March 08, 2022
Today, 8 March, marks International Women’s Day – a day which signifies progressions made in regards to gender equality and emancipation from oppressive patriarchal structures which historically governed societies globally.
Whilst this day symbolises empowerment for many women around the world, women in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) remain oppressed under a biased political framework, firmly built upon unequal gendered values.
Many of us are falsely led to buy into the UAE’s facade of tolerance, coexistence and peace, which is supported through its various partnerships and PR campaigns. Since October last year, the Dubai Expo 2020 is the Gulf State’s latest attempt to whitewash its image and present itself as a rights-respecting country. In reality, these mask the truths about the lack of political and civil rights it grants to its citizens, particularly women.
Seven years ago, Amina al-Abdouli and Maryam al-Balushi were arrested in the UAE. They have been detained ever since after having been tried and charged in breach of international standards due process and fair trial standards.
Al-Balushi was arrested in February 2015 at her home in Abu Dhabi accused of financing terrorism after making donations to help a Syrian family. Six months later, al-Abdouli was detained after tweeting support for the Arab Spring.
Following their arrests, both women underwent secret detentions during which they were forced into making self-incriminating confessions through various forms of torture, including beatings, prolonged solitary confinement and threats of rape. Held incommunicado, both were deprived of any access to the outside world, facilitating their abuse and mistreatment. Following grossly unfair trials, both were sentenced to five years in prison.
In July 2019, al-Balushi and al-Abdouli were faced with an additional charge of disseminating false information relating to their video and audio testimonies and letters smuggled out of prison. In April 2021, both were sentenced to three years in prison for “publishing false information that disturbs the public order.”
According to reports, both women’s mental and physical health has suffered severely during their detention at Al Wathba, with inadequate support offered by Emirati authorities. Al-Balushi has previously attempted suicide after being placed in solitary confinement and being subjected to degrading treatment, which highlights the severity of their suffering and the degree of urgency of their situation requires.
The Emirati government has offered no signs of their release in the immediate future, despite the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s Opinion qualifying their detention as “Arbitrary”. Both women endured unfair trials by being denied access to lawyers. In addition, they have been continually subjected to beatings and ill-treatment throughout their imprisonment, in addition to being denied basic needs such as sanitary towels, food and clean water, as evidenced in their testimonies.
Consequently, we, the undersigned organisations, express our concern about the situation of Amina al-Abdouli and Maryam al-Balushi and call on the UAE authorities to release them and all other female prisoners of conscience being detained for peacefully expressing their rights to freedom of speech, assembly and association.
International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE), FEMENA, European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR), Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), MENA Rights Group, ALQST for Human Rights.