DUBAI (Reuters) - At least 10 local Islamists have been arrested in the United Arab Emirates over the past several days as part of a widening crackdown on dissidents, activists said on Sunday,
The arrests brought to at least 20 the number of dissidents, most of them Islamists, detained since July 15 when the Gulf Arab state said it was investigating a foreign-linked group planning “crimes against the security of the state”.
Activists say around 40 have been arrested since March. Many of them are Emiratis but an Omani and stateless residents of the UAE were among those detained.
Interior Ministry officials were not available for comment.
The UAE, a federation of seven emirates and a major oil exporter, allows no organised political opposition. It has avoided the political unrest that that have swept the Arab region thanks in part to its cradle-to-grave welfare system.
But it has also moved swiftly against dissidents, stripping citizenship from Islamists whom it deemed a security threat and issuing jail sentences to activists who called for more power for a semi-elected advisory council.
Relatives and activists said most of those arrested have links to the local al-Islah (Reform) Islamist group, which has been the target of a crackdown in the UAE.
Hamad Roqait, 61, one of the founders of Islah and a well-known figure in the emirate of Sharjah, was arrested by security officials on Tuesday, a relative told Reuters.
“They came at night at the house and took him after searching the house and seizing his mobile phone,” the relative said. “We still don’t know his whereabouts.”
Others detained included Salem al-Shehhi, a lawyer, Abdul-Raheem al-Zarooni, who worked for a media organisation, Musbah al-Rumaithi, another Islah member, and Issa al-Suwaidi, a former education official, activists and relatives said.
Most of the men detained over the past months are from the more religiously conservative emirates such as Sharjah and Ras al-Khaimah, which are also less affluent than the oil-rich capital Abu Dhabi and trade hub Dubai.
Many are well-known figures and include a ruling family member, under house arrest in Ras al-Khaimah emirate.
The arrests are the latest in what international rights groups and activists describe as a crackdown on political opposition in general, and Islamists in particular.
On Friday, the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said the UAE must end its crackdown on lawyers and human rights defenders.
“The recent crackdown...is part of a broad campaign of intimidation and harassment by UAE authorities that aims to silence any and all critical voices. This campaign must end immediately,” said Said Benarbia, Senior Legal Advisor for the ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme.
U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville has said the crackdown looked like an excuse to silence legitimate demands.
But the UAE authorities, like other Gulf monarchies, are concerned that the rise of Islamists in Egypt and other states in the wake of the Arab Spring could stir up Islamist groups and dissent on their turf.
Last week, Dubai police chief Dahi Khalfan warned of an “international plot” to overthrow the governments of Gulf Arab countries, saying the region needed to be prepared to counter any threat from Islamist dissidents as well as Syria and Iran.
Additional reporting by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Angus MacSwan