March 21, 2017 - Updated on March 23, 2017

RSF decries UAE crackdown on remaining independent voices

screenshot / Film Portrait - Ahmed Mansoor - Martin Ennals Award Laureate 2015
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns well-known blogger and human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor’s sudden arrest two days ago in the United Arab Emirates, as well as the UAE’s decision to keep another blogger, Osama Al-Najjar, in prison and the three-year jail term that a UAE court has imposed on Jordanian journalist Tayseer Al-Najjar.

RSF urges the Emirati authorities to free all three independent news and information providers immediately and unconditionally.

One of the few sources of freely expressed opinion in the UAE and recipient of the 2015 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, Ahmed Mansoor was arrested at his Dubai home late on the night of 19 March and is being held on a charge of posting “false information, rumours and lies” liable to damage the UAE’s reputation.

The blogger Osama Al-Najjar should have been freed on completion of a three-year sentence on 17 March but, according to local media reports, his detention has been extended at the department of public prosecution’s request on the grounds that he constitutes a danger to society.

He has been detained since 17 March 2014, when he was arrested for tweeting about the mistreatment of his father and all the other defendants in the so-called “UAE 94” case while they were in detention.

Tayseer Al-Najjar was sentenced on 15 March to three years in prison and a fine under a cyber-crime law for allegedly insulting “the state’s symbols” in Facebook posts in July 2014 in which he praised the Palestinian resistance in Gaza and criticized various countries including the UAE.

Held pending trial since December 2015, he was also sentenced to be expelled on completion of his jail term. He was covering culture for the Emirati weekly Al-Dar until his arrest.

We urge the Emirati authorities to free all arbitrarily detained journalists and bloggers, without delay,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “The recent judicial decisions on journalists and Ahmed Mansoor’s arrest confirm that the situation is worsening for the UAE’s few independent voices, who are being reduced to silence.”

Osama Al-Najjar was tortured and placed in solitary confinement after his 2014 arrest and was not represented by a lawyer at the trial at which he was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of 500,000 dirhams for tweeting about father’s mistreatment.

He was also convicted of insulting the state via Twitter, inciting hatred and violence, being a member of Al-Islah (a party affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood) and violating the 2012 cyber-crime law by spreading false information online. He has been held in Al-Rezin prison since January 2017.

One journalist and two citizen journalists are currently imprisoned in the UAE, which is ranked 119th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.