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UAE releases four jailed activists, say rights groups

DUBAI — The United Arab Emirates has released four political activists jailed on state security charges who had remained in detention despite having completed their sentences, rights groups said on Monday.

Faisal al-Shehhi and Ahmad al-Mulla were due for release in 2017 while Saeed al-Buraimi was due to be freed in 2018 and Mansoor al-Ahmadi in 2019, according to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights.

The Emirates Center for Human Rights and The International Campaign for Freedom in the United Arab Emirates also said the four had been released.

UAE authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment. On Sunday, President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan ordered the release of more than 400 prisoners ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

After the 2011 Arab Spring, the UAE convicted dozens of Islamists, many of them suspected of belonging to the Islah group, on charges of plotting to overthrow the government in hearings criticized by rights groups. Islah was accused of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in the UAE.

According to the Geneva-based International Centre for Justice and Human Rights, all four had continued to be detained under a counseling program for those deemed a “terrorist threat.”

The U.S.-allied Gulf Arab state, a regional trade and tourism hub, does not allow political parties and shows little tolerance towards dissent.

Human Rights Watch says hundreds of activists, academics and lawyers are serving lengthy sentences in UAE prisons, in many cases following unfair trials on vague and broad charges.

In February, an independent United Nations expert urged Emirati authorities to release human rights defenders Mohamed al-Roken, Ahmed Mansoor and Nasser bin Ghaith, and said they were being mistreated in conditions that may amount to torture.

UAE authorities have previously dismissed such accusations as false and unsubstantiated. (Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous Editing by Gareth Jones)

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