DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United Arab Emirates has quietly mounted "an unprecedented clampdown on dissent" since 2011, with more than 100 political activists jailed or prosecuted for calling for political reforms, leading human rights group Amnesty International said in a report released Tuesday.
The nearly 80-page report said that the Western-allied Gulf Arab country projects an image of glitz and glamor, but that beneath this facade "is a much uglier reality, where activists who dare to challenge the authorities or speak out in favor of greater democracy and government accountability are thrown into jail."
The UAE, home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, is ruled by families, like much of the energy-rich Gulf. There are no political parties and foreigners greatly outnumber locals.
Dubai is home to the world's tallest tower and one of the world's biggest malls. Abu Dhabi is set to host the Formula One Grand Prix this weekend, attracting some of the world's wealthiest spectators and tourists.
Amnesty International said there is a "huge gulf between the public image the UAE tries to project of a dynamic, modern and burgeoning economic power, home to luxury hotels, skyscrapers and designer shopping malls; and the darker reality of activists routinely persecuted and subjected to enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment."
The London-based rights group said authorities responded to its report — titled "'There is no freedom here': Silencing dissent in the UAE" — by saying that the promotion of human rights is an "ongoing process." The UAE currently serves as a member of the UN Human Rights Council.
The clampdown began after 133 people signed a petition calling for the right to an elected parliament in 2011. The move coincided with Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
Soon after, a mass trial of 94 people with alleged links to the Islamist al-Islah, or Reform, group saw 69 defendants convicted and given prison sentences ranging from seven to 15 years. They were accused of seeking to seize power. Some were stripped of citizenship.
Gulf monarchs view Islamist groups as a threat to their rule.