DUBAI (Reuters) - Rights activists urged the European Union on Friday to press Gulf Arab allies to improve their human rights record and stop harassment and threats against civil society groups and political campaigners.
Gulf Arab states are often criticized over their human rights records, especially Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. An upsurge of political activism last year which ousted several Arab leaders was met with harsher security measures in most Gulf countries.
In an open letter ahead of a ministerial meeting between the EU and the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Luxemburg on Monday, the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) urged EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to put human rights at the top of the agenda.
"One cannot ignore the fact that the upcoming EU-GCC Summit will take place amid a new wave of threats against the Gulf civil society," the letter said. "Fundamental freedoms and, in particular, freedoms of expression, opinion and association are increasingly threatened."
Government officials were not immediately available to comment on the letter, which came out on the weekly holiday.
But Gulf Arab states have in the past decried such charges as being based on inaccurate information and accused activists of abusing freedom of speech by using insulting language or trying to stir up dissent.
The letter said that there was a trend across the region towards using the judiciary to create false or politically-motivated charges against activists.
As an example, it said the United Arab Emirates had arrested several members of the Islamist Islah Association, a group the letter described as a peaceful Islamist political organization which calls for reforms, earlier this year.
In Oman, the letter said that a wave of arbitrary arrests had targeted activists since the end of May in what it described as a "clearly organized attempt" to silence opinion leaders demanding reforms on social networks.
The letter also accused Saudi Arabia of targeting an increased number of activists and human rights defenders through the courts.
"One of the co-founders of the unlicensed 'Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association' (ACPRA), Mr. Mohammed al-Bajadi, was sentenced to four years imprisonment in an unfair and secret trial followed by a five-year travel ban last April," it said.
Three other members of the group had been brought to court in recent weeks, charged with a long list of offences mainly related to their human rights work, it said.
The letter commended the EU for mentioning the case of jailed Bahrain rights activist and GCHR director Nabeel Rajab, who is on trial accused of organizing illegal protests, saying his charges were related to free expression.
"We however believe that more should be done and that it is time for the EU to discuss the deteriorating situation in Gulf countries at the upcoming EU-GCC Summit," the letter said.
(Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)