Earlier this month, the UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, published the findings of her nine-day visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Knaul concluded that the UAE judiciary is under the ‘de facto’ control of the government; that lawyers are working without detailed understanding of a critical state security law that was enacted but never published; that lawyers are threatened, harassed, pressured and placed under surveillance by UAE authorities; and that evidence against defendants is ‘sometimes manipulated and fabricated by the police or other security agencies and the prosecution’.

Knaul also stated that there is ‘credible information and evidence’ that detainees are arrested without warrant, blindfolded, taken to unknown places, held incommunicado, sometimes for months, and tortured.

Among the cases that were brought to Knaul’s attention were the convictions last year of a number of lawyers on charges of ‘plotting to overthrow the state’ after an unfair trial marred by irregularities. Those convicted to lengthy sentences included former judges Ahmed al-Zaabi and Mohammed Saeed al-Abdouli, prominent human rights lawyers Dr Mohammed al-Mansoori and Dr Mohammed al-Roken, and their lawyer Salem al-Shehhi, who was arrested at the offices of the state security prosecutor where he sought information about his clients.

All were arbitrarily detained for months and complained of being tortured in detention, including through prolonged solitary confinement, physical beating and sleep deprivation.

Knaul was also prevented from visiting Qatari physician Mahmoud al-Jaidah in prison despite expressing grave concerns about torture and due process in his case. Dr al-Jaidah was arbitrarily detained for nine months in a secret prison in Abu Dhabi before he was charged. The verdict in his case will be announced on 3 March, although until now no fewer than three lawyers have ceased to represent him within days of being instructed and no lawyer has been permitted to visit him.

We stand in solidarity with the lawyers in the UAE and call upon the authorities to unconditionally release them and quash their convictions. The UAE must understand that its persecution of members of the legal profession and its manipulation of the judiciary have damaged its reputation more than the words and actions of any single dissident.

Nicholas Fluck, president of the Law Society; Professor Sara Chandler, chair of the Human Rights Committee of the Law Society; Kirsty Brimelow QC, chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee; and 37 others