World News

UAE stateless activist says expelled to Thailand

DUBAI (Reuters) - An activist in the United Arab Emirates said he was being deported to Thailand on Monday after spending nearly two months in detention for his work campaigning for the rights of stateless people.

Campaign group Human Rights Watch criticised what it called the “unlawful expulsion” of Ahmed Abdul Khaleq, saying it was part of a wider crackdown on dissent in the Gulf Arab state.

There was no official statement from UAE authorities and interior ministry officials were not available to comment on the case.

“I am at Abu Dhabi airport right now waiting to board the plane to Thailand,” Abdul Khaleq, 35, told Reuters by telephone.

“I have been in jail for two months. They didn’t charge me with anything, but some police officers said ... (it was) because I am one of the activists who talked about the rights of the stateless people in the UAE.”

The UAE, a federation of emirates whose capital, Abu Dhabi, is a major oil exporter, allows no organised political opposition.

It has avoided the political unrest that has toppled four Arab heads of state since last year, thanks in part to its cradle-to-grave welfare system. But rights groups have accused authorities of trying to silence any campaigners and critics.

Abdul Khaleq, who was born in the UAE and has lived there all his life, was one of five activists who were jailed last year for insulting the state’s rulers, but were later pardoned.

He is also one of the UAE’s “bidoon” - an Arabic word meaning “without” referring to tens of thousands of people in the state without legal nationality or citizenship.

Many of the bidoon trace their origins to nomadic tribes that previously moved freely around the Gulf region, or to later immigrants who failed to register for nationality when the country was formed in 1971.

Refugees International says many have limited access to jobs, medical care and education.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said prison authorities told Abdul Khaleq in June to choose between indefinite detention at a prison in Abu Dhabi or exile to one of a list of countries including Thailand, with which he has no ties and has never visited.

“UAE authorities are trying to make it appear as though Ahmed Abdul Khaleq is choosing to leave the country on his own volition, but this is a cruel and unlawful expulsion by duress, plain and simple,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.

Abdul Khaleq told Reuters the authorities had pressured him to apply for citizenship of the Comoros, a group of islands in the Indian Ocean, earlier this year.

“My (Comoros) passport was issued on 17 May, 2012 and I was detained on 22 May,” he said.

Media reports and activists the Comoros agreed to grant stateless people in the UAE citizenship under a bilateral deal. There has been no official confirmation of such an agreement by the UAE.

At least 10 Islamists have been arrested in recent months, including seven whose UAE citizenship was revoked last year. UAE officials said they posed a security threat and were of non-Emirati origin.

Some of the men had demanded greater power for the country’s partly-elected advisory council.

Editing by Andrew Heavens