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United Arab Emirates


The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been marked by a lack of avenues for political expression and an absence of guarantees of civil liberties for many decades. The Freedom in the World 2023 Report by Freedom House categorizes the country as “Not Free” and scores it 18/100. Under the sharia law of the country, women are subjected to systematic discrimination in all aspects of life and non-heteronormative sexual orientations and gender identities remain criminalized. While the country underwent serious economic development in recent years and established strong international and economic ties with many other countries including Western liberal democratic ones, the political system remains a closed autocracy with unelected representatives of the seven emirates that make up UAE exercising power that is largely unaccountable to the public through the Federal Supreme Council. The government relies on a powerful police force and a vast intelligence network that are empowered by vague and expansive laws in order to repress alternative voices and the domestic opposition.[1] Arbitrary and indefinite detention of political dissidents, often accused of being “terrorists” or “spies” are frequent and those under detention often report having been subjected to torture and other forms of mistreatment such as denial of access to medical treatment. According to a 2022 report by Amnesty International, at least 48 individuals remain in prison despite having served their prison sentences.


Much like other fundamental human rights, academic freedoms in UAE are severely restricted with the country being scored 0.12 in V-Dem Institute’s Academic Freedom Index (AFI), which places the country very near the bottom 10% of all countries in the world. While the state of academic freedom never reached substantial levels in the UAE, the past decade saw the country’s AFI score fall from 0.21 in 2010 to 0.12 in 2022. During this time period, the UAE experienced deterioration in all components of the AFI, namely campus integrity, freedom of academic exchange and dissemination, institutional autonomy, freedom of academic and cultural expression, and freedom to research and teach, with the last two components showing the biggest decline.  One reason for this has been the broader crackdown on rights and freedoms in the country following the Arab Spring. As part of this crackdown, the Emirati state arrested and tried a large group of jurists, academics, student leaders, journalists, human rights activists, and other civil society leaders who petitioned the government to open the way for more democratic accountability in the functioning of the branches of the government.[2] Among them are Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken, a former professor of constitutional law and lawyer, and Dr. Mohammad Al-Mansoori, a legal expert and jurist. The broad and frequent use of the Counter-terrorism Law passed in 2014 as well as the Cybercrime Law of 2021 has worked to significantly limit the extent to which views can be expressed by citizens in general via newspapers and social media, especially targeting experts, journalists, and human rights defenders.[3] The free circulation of information remains severely hampered as news outlets reportedly engage in self-censorship to avoid government backlash.[4]


Repression of dissident voices has also extended to leading academics, as the case of Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith, which Endangered Scholars Worldwide (ESW) has been following since the first days of his detention in August, 2015. The prominent economist was detained and later sentenced to prison for posting tweets critical of the governments of Egypt and the UAE.[5] Throughout his pre-trial detention and during his 10-year sentence that was handed down in 2017, Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith has been subjected to inhumane conditions, which prompted him to launch a hunger strike in protest in 2020. In another incident, a Ph.D. student from Durham University who was studying the Arab Spring at NYU Abu Dhabi in 2018, was detained by the UAE authorities, subjected to torture, and sentenced to life in prison for espionage charges before he was pardoned following international pressure for his release.[6]


ESW calls on the United Arab Emirates government to end the persistent human rights violations against Dr. Al-Roken, Dr. Al-Mansoori and Dr. bin Ghaith and others in similar positions who have been unjustly imprisoned for peacefully expressing their views, and calls on the UAE to honor its obligations to uphold human rights under international law and cease the ongoing human rights violations against academics, civil society leaders, human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, and other political dissidents.


(Last Updated: November 14th, 2023)

Please send appeals to the following:

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum

Prime Minister’s Office

PO Box: 212000

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Fax: +971 4 330 404


Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan

Minister of Interior

Zayed Sport City, Arab Gulf Street, Near to Shaikh Zayed Mosque

PO Box: 398

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Fax: +971 2 402 2762 / +971 2 441 5780


Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan

Minister of Foreign Affairs

Al Bateen, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Street

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Fax +971 02 444 7766







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