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Rights group accuses UAE of human rights crackdown

Jan. 31, 2013 7:57 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 31, 2013 7:58 P.M.)
DUBAI (Reuters) -- The United Arab Emirates risks serious damage to its international reputation if it continues to violate its citizens' human rights, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.

Allies, including the United States, "have refrained from publicly criticizing the UAE's crackdown on freedom of expression and repression of civil society," New York-based HRW said in its global report for 2013.

"If the UAE keeps violating basic human rights and core international prohibitions, it will do major damage to its reputation," Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East director, was quoted on the independent watchdog's website as saying.

The Arab oil producer, which has avoided the unrest that has spread through the region over the past two years, has moved swiftly to stem dissent by arresting scores of people on charges ranging from threats to national security to insulting the country's rulers.

Earlier this week, the UAE attorney general, Salem Saeed Kubaish, ordered 94 citizens to be tried on charges of seeking to seize power in the US-allied Gulf Arab country.

More than 60 local Islamists were detained last year over alleged threats to state security and links to a foreign group.

Five activists among a group of some 130 people who signed a petition demanding reforms were arrested in April 2011 and charged with insulting the country's rulers. The UAE maintains that it was the insults that some members had directed at its leaders, rather than the petition, that prompted the arrests.

President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan pardoned the five men soon after a court found them guilty, but rights campaigners said more was to come.

HRW said 11 Egyptians were detained in December because of their alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Their current whereabouts were unknown, it said.

There was no immediate government comment on HRW's report. But earlier this week, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash defended the UAE's record during a public review by the UN Human Rights Council.

"While we recognize that the UAE will continually need to review and enhance its efforts to protect human rights, the level of protection of human rights already achieved represents a significant success," the state news agency, WAM, quoted Gargash as saying.

Freedom House, a US-based advocate for spreading democracy, earlier this month downgraded the UAE's freedom rating citing the arrests of people calling for reform, the passing of a "highly restrictive" internet law and the dismissal and deportation of academics critical of government policies.
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