On 25 June 2021, I wrote a letter to the government of the United Arab Emirates expressing concern at the ongoing trial of Syrian human rights defender Abdulrahman Muhammad Al- Nahhas. The letter was signed by three other UN experts.
Mr. Abdulrahman Muhammad Al- Nahhas is a human rights defender. He is the founder of Insan Rights Watch, which monitors Human Rights violations and international crimes in Syria. In 2011, Mr. Al- Nahhas was arrested in Syria by State security forces after he had filmed human rights violations occurring in his hometown in the country. He was released in late 2012 and fled to Egypt. He moved to the UAE in July 2013.
In July 2013, Mr. Al- Nahhas moved to the UAE and worked as a procurement supervisor in the municipality of Zayed City, Abu Dhabi, where he continued his human rights activities.
In January 2017, the human rights defender wrote to the French embassy asking for political asylum in France, as he feared for his safety in the UAE.
On 23 December 2019, the UAE state security forces arrested Mr. Al- Nahhas from his home in Abu Dhabi, where he was living alone. After his arrest, the human rights defender was forcibly disappeared at a secret detention facility, where he was held incommunicado until his transfer to Al Wathba prison, Abu Dhabi, in January 2021, where he is currently detained.
Following his arrest, Mr. Al- Nahhas’ fate or whereabouts were not communicated to his family. Mr. Al- Nahhas was only permitted to call his family for the first time on 7 January 2021. Since that single call, all communication with his family has reportedly been cut off.
While detained incommunicado, Mr. Al- Nahhas was reportedly forced to sign a document while blindfolded, under threat by the prosecutor of being deported to Syria and handed over to the Syrian authorities for execution. He was also reportedly subjected to various acts of torture during this period.
On 23 March 2020, he was charged by the Public Prosecution of the State Security with “providing false information about the country to an international organisation” and “communicating with a terrorist organisation”, in connection with his contact with a human rights NGO based in Switzerland, and “ undermining the prestige of the state ” , due to the email he had sent in 2017 to the French embassy.
Since 7 January 2021, Mr. Al- Nahhas has been denied any contact with his family. He has also been denied the right to legal representation of his choice, his lawyer, who was appointed by the State Security Prosecution, refused to provide his family with any information about his case, including the case number, and has reportedly stated that the human rights defender is “guilty”, that “the evidence against him is sufficient” and that he will be sentenced to ten years imprisonment.
Mr. Al- Nahhas’ sentencing hearing will take place on 14 July 2021*, before the State Security court. If convicted, he risks life imprisonment.
*[UPDATE: trial postponed to 8 September 2021]
In the communication we expressed out concerns regarding Mr. Al-Nahhas’ physical and psychological integrity resulting from his enforced disappearance, incommunicado detention, torture and ill- treatment, arbitrary arrest and detention. We also conveyed serious concerns at allegations of due process violations during his trial, including through the denial of his right to appoint a lawyer of his choosing. We feared that these acts appeared to have been carried out in retaliation for Mr. Al- Nahhas’ legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression and peaceful work to promote and protect human rights.