Trial Continues for Disappeared Academic Naser Bin Ghaith
By Leah Schulz
On Monday, May 23 the trial for UAE academic and human rights defender, Nasser Bin Ghaith, resumes. His defense will have the opportunity to present his case before the country’s Federal Supreme Court. Arrested in the UAE last August, Bin Ghaith remains in custody in an unknown location.
On August 18, 2015 Emirati officials arrested Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith at his work place and forcibly disappeared him without charge or trial. He reappeared eight months later on April 4, 2016 before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi. In the closed hearing, Bin Ghaith explained to the court how he had been held in a secret location, physically tortured, and beaten while in detention. The judge, apparently irritated with Bin Ghaith’s comments, responded by questioning his account and shutting off his microphone.
This is not the first time Bin Ghaith has been charged for peaceful activities. The economics professor is one of the “UAE Five” who were arrested in April 2011 for comments posted on an online discussion forum. After over seven months in detention following an unfair trial, the five were convicted of “publicly insulting” UAE officials. Bin Ghaith received a two-year jail sentence but was released under a presidential pardon following international outcry. In the new case against him, Bin Ghaith could face life in prison.
The last hearing took place on May 2 to examine charges against the former Sorbonne Abu Dhabi lecturer. These charges include allegedly “committing a hostile act against a foreign state” in reference to a series of tweets criticizing Egypt’s government. He also stands charged with “posting false information” relating to statements he made about his previous trial in the “UAE Five” case, and for his remarks on the construction of a Hindu Temple in Abu Dhabi, which were intended to promote tolerance.
In addition to these speech-related charges, Bin Ghaith is accused of allegedly “communicating and cooperating with members of the banned Al Islah organization,” referring to visits and meetings with members of the “UAE94”—a group of government critics and advocates of reform who were sentenced to prison after unfair trials in 2013. He is also accused of allegedly “communicating and cooperating” with the country’s banned Ummah Party, in regards to a presentation he was invited to make on the Islamic Economy in his capacity as a professor of economics.
The price for peaceful dissent in the UAE has reached a dangerous level. Under the vague and overreaching provisions of the Penal Code, cybercrime law, and the 2015 counterterror law, Bin Ghaith’s tweets can be considered “instigation against the UAE” in a way that “endangers state security.”
The UAE is a close ally of the United States, but its repressive practices and opaque judicial process jeopardize the relationship. Two U.S. citizens, Kamal and Mohammed Eldarat, currently await verdict on May 30 in a case where they were tortured, disappeared, and denied access to legal counsel. Both the Eldarats and Bin Ghaith are being tried in the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court. Should they be convicted, they have no right to appeal.