Sunday, November 27, 2011

Freedom of Expression

In the United States, we often take for granted our freedom of speech. Rarely do we think about what would happen if such a right did not exist. People in United Arab Emirates have been faced with such a dilemma. Five activists have been convicted recently by the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi for insulting government officials and received two to three years of imprisonment for criminal defamation. According to Amnesty International, the UAE5 (name given to them by the international community) were charged under articles 176 and 8 of the UAE’s Penal Code for “publicly insulting” the UAE’s president, vice-president and crown prince in an online political discussion forum which had been blocked by the authorities in 2010.

“The defamation charges the UAE5 faced are not internationally recognizable criminal offences and the trial process has been grossly flawed from the outset. The men are imprisoned for nothing but criticizing the UAE President and other officials,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director.

The men were arrested in April of 2011, and detained for over two months before they were charged with anything. Their trial was done in secrecy without granting the defendants any opportunity to challenge the charges against them. AI claims the UAE5 have been persecuted wrongfully.

Freedom of expression is protected under international human rights standards, but it does not seem to be the case for Abu Dhabi. Amnesty International is calling for immediate release of the activists, as “It is not a crime to voice criticism or dissent.” I believe freedom of expression should be a basic human right; thoughts?

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