DUBAI (Reuters) - The ruler of an emirate in the United Arab Emirates sought to soothe anger over a crackdown on dissidents in the Gulf Arab country on Thursday, saying the recent detentions were necessary to protect them and the state.
Some 35 dissidents, most of them are Islamists, have been detained by authorities since July 15 when the UAE said it was investigating a foreign-linked group planning “crimes against the security of the state”.
“It is a matter of dealing with the situation not a matter of punishment,” Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed al-Qassimi, ruler of the religiously conservative emirate of Sharjah, told a local television channel by phone. “We have a big duty to protect this country.”
“To every mother whose son was held, I tell her... please let us fix the situation... the son made a mistake, you didn’t deal with it, let us do it,” he said. “Please be patient, this is for your own good.”
Activists put the number of those arrested since last year at around 50. Most are from the Emirates but they also include an Omani and stateless residents in the UAE.
The UAE, a federation of seven emirates and a major oil exporter, allows no organized political opposition. It has avoided the political unrest that that has 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 advocates closer adherence to Islamic principles and has been the target of a crackdown in the UAE.
Many of those detained are well-known figures from the more religiously conservative northern emirates such as Sharjah and Ras al-Khaimah, which are also less affluent than the oil-rich capital Abu Dhabi and trade hub Dubai, activists said.
The emirate of Sharjah has close ties to Saudi Arabia, enforces stricter Islamic laws and is the only emirate that bans alcohol and enforces more conservative dress codes.
Islah on Monday called for the release of jailed activists and affirmed its loyalty to the country’s rulers, denying ties with foreign groups.
Sheikh Sultan said some of those detained were trying to flee the country and wanted to “set up a foreign organization”.
“Do you know where those were taken from? They were being held at airports, on the borders with Oman or on the way to Qatar. Where were they going? They were fleeing,” he said.
Reporting by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Roger Atwood