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Human rights defender's story: Maryam al-Balushi and Amina al-Abduli


©Charlotte Giang, 2023

Story behind

Amina Al-Abdouli is 42 years old. She is a mother of five, three girls and two boys who were all under 18 at the time of her arrest. She used to work as a school teacher She was advocating for the Arab Spring and sympathised especially with the Syrian uprising.

Maryam Al Balushi, 27 years old, was a student at the College of Technology.

What happened

Amina al-Abdouli and Maryam al-Balushi were arrested in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on 19 November 2015.

Amina was detained at her home in Fujaira after tweeting in support of the Arab Spring. The Emirati authorities had been harassing her since 2012 because she wrote tweets criticising the Syrian regime for suppressing protests and violating human rights. They prevented her from traveling, investigated her, and threatened to take custody of her children if she did not stop criticising the Syrian regime.

Maryam was arrested at her home after donating $600 to a displaced Syrian family. She was referred to court on charges of financing terrorism.

The police held Amina and Maryam in incommunicado detention, tortured them and forced them into self-incriminatory confessions. Following unfair trials where they were denied any access to a lawyer, they were sentenced to five years of prison. Amina and Maryam managed to smuggle letters, as well as video and audio testimonies out of prison to speak out about their cases and inform UN experts of what was happening.

In February 2019 UN Special Procedures mandate holders sent a letter to the UAE authorities raising concerns about the alleged torture and ill treatment of the two women in detention. As a consequence, in July 2019, the UAE authorities charged Amina and Maryam with three additional crimes. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found their detention arbitrary and noted that it was a clear case of reprisals for communicating with Special Procedures. In April 2021, a court sentenced them to three additional years of prison for “publishing false information that disturbs the public order”. This new sentence is due to their efforts to raise awareness of their cases.

They have been continually subjected to beatings and ill-treatment throughout their imprisonment, in addition to being denied basic needs such as sanitary towels, food and clean water. Amina and Maryam’s case has been identified as a clear case of reprisals by the UN Secretary-General, who reported on it to the Human Rights Council in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

What do we want

We want UAE authorities to immediately release Amina and Maryam and provide them with reparations.