August 8, 2019 / 5:10 PM / 11 days ago

UAE releases activists on Eid amnesty - rights groups

DUBAI (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates has released three activists who were jailed on state security charges, two rights groups said on Thursday.

Online activist Osama al-Najjar and Othman Al-Shehhi and Badr al-Buhairi, described by rights groups as activists with ties to the al-Islah Islamist group, banned by the UAE in 2014, were jailed after trials in 2014 and 2016, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The International Campaign for Freedom in the United Arab Emirates (ICFUAE) said in a statement and the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GC4HR) told Reuters that the men were released on Thursday.

Government officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A trade and tourism hub, the UAE is an absolute monarchy which tolerates little public criticism.

Earlier this week, the UAE’s president ordered the release of 669 prisoners before the start of the Eid-al-Adha religious holiday, state news agency WAM reported, without giving names. It said some of those released had been convicted of terrorism and extremism charges.

Najjar used Twitter to campaign for the release of his father and other political detainees in Abu Dhabi and to criticise the conviction of 69 Emirati nationals in July 2013 in a mass trial of activists who demanded political reforms, HRW has said.

Shehhi was sentenced to a five-year prison term in 2014 for comments on Twitter in support of political dissidents, while Buhairi was sentenced in 2016 to three years in prison on charges of “joining a secret organisation,” according to HRW.

Reporting by Sylvia Westall and Lisa Barrington; Editing by Catherine Evans

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