For many in the West, the United Arab Emirates is known for being a modern Arab country that appeals to international corporations seeking investments in an oil rich territory. However, behind those skyscrapers is a place where activists are chased, arrested, tortured and denied their basic human rights.
While the fire of revolution is blazing across the Arab world, activists in the UAE have not been in the streets protesting the regime. They have used the traditional way of voicing opinions by signing petitions seeking reforms within the current ruling system.
According to the Gulf Centre of Human Rights the petition that was directed to the UAE Head of State on March 9, 2011 called for reforms in the legislature, through ensuring a proper election of the National Council and allowing it to perform its role and powers in full. Prominent Emirati activist Ahmed Mansour, and four other supporters were arrested and then later released. He has been under continuous threats since then.
The so-called security apparatus detained about 61 pro-democracy activists who remain in custody. Not surprisingly, the government of the UAE claimed that those political prisoners pose a threat to national security. According to reports, the detainees have been placed in solitary confinement and tortured to extract forced confessions. One of the prisoners is Mohamed Al Roken, a human rights lawyer and UAE University Law professor who has been facing intimidations since 2006. The list of political prisoners also includes teachers, students and activists. The number of prisoners has swelled as many of those arrested were arrested for protesting against the detention of others.
Most of the prisoners have been denied from seeing their families, or lawyers. One of them, Khalifa Al-Noaimi, has been on hunger strike protesting against ill-treatment and detention. Despite his deteriorating health condition, his demands are not yet met.
Despite several reports regarding human rights violations (including crackdown on activists, denying rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and exploitation of migrant workers), Western media does not view the UAE as a place where oppression exists. The main reason is the capitalist interest in the oil rich gulf region: Dubai and Abu Dhabi remain attractions to capitalist corporations that seek profit at the expense of human rights.