The United Arab Emirates (UAE) continues to hold five prisoners after they completed their sentences at least one year ago, a prominent human rights group has said.
In a report released on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the men were being held at a counselling centre at Al-Razeen prison on accusations of “posing a terrorist threat” and faced potential indefinite detention under the UAE’s counterterrorism law.
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It cited Emirati activists as saying that the five remained behind bars for “counselling” without a clear legal basis.
According to the report, three of the men were sentenced to three years in prison and two to five years “on state security charges following what appear to be unfair trials in 2014 and 2016”.
Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at HRW, said: “Denying detainees freedom for years past their completed sentences demonstrates brazen contempt of the rule of law.”
“These men all have lives and families to go back to and should not face the cruel and unlawful prospect of indefinite detention.”
There was no immediate comment from the UAE authorities.
The prisoners include Khalifa al-Rabea, Othman al-Shehhi, Badr al-Buhairi and Ahmad al-Mulla – four activists linked to Al Islah, a registered Islamist movement that the UAE banned as a “terrorist group” in 2014.
Following their arrest in July 2013, al-Rabea and al-Shehhi were sentenced to five years in prison in 2014 “for tweeting in support of scores of political detainees in 2012”, according to HRW. They were scheduled for release in July 2018.
Al-Buhairi and al-Mulla were sentenced in 2016 to three years in prison on charges of “joining a secret organisation”. They were scheduled for release in April 2017.
The fifth prisoner, online activist Osama al-Najjar, was sentenced to three years in prison in November 2014 on charges including “damaging institutions” and “communicating with external organisations to provide misleading information”, according to the report.
Several human rights organisations have called for his release after the UAE authorities transferred al-Najjar to a counselling centre upon the completion of his sentence in March 2017.
The UAE authorities say the purpose of the counselling facilities is to offer guidance to those considered to be “a threat against the state”.
But rights and advocacy groups say the centres are being used to silence political dissidents despite them not being convicted of “terrorism” charges.
HRW has denounced the UAE’s 2014 counterterrorism law, saying it enables “the courts to convict peaceful government critics as terrorists and sentence them to death”.