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4/28/15

Middle East - UAE: Trouble in Paradise: How U.S. Ally UAE Crushes Dissent - by Brian Dooley

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is eager to show that it's a safe and stable business environment, and a dependable U.S. military ally.

"United in Security" with the U.S., declared the UAE state media this week, reminding readers it's the "only Arab country to join the U.S. on six military operations over the last 25 years" (First Gulf war, Afghanistan, Somalia, Kosovo, Libya and ISIL).

Backed by an impressively lavish lobbying and PR machine Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan met with President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Defense Secretary Carter in Washington last Monday to discuss, according to him, "new steps to enhance the already deep security between the U.S. and the UAE."

Sheikh Mohammed is a regular visitor to DC, commanding red carpet treatment and access to the highest possible levels of the U.S. government. He is likely to be back in a couple of weeks representing UAE at the Camp David conference of Gulf leaders.

He's also head of the feared state security system, the UAE's Stasi, which regularly suppresses freedom of speech and ruthlessly suffocates civil society voices of those who are critical of the regime. In recent months, the attacks on dissidents have intensified. In November 2014 the UAE cabinet announced a list of 83 "terrorist organizations." These included two American NGOs, the Council on Islamic-American Relations and the Muslim American Society.

Previously tolerated local civil society organizations have been disbanded, including the Association of Teachers and the Association of Jurists. Former heads of the Jurists Association are now political prisoners, including renowned constitutional scholar Dr. Mohammed al Roken. He's one of dozens serving long prison sentences after being convicted in a mass unfair trial in 2013.

Reports of torture in custody have intensified in recent years, and only a tiny handful of dissidents are currently in the country and out of jail. These include prominent Human Rights Defender Ahmed Mansoor, named this week as a 2015 finalist for the internationally prestigious Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender Award. Nearly all peaceful dissent in the UAE is silenced, both on and offline. Abuse of migrant workers' rights persists, and no labor union is allowed to exist to protect them.

Meeting me in secret this week in the UAE, human rights activists told me there is now a zero tolerance policy for peaceful criticism of the Emirati regime. "It's got so much worse in the last few years," said one. "Ten years ago arrests without warrants or disappearances happened but they were rare. Now they're common." Even relatives of political prisoners have been targeted in recent months, some hit with arbitrary travel bans that prevent them from leaving the country.

Read more: Trouble in Paradise: How U.S. Ally UAE Crushes Dissent | Brian Dooley

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