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The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, Labor And Releases

††    †††††UAE Violations of Human Rights

Respect for the Integrity of the person's freedom

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman Treatment or Punishment

The constitution prohibits torture; however, there were unverifiable allegations of tortured political prisoners during the year, as well as reports that a royal family member tortured a foreign national who had allegedly overcharged him in a grain deal.

In additional, Shari'a (Islamic law) courts sometimes imposed flogging sentences as punishment for adultery, prostitution, consensual premarital sex, pregnancy outside marriage, defamation of character, and drug or alcohol abuse. Authorities used canes to administer floggings, resulting in substantial bruising, welts, and open wounds on recipients' bodies.

There were also reports of prison guard brutality during the year. On July 9, a Dubai court sentenced 25 jail wardens and a former prison director of Dubai Central Detention Facility to three- to six-month prison terms for abusing their authority and beating inmates.

Among the allegations, wardens reportedly beat an Armenian inmate, leaving him with a spinal injury that led to permanent disability. The defendants appealed the ruling, and on November 18, the Dubai Court of Appeals suspended the sentences of the 25 jail wardens. At year's end the prison director's appeal was pending, and he was out on bail.





d. Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions varied widely from emirate to emirate. Some prisons were overcrowded, particularly in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Conditions for female prisoners were equal to or slightly better than those for men. Prisoners convicted on national security grounds were held separately from the general populace.

Conditions in these special sections were not significantly different from other parts of the prisons. There were credible reports that government officials discriminated against prisoners with HIV by separating them from the general prison population and by not granting commuted sentences or parole that other prisoners with similar records received.

Police in Dubai and Abu Dhabi stated that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the International Committee of the Red Cross had access to observe prison conditions if requested.

However, on September 21, when members of the NGO Emirates Human Rights Association (EHRA) went to visit female inmates at Dubai's Al-Aweer Detention Facility, prison authorities denied the monitors access "to protect the prisoners' social and psychological rights."

Although charitable NGOs visited prisons during the year, they were only permitted to provide material support. They were unable to determine the welfare and well-being of the prisoners. However, some clergymen reported psychological abuse and frequent physical abuse of their imprisoned parishioners.

e. Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

The federal Ministry of Interior (MOI) oversees police general directorates in each of the seven emirates; each emirate, under its corresponding police general directorate, maintains its own police force and supervises the police stations therein. Although all emirate police forces theoretically are branches of the ministry, in practice they operated with considerable autonomy and varying degrees of efficiency.

The police forces, under the umbrella of the MOI, are responsible for internal security, and the federal armed forces are responsible for external security.

While reported incidents of police corruption were uncommon, the MOI intervened several times in criminal cases to ensure that local police were compliant with federal law and policy. There were no reports of impunity.

On November 10, a police officer was charged with stealing a suspect's personal belongings, which were confiscated while the suspect was being questioned. The officer allegedly kept the stolen belongings, including money and jewelry, at his house.

On November 11, a police officer was charged with unlawfully revealing secrets and alerting a brothel allegedly run in hotel rooms of impending police raids.


f. Arrest and Detention

The law prohibits arrest or search without probable cause; however, incidents occurred in practice. There were credible reports that security forces failed to obtain warrants in some cases.

Police stations received complaints from the public, made arrests, and forwarded most cases to the public prosecutor. Cases were then transferred to the courts. In cases involving foreign defendants, especially for crimes of moral turpitude, authorities often summarily deported the defendants upon completion of their jail terms. Police must within 48 hours report an arrest to the public prosecutor, who then must determine within 24 hours whether to charge, release, or further detain the suspect.

In practice the public prosecutor did not always meet the 24-hour time limit, although police usually adhered to their 48-hour time limit. Public prosecutors may order detainees to be held as long as 21 days without charge, or longer in some cases with a court order. Courts may not grant an extension of more than 30 days of detention without charge; however, judges may continue to renew 30-day extensions indefinitely and without charge.

Public prosecutors may hold suspects in terrorism-related cases without charge for six months. Once a suspect is charged, terrorism cases are handled by the Supreme Court, which may extend the detention period indefinitely. There is no formal system of bail; however, authorities can temporarily release detainees who deposit money, a passport, or an unsecured personal guarantee statement signed by a third party. Defendants in cases involving loss of life, including involuntary manslaughter, can be denied release in accordance with the law.

Release is usually permitted after payment to the victim's family of compensation, commonly called "diya" or "blood money," which is a form of financial penalty imposed on defendants in criminal cases involving a death.

A defendant is entitled to an attorney only after the police have completed their investigation. As a result police sometimes questioned accused persons for days or weeks without providing them the benefit of legal counsel. Persons arrested on nonsecurity charges were generally granted prompt access to family members.

g. Amnesty

On religious and national holidays the rulers of the individual emirates regularly pardon and pay the debts of many prisoners. According to press reports, rulers pardoned at least 1,200 prisoners and paid their debts during the year.

The government deported most of the foreign nationals who were pardoned. The government did not repeat its June-November 2007 amnesty for illegal expatriate residents.

Denial of Fair Public Trial:

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. In practice, however, its decisions remained subject to review by the political leadership. The judiciary was composed largely of contracted foreign nationals potentially subject to deportation.

By tradition, the local rulers' offices, or "diwans," maintained the practice of reviewing many types of criminal and civil offenses before cases were referred to prosecutors, reviewing sentences passed by judges, returning cases to the court on appeal, and approving the release of every prisoner whose sentence was completed.

The diwans' involvement--usually in cases between two emirates or between a citizen and noncitizen--led to lengthy delays prior to and following the judicial process and lengthened the time defendants served in prison. The diwan's decision in any court case is considered final, and in the case of disagreement between a judge and diwan, the diwan's decision prevails. Because diwans report to the minister of the interior, there was often no functional separation between the executive and judicial branches.

There is a dual court system. Shari'a courts adjudicate criminal and family law matters based on each emirate's interpretation of Shari'a. Civil courts adjudicate civil law matters and, except in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Ras al-Khaimah, were accountable to the Federal Supreme Court, which has the power of judicial review, as well as original jurisdiction in disputes between emirates or between the federal government and individual emirates.

The emirates of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Ras al-Khaimah have their own local and appellate courts, which have jurisdiction over matters within their territories that the constitution and federal legislation do not specifically reserve for the federal system. These emirates did not refer cases in their courts to the Federal Supreme Court for judicial review, although they maintained a liaison with the federal Ministry of Justice.

In some emirates Shari'a courts considered all types of civil and commercial cases as well as criminal cases and family matters. They acted in accordance with their interpretation of Shari'a but were required to answer to the Federal Supreme Court, with the exception of the emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Ras al-Khaimah.

In criminal cases Shari'a was applied first, and if evidence required by Shari'a was found insufficient, the penal code was used. Dubai had a special Shia council to act on matters pertaining to Shia family law. The military has its own court system. Military tribunals try only military personnel. National security cases are heard solely by the Supreme Court.


h. Trial Procedures

Defendants were presumed innocent until proven guilty. The constitution provides the right to a public trial, except in national security cases or cases deemed by the judge to be harmful to public morality. Juries are not used. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and a limited right to legal counsel in court.

However, while awaiting a decision on official charges at the police station or the prosecutorís office, a defendant is not entitled to legal counsel. In all cases involving a capital crime or possible life imprisonment, the defendant has a right to government-provided counsel.

The government may also provide counsel, at its discretion, to indigent defendants charged with felonies punishable by imprisonment of three to 15 years. The law provides prosecutors discretion to bar defense counsel from any investigation.

Defendants and their attorneys can present witnesses and question witnesses against them, and defense counsel had access to relevant government-held evidence.

By law all prosecutions are conducted in Arabic; however, despite the defendant's procedural right to a translator, in some cases involving deportation of illegal residents, translation was provided only at sentencing.

Each court system has an appeals process. Death sentences may be appealed to the ruler of the emirate in which the offense is committed or to the president of the federation.

In the case of murder, only the victim's family may commute a death sentence. The government normally negotiates with victims' families for the defendant to offer diya in exchange for forgiveness and a commuted death sentence.

In cases in which a defendant is acquitted, the prosecutor may appeal the acquittal to a higher court, which may receive additional evidence. An appellate court must reach unanimous agreement to overturn an acquittal.

i. Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political detainees or prisoners; however, there were persons reportedly held incommunicado and without charge for unknown reasons.

j. Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens and noncitizens could access the courts to seek damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. The civil courts, like all courts in the country, lacked full independence. Administrative remedies were available for labor complaints and were particularly common in cases of physical abuse of domestic workers.

k. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family or Correspondence

The constitution prohibits entry into homes without the owner's permission, except when police present a warrant in accordance with the law; however, there were credible reports that security forces sometimes failed to obtain warrants. Officers' actions in searching premises were subject to review, and officers were liable to disciplinary action if their actions were judged to be irresponsible.

Authorities did not commonly screen private correspondence; however, there have been reports of censorship of incoming international mail. Local interpretation of Shari'a law prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims and Muslim men from marrying women not"of the book," i.e., adherents of religions other than Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.


Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Speech

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the government restricted these rights in practice. The law prohibits criticism of rulers and speech that may create or encourage social unrest. Journalists and editors practiced extensive self-censorship for fear of government retribution, particularly since most journalists were of foreign origin and feared deportation.

Public criticism of the government and ministers is permissible in a limited context, but criticism of ruling families, particularly sheikhs, is not permitted. However, criticism of sheikhs occurred with extreme caution and in private.

The government owned three of the country's newspapers and heavily influenced the privately owned media, including through government subsidies. The government-owned Emirates News Agency regularly provided material in English and Arabic that some newspapers printed verbatim.

Except for media located in Dubai's Media Free Zone and foreign language media targeted to expatriates, most television and radio stations were government-owned and conformed to unpublished government reporting guidelines.

With the exception of Pakistan's GEO TV, foreign journalists and news organizations operating out of the Dubai Media Free Zone reported no restrictions on the content of print and broadcast material produced for use outside the country. Satellite receiving dishes were widespread and provided access to international broadcasts without apparent censorship.

On June 15, Pakistani television channel GEO News permanently relocated its office and staff to an undisclosed country. Station managers claimed they were given 48 hours to leave the Dubai Media Free Zone or halt the broadcasting of two shows. The shows allegedly covered efforts to reinstate judges dismissed by Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's former president.

By law the National Media Council (NMC), appointed by the president, licenses and censors all publications, including private association publications. Media outlets must inform the NMC of the appointment of editors, and the NMC is responsible for issuing press credentials.

The law authorizes censorship of domestic and foreign publications to remove criticism of the government, ruling families, or friendly governments, as well as other statements that "threaten social stability." According to the council and Dubai police officials, journalists were not given specific publishing instructions; however, government officials reportedly warned journalists when they published material deemed politically or culturally sensitive. Journalists practiced extensive self-censorship regarding the issues they chose to cover.

On May 2, the NMC instructed a printing press to stop printing six vernacular publications, four dailies in Malayalam and two papers in Urdu. The NMC explained that the printing press had not obtained legal permission to print the papers.

On November 18, Abu Dhabi's federal court of appeal ruled to ban Emarat Al Youm daily newspaper from publishing for 20 days in a defamation case raised by the Emirati Warsan Stables owners, who are members of the ruling family; however, the newspaper continued publishing, and the ban was never enforced.

The court also fined the newspaper's chief executive officer and editor in chief 20,000 dirhams (approximately $5,445) each. The case revolved around a 2006 article alleging that the stable was doping its horses to gain advantages in international races.

The government used libel laws to suppress criticism of its leaders.Although no journalists have received prison sentences for defamation since September 2007, when Vice President and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum ordered that journalists no longer be imprisoned for such violations, other punishments for violations remained in force.

The NMC censors reviewed all imported media and banned or censored before distribution any material considered pornographic, excessively violent, derogatory to Islam, supportive of certain Israeli government positions, unduly critical of friendly countries, or critical of the government or ruling families. Publication of books was treated in the same manner.

a. Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens and noncitizens could access the courts to seek damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. The civil courts, like all courts in the country, lacked full independence. Administrative remedies were available for labor complaints and were particularly common in cases of physical abuse of domestic workers.


Internet Freedom

The government restricted access to some Web sites on the Internet and monitored chat rooms, instant messaging services, and blogs.

Individuals and groups generally engaged in peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail, with few reports of government prosecution or punishment, although self-censorship was apparent in many chat rooms and blogs. The UN Human Development Report estimated there were more than 300 Internet users per 1,000 persons.

On September 12, an appeals court upheld an August 2007 decision sentencing's owner and a blogger to one year in prison and a fine of 70,000 dirhams (approximately $19,070) when they refused to delete critical comments about a government official.

Etisalat, the country's only Internet service provider, blocked via a proxy server material deemed inconsistent with the country's values.

Blocked material included dating and matrimonial sites; gay and lesbian sites; sites concerning the Baha'i faith; sites originating in Israel; and sites explaining how to circumvent the proxy server. The proxy server occasionally blocked broad categories of sites including many that did not meet the intended criteria. Etisalat populated its proxy server list of blocked sites primarily from lists purchased from commercial companies, although individuals could also report offensive sites.

Social Web site Orkut and politically oriented Web sites and remained blocked during the year. Etisalat denied having the authority to block any site and referred all complaints and suggestions to the NMC.

The law explicitly criminalizes the use of the Internet to commit a wide variety of offenses, providing fines and prison terms for Internet users who violate political, social, and religious norms.

In addition to criminalizing acts commonly associated with "cyber crimes," such as hacking, phishing, scams, and other forms of financial fraud, the law also provides penalties for using the Internet to oppose Islam, proselytize Muslims to join other religions, "abuse" a holy shrine or ritual of any religion, insult any religion, or incite someone to commit sin.

The law criminalizes use of the Internet in transcending "family values" by publishing news or photos pertaining to a person's private life or family or by promoting a breach of public decency.

a. Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government restricted academic freedom and censored academic materials destined for schools. The government banned students from reading texts featuring sexuality or pictures of the human body. The government also restricted participation in certain cultural events, primarily events that are deemed un-Islamic.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association; however, in practice the government did not respect these rights.

c. Freedom of Assembly

The law requires a government permit for organized public gatherings. The government did not permit public meetings or demonstrations for political purposes.

On December 31, security forces in the emirate of Sharjah prevented an assembly that was intended to show solidarity with the people of Gaza. In practice the government did not regularly interfere with informal nonpolitical gatherings held without a government permit in public places, unless there were complaints.

During the year there continued to be periodic gatherings without government permission, sometimes of laborers protesting wages. Except in the few cases in which crowds became destructive or violent, the government did not interfere.

Citizens normally confined political discussions to informal gatherings, or majlises, held in private homes.

d. Freedom of Association

Political organizations, political parties, and trade unions are illegal. All NGOs were required to register with the Ministry of Social Affairs, and many received government subsidies.

Approximately 100 domestic NGOs were registered with the ministry, mostly citizens' associations for economic, religious, social, cultural, athletic, and other purposes. More than 20 unregistered local NGOs that focused on nonpolitical topics operated with little or no government interference.

On June 15, 83 former teachers lodged protests with the Ministry of Education over their transfers to other ministries or nonteaching positions. According to the government, the teachers were reassigned as part of ongoing education reform initiatives; however, the teachers alleged that the government was suspicious of their membership in the Reform and Social Guidance Association and therefore reassigned them.

Some of the teachers' wives, who also worked at the Ministry of Education, claimed their promotions were suspended, and there were allegations that some of the teachers' children were denied scholarships.

Associations must follow the government's censorship guidelines and receive prior government approval before publishing any material. Participation by NGO members in events outside the country is subsidized and directed by the government. Participants must obtain government permission before attending such events, even if they are not speakers.


d. Freedom of Religion

The constitution provides for freedom of religion in accordance with established customs; however, the law prohibits Muslims the freedom to change religion, and the government restricted religious freedom in practice.

The federal constitution declares that Islam is the official religion of the country; conversion to Islam was viewed favorably, and the government funded or subsidized approximately 95 percent of Sunni Muslim mosques.

Individual emirates exercised considerable autonomy in religious matters. According to the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments (GAIAE), there was no formalized method of granting official status to religious groups other than by granting them the use of land for the construction of a building. Land grant applications are filed at the local level but may include a letter from the GAIAE.

Several non-Muslim groups operated houses of worship where they can practice their religion freely. Groups that did not have their own buildings were limited in their ability to assemble for worship; they were required to use the facilities of other religious organizations or worship in private homes.

The police or other security forces did not interfere with these gatherings during the year. Members of the country's large Hindu community had to obtain official permission to use one of the two cremation facilities and associated cemeteries.

Islamic studies were mandatory in public schools and for all Muslim children in private schools.

The government prohibited Muslims from converting to other religions. Under Shari'a the ultimate penalty for converting from Islam to another religion is death; however, the death penalty was rarely carried out, and there have been no reports that it has been applied to any case of conversion.

Non-Muslims were subject to criminal prosecution, imprisonment, and deportation if they were found proselytizing or distributing religious literature to Muslims; however, there were no reports of such actions during the year. Missionaries continued to perform humanitarian work in the country and faced no restrictions on proselytizing non-Muslims.

The government monitored religious groups, including those professing adherence to Islam. A GAIAE committee drafted and distributed all Friday sermons to Sunni and Shia imams, and the government monitored the sermons for adherence to the scripted content. The emirate of Dubai had approval authority over preachers in private mosques.

The government banned or censored certain religious publications and sometimes blocked Web sites containing religious information. These sites included information on the Baha'i faith, Judaism, negative critiques of Islam, and testimonies of former Muslims who had converted to Christianity.

e. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There were no reports of societal abuses based on religion; however, some discrimination existed, and anti-Semitism was present in the media.

There were no synagogues for the small, resident, noncitizen Jewish population. Anti-Semitism was apparent in news articles and editorial cartoons depicting negative images of Jews. These expressions occurred primarily in private daily newspapers without government response.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2008 International Religious Freedom Report at

f. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons

The law provides for freedom of movement within the country, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights in practice; however, there were legal restrictions on foreign travel. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on a humanitarian basis but did not grant refugee status or asylum.

Male citizens involved in legal disputes under adjudication were not permitted to travel overseas. Custom dictates that a husband can bar his wife, minor children, and adult unmarried daughters from leaving the country by taking custody of their passports.

However, there was no enforcement of this custom at exit points that would bar an individual from traveling, unless there was a court order. The government may revoke naturalized citizens' passports and citizenship status for criminal or politically provocative actions. However, such revocations were rare, and there were no reports of its use during the year.

The constitution prohibits forced exile, and there were no reported cases during the year.

g. Protection of Refugees

The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

In practice the government did not provide protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened.

Refugees generally were required to petition for settlement in third countries. The government continued to detain some persons seeking refugee status, particularly Palestinians and non-Arabs, while they awaited resettlement in third countries.

h. Stateless Persons

Citizenship of the country is generally derived from one's parents. Estimates suggested that 20,000 to 100,000 persons without any citizenship or proof of citizenship lived in the country; however, the government continued to improve naturalization procedures for these stateless residents (known as Bidoon) during the year.

From September 7 to November 6, registration centers in four emirates accepted naturalization applications from individuals who had been resident in the country at least since the federation's establishment in 1971. On October 18, the government granted nationality to 51 previously stateless persons.

Children of female citizens married to noncitizens do not acquire citizenship at birth; however, female citizens under these circumstances can apply for citizenship for their children, and the government generally grants it.

Foreign women may receive citizenship through marriage to a citizen after 10 years of marriage, and anyone may receive a passport by presidential fiat.

Most Bidoon lacked citizenship because they did not have the preferred tribal affiliation used to determine citizenship when the country was established. Others had entered the country, legally and illegally, in search of employment.

The Bidoon faced discrimination in employment and had limited access to medical care and education. Without passports or other identity documents, their movement was restricted, within the country and internationally.


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