Emirati official says activist arrests legal

AP News
Posted: Apr 20, 2011 2:41 PM
Emirati official says activist arrests legal

The United Arab Emirates' recent detentions of activists in the Gulf federation were carried out according to the law, said the country's foreign minister Wednesday, without specifying any charges.

The comments by Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan are the first from a senior federal official in the oil-rich country, a key regional ally of the United States, about reports that four prominent activists had been arrested.

Although the country has been spared the pro-democracy uprisings that have swept the rest of the region, activists have complained of increased harassment and monitoring of blogs and social media in the past year.

Sheik Abdullah, a member of the ruling family, told reporters in the capital Abu Dhabi that prosecutors issued subpoenas "to a number of persons" in the seven-state federation. He didn't say how many.

"This procedure is fully in line with the rules and the laws of the United Arab Emirates," he said. "We made sure that these laws and rules of the UAE are fully implemented. These are transparent rules."

He discussed the arrests in response to a question at a rare press conference following talks between the Gulf states and the European Union.

Rights advocates say at least four people have been arrested in the Emirates in recent weeks. None have been charged publicly.

The foreign minister didn't say how many subpoenas had been issued or disclose the charges, referring questions to state prosecutors, who themselves have yet to comment on the arrests. Officials at the UAE's Ministry of Justice couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Sheik Abdullah described his nation's justice system as "trustworthy."

"We have full trust in the judiciary in the United Arab Emirates. And I do not believe any person should be above the law," he said.

Rights advocates say those detained include one of the country's most outspoken academics, Nasser bin Ghaith, and Ahmed Mansour, a blogger and human rights activist who signed a petition in favor of a more democratically elected parliament.

The UAE is a federation of seven semiautonomous states, each ruled by a hereditary sheik. The largest and richest sheikdom of Abu Dhabi, controlled by the Al Nahyan dynasty, wields considerable power over the smaller emirates, including the regional commercial hub of Dubai.

The federal parliament serves as an advisory body. Its members are either directly appointed by the ruling sheiks or chosen by group of voters representing only a fraction of the country's citizens.