Relatives of opposition members risk losing citizenship and the withdrawal of state services, tactics human rights groups describe as ‘collective punishment’.
Emirati authorities have arrested relatives of dissidents living in exile or prison, according to human rights activists.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) says dozens of people were arrested by state security forces in what it described as “collective punishment”. Those arrested were related to eight dissidents.
The rights group also said Emirati authorities had revoked citizenship from 19 relatives of two dissidents. Another 30 relatives of six dissidents were banned from traveling, while another 22 relatives of three dissidents are banned from renewing their ID documents.
Relatives of dissidents faced further obstacles, such as restrictions on the work they could do, as well as facing difficulty pursuing higher education.
The United Arab Emirates is targeting the relatives of dissidents abroad or in detention, revoking their citizenship, banning them from travel, or refusing to allow them to renew their identity documents. And it portrays itself as a "tolerant" nation. https://t.co/0BlFWJ3UJq— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) December 22, 2019
“UAE authorities, in their determination to crush dissent, have allowed their state security apparatus to use its near-unchecked power to continually punish the families of activists, both detained and living abroad,” said HRW’s Michael Page.
“The authorities should cease these vindictive attacks, which amount to collective punishment.”
The group said the measures were arbitrarily taken with no basis in Emirati law.
“Whenever the family tried to dig deeper to understand why the government was denying access to a service or holding an application pending indefinitely, they would be told, verbally only, that the obstruction was happening at the state security level,” said one dissident living abroad, according to HRW.
Relatives are subject to surveillance as well as regular questioning. The pressure is also applied to relatives who maintain contact with the families of dissidents.
“Our cousins and friends all cut us off, because anyone who would frequent our home would be summoned and asked detailed questions about us and our lives,” said one detained dissident’s relative living abroad. “You become a pariah in society,” said another.
The reach of the Emirati security services extends to even the most apolitical government departments, meaning services can be denied to anyone on the basis of state security. Citizens have no way of appealing decisions made by the authorities.
HRW’s Page said: “The UAE’s police state not only punishes those who peacefully dissent, but harasses and abuses even those related to them, with their intolerance for criticism reaching comical proportions.”