UAE: In the run-up to the Climate Change Conference, is an urgent need to end restrictions on freedom of the press and freedom of expression and to release arbitrarily detained persons
Stockholm – Skyline calls on the UAE to release journalists and individuals detained on grounds of freedom of expression or political opposition, as well as to lift restrictions on freedom of expression ahead of the next Climate Change Conference in November 2023.
On Wednesday, Skyline states that "the UN Climate Change Conference "COP 28"," which will be held in Dubai from November 30 to December 12, 2023, is an important opportunity to remind the UAE that it will pave the way for hundreds of journalists to cover the event by guaranteeing freedom of journalism and expression and ending the detention of prisoners in this context".
According to official Emirati estimates, the conference is expected to attract more than 70,000 participants, including heads of state, government officials, international industrial executives, and private sector representatives, as well as academics, experts, youth, and non-governmental organizations.
Skyline emphasizes that in addition to the pressing need to address the climate issue, there are other critical matters pertaining to the environment of freedoms that must always be upheld. One such issue is the right of journalists to practice their profession in peace and without fear of intimidation, detention, or persecution.
The UAE dropped significantly to 145th rank in the 2023 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, falling seven spots from the previous year when it was 138th, signifying a grave decline in the freedom of journalism, according to Skyline.
According to Reporters Without Borders, journalists continue to be imprisoned in the UAE, while government authorities continue to try to silence dissent by suppressing the independent press, whether local or international. In some cases, they are even abducted or demanded to be extradited to their country's authorities.
Skyline points out that UAE authorities continue to detain more than 50 Emiratis who have already served their sentences. They were all part of the highly unfair mass trial of 69 government critics known as "UAE 94" and were arrested for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
Skyline notes that the conference takes place just a few days after the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, which takes place on November 2 to remind the international community of the need to end policies of abuse and gross violations against journalists and hold them accountable.
Skyline also recalls that organizers of the "World Summit on Forecasting Healthy Futures 2023," held recently in Abu Dhabi, advised conference attendees not to criticize or protest Islam, the government, businesses or people while in the United Arab Emirates, according to a Financial Times investigation. This, it stats, sends a message of intimidation as the country prepares for the climate change conference, which thousands are attending and hundreds of journalists are traveling from around the world to cover.
Skyline notes that since 2011, UAE authorities have systematically cracked down on journalism, freedom of expression and association, and peaceful political opposition, arresting and prosecuting dozens of lawyers, judges, professors, students, and independent activists, including prominent Emirati human rights defender Ahmed Mansour. Authorities also shut down key civil society groups, and the law effectively banned protests. Then, in late 2021, sweeping changes to the law were introduced that increased the pace of repression and restrictions.
Accordingly, Skyline calls on the international community to assume responsibility and implement effective pressure tactics to ensure that the UAE abides by international human rights conventions, including those pertaining to press freedom, and to put an end to the arbitrary detention of journalists, as well as to ensure that those responsible for violations of their rights are held accountable.
At the end of its statement, Skyline urges the UAE authorities to act quickly to release people who have been arbitrarily detained, particularly those who have already served their sentences, to review trials that lacked a foundation of justice, and to ensure freedoms in the country generally before the climate summit takes place.