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Title: DUBAI: Scholar's detention erodes UAE's reputation
Publication: University World News
Author: Brendan O'Malley
Country: United Arab Emirates
Published Date:
April 24, 2011

The suspected detention without cause of a leading international scholar will, if true, damage the United Arab Emirates' reputation and position as a centre of knowledge, an international human rights network has warned.

Scholars at Risk (SAR), a New York-based scholar support network, has called for international pressure to be put on the authorities to disclose the whereabouts and condition of Nasser bin Ghaith, a lecturer of economics at the Abu Dhabi branch of Paris' Sorbonne University.

Dr bin Ghaith is an expert in international economics who is regularly quoted in the financial press, has appeared in programmes for Al Jazeera and MBC, and has taken part in the Doha Debates - in which he defended Dubai.

State security forces in Dubai allegedly detained bin Ghaith on Sunday 10 April and are holding him in an undisclosed location without any public statement of charges against him or other explanation for his arrest, according to CNN and reports cited by SAR.

UAE officials have so far failed to respond to a University World News request for comment on the allegation.

The alleged detention followed the signing by 133 nationals of a petition to the president on 9 March calling for direct elections. The group included academics, former government officials, journalists and activists, according to CNN in Abu Dhabi.

Bin Ghaith has in the past criticised the Gulf's sheikhs for failing to undertake significant reforms or provide a legal framework for the rapid economic development experienced in recent years. Human rights activists suspect this may be why he has been detained.

Political activity is severely restricted in the UAE, where political parties are banned.

A SAR spokesman said: "If these are reports are true, Dr bin Ghaith's detention would be a clear violation of internationally recognised standards of free expression, due process, fair trial and detention, as enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and many subsequent instruments.

"Moreover, if true, Dr bin Ghaith's detention without cause, especially if it were to continue, would be a serious and unfortunate blow to the many good efforts of the government and others to develop the Emirates' reputation and position as a center of knowledge, education and culture, as these can only flourish in places which respect intellectual inquiry, free expression and human rights."

SAR demanded that the academic be given regular access to family, to legal counsel of his choosing and to medical treatment - pending his earliest release.

Habibia Hamid, a leader writer at The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi, commented on Twitter that bin Ghaith is a well-known intellectual who had given "highly respected" assessments of the Dubai crisis in closed door talks at the Dubai School of Government and whose efforts had included "robust, intellectually honest defences - not just critiques - of Dubai".

That such a highly regarded proponent of the nation's development may not be immune to this form of political pressure from increasingly centralised power sends a very strong signal that will result in UAE nationals exercising more caution than before, she said.

Scholars at Risk is an international network of over 250 universities and colleges in 30 countries dedicated to promoting academic freedom and its constituent freedoms of thought, opinion, expression, association and travel. It intervenes in alleged cases of infringement of those freedoms.

It has invited members of the public to send letters, emails and faxes on bin Ghaith's behalf to senior figures in the Abu Dhabi government.


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