SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: August 18, 2015

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution


Region & Country:Western Asia | United Arab Emirates

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On August 18, 2015, Emirati economist and pro-democracy activist Nasser bin Ghaith was reportedly arrested and subsequently detained in an undisclosed location.  As of this report, Emirati authorities have not acknowledged that Professor Ghaith is in custody, disclosed his whereabouts, or given a reason for his arrest.

According to witnesses, on the afternoon of August 18, more than a dozen plain-clothes security officers seized Dr. bin Ghaith in Abu Dhabi and took him into custody.  They then reportedly transported him to Dubai, where they searched his home and confiscated personal items including electronic memory sticks.  As of this report, neither Dr. bin Ghaith’s family nor his lawyer have heard from him since. 

Dr. bin Ghaith, a former lecturer at the University of Paris IV (Paris-Sorbonne) Abu Dhabi, has a history of pro-democracy activism, and was previously arrested in April 2011 on charges of publicly insulting the crown, in connection with a petition he signed calling for democratic reforms in the UAE.  He remained in custody for seven months, before receiving a presidential pardon on November 28, 2011.  Although the reasons for Dr. bin Ghaith’s detention have not been publicly disclosed, reports have noted that his arrest followed a series of tweets by him on August 13 and 14 – the second anniversary of the Raba’a Square Massacre in Cairo, in which more than 800 protesters were killed – criticizing the Egyptian regime for failing to hold anyone accountable for the massacre. 

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary, incommunicado detention of a professor, evidently in retaliation for nonviolent expressive activity – conduct which is protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.

UPDATE: On April 4, 2016, Dr. bin Ghaith was granted a hearing at which he was not permitted to speak with his lawyer in private and reported experiencing ill treatment and torture during his detention. On May 2, Dr. bin Ghaith attended a second hearing at which the court examined the charges laid against him, which include “committing a hostile act against a foreign state” and “posting false information in order to harm the reputation and stature of the state and one of its institutions.” The charges apparently relate to the previously suspected series of tweets by Professor bin Ghaith in which he reportedly criticized the Egyptian regime, an ally of the UAE, for failing to hold anyone accountable for the 2016 Raba’a Square Massacre in Cairo, as well as tweets claiming that he had not been granted a fair trial as part of the “UAE5” case.

UPDATE: Dr. bin Ghaith has since reportedly attended subsequent hearings on May 23 and June 20, 2016, both of which have been followed by reports that his health continues to deteriorate due to prison conditions. The court has reportedly scheduled his next hearing for September 26.  

UPDATE: On December 5, 2016, court officials transferred Dr. bin Ghaith’s case from the State Security Chamber to the Federal Appeal Court, which would allow Dr. bin Ghaith to appeal the charges against him through a new trial.