and may expose them to undue political pressure.

On February 8, 2021, MENA Rights Group asked the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to issue an opinion as to the arbitrary nature of Al Atoum’s detention and call on the Emirati authorities to immediately release him.

Timeline

February 8, 2021: MENA Rights Group submits a request for opinion to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD).
January 14, 2021: Al Atoum’s solitary confinement ends.
December 28, 2020: The Supreme Federal Court rejects the judicial review filed by Al Atoum’s lawyer on October 7, 2020.
October 7, 2020: The Chamber of State Security of the Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal sentences Al Atoum to 10 years in prison combined with a deportation order at the end of his sentence. .
July 27, 2020: Al Atoum is, inter alia, charged with “disturbing relations with a foreign state” by the Chamber of State Security of the Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal.
May 14, 2020: Al Atoum is arrested by state security forces before being sent to Al Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi where he remained detained in solitary confinement until January 14, 2021.

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