UAE: Decision not to release Osama al-Najjar ‘indefensible’

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities must immediately release 28 year old activist Osama al-Najjar said Amnesty International the day following the expiry of his prison sentence.

Osama al-Najjar was arrested on 17 March 2014 and sentenced to three years in prison after sending tweets to the Minister of Interior expressing concern that his father had been ill-treated in prison. Amnesty International considers both men to be prisoners of conscience.

“The UAE government’s decision to keep Osama al-Najjar behind bars after having served the entirety of his sentence is indefensible and yet another unjustified  attack on freedom of expression,” said Samah Hadid, Director of Campaigns at Amnesty International’s Beirut Regional Office.

Osama al-Najjar was unjustly imprisoned for three years, merely for exercising his right to freedom of expression, including his advocacy on behalf of his father. The UAE authorities have had ample time to investigate any case against him over the past three years. An attempt now to extend his imprisonment amounts to arbitrary detention. He is a prisoner of conscience and must be immediately and unconditionally released.”

Following his arrest, Osama al-Najjar was denied access to a lawyer for over six months. He was held in solitary confinement at a secret detention facility for four days after his arrest, during which he said he was tortured and ill-treated. “The UAE government must immediately open an independent investigation into Osama al-Najjar’s torture allegations,” said Samah Hadid.

Osama al-Najjar’s father, Hussain Ali al-Najjar al-Hammadi, is serving an 11 year prison sentence. He is one of a number of prisoners of conscience convicted in 2013 following the grossly unfair mass trial of 94 government critics and reform advocates.

In its latest annual report, Amnesty International highlighted the ongoing crackdown on freedom of expression and dissent in the UAE. The authorities continue to arbitrarily restrict the rights to freedom of expression and association, detaining and prosecuting government critics, opponents and foreign nationals under criminal defamation and anti-terrorism laws. Enforced disappearances, unfair trials and torture and other ill-treatment of detainees also remain common and a concern.