DUBAI (Reuters) - Police in the United Arab Emirates have arrested two human rights activists, after seizing a prominent blogger last week, the activists’ colleague said on Sunday.
“Fahad Salem al-Shehhi, 38, was arrested yesterday at 7 p.m. in his flat in Ajman,” said the colleague, who did not want to be named. He said Shehhi was a member of the UAE online political forum Hewar, which is blocked in the country.
Nasser bin Ghaith, an outspoken financial analyst and economics lecturer at the Abu Dhabi branch of France’s Sorbonne university, was also arrested, the colleague later told Reuters.
On Friday, police detained Ahmed Mansoor, another UAE national who was involved with the Hewar forum, his family said.
Dubai Police Chief Dahi Khalfan Tamim confirmed Mansoor’s arrest, which he said was requested by prosecutors in connection with a criminal case, the National newspaper reported.
An Interior Ministry spokesman in Dubai could not be reached for comment.
In a recent article on a UAE website, bin Ghaith voiced unusually bold criticism of the Western-allied Gulf Arab states’ political system and their moves to create jobs and raise social spending in a bid to prevent the eruption of popular unrest.
“They have announced ‘benefits and handouts’ assuming their citizens are not like other Arabs or other human beings, who see freedom as a need no less significant than other physical needs. So they use the carrot, offering abundance. But this only delays change and reform, which will still come sooner or later,” he wrote.
“No amount of security — or rather intimidation by security forces — or wealth, handouts, or foreign support is capable of ensuring the stability of an unjust ruler.”
The Arab world has been rocked by a wave of pro-democracy protests which toppled Egypt’s and Tunisia’s leaders and sparked demonstrations in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
The UAE, a federation of seven emirates headed by ruling families, does not allow direct elections or political parties.
Ranked as the world’s third-largest oil exporter, the UAE and Qatar, the world’s top liquefied natural gas exporter, are seen as the least vulnerable to political unrest because of generous government spending programmes.
About two percent of the UAE population will be nominated by its rulers to vote or participate in an election to its quasi-parliamentary body, the Federal National Council (FNC), this year, though an UAE official has said the percentage could be raised.
Mansour and around 300 petitioners had demanded broader representation. New York-based Human Rights Watch called for his release in a statement on Sunday.
“We believe the detention of Ahmed Mansoor is aimed at scaring and intimidating others in the UAE who may wish to make public their demands for democratic reforms,” the group’s Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson, said in a statement.
“While other governments in the region are discussing democratic reforms, the UAE government is digging in its heels and sticking to outmoded repressive ploys.”
UAE nationals make up about 15 percent of the country’s estimated five million people. The country has one of the world’s highest per capita incomes at over $47,000 (28,693.53 pounds) per year.
Analysts say the most likely sites of unrest in the UAE are its less-developed northern emirates, whose citizens have benefited least from the vast oil wealth in the capital Abu Dhabi and Dubai’s trade and property fuelled development.
In March, state media said the UAE would invest $1.6 billion on infrastructure in its less developed regions.
Reporting by Erika Solomon; Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Sophie Hares