Dozens of rights groups are urging the United Arab Emirates to not deport an Egyptian-American citizen who called for protests during the Cop27 summit, raising alarms over his safety and UAE’s commitment to freedom of expression as next year’s host for the conference.
Sherif Osman, a US citizen and former Egyptian army officer who speaks about the civil rights situation in Egypt on his YouTube channel, was detained at a restaurant in Dubai in November while he was on a personal visit with his fiancee.
He was among a few activists who had called for a demonstration against rising cost of living and crackdown on civil rights on 11 November, during the two-week climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh.
The UAE government has now initiated the process of his extradition, as confirmed by an official to The Independent and first reported by The Guardian on Wednesday.
In response, over 20 rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Foundation (HRF), have signed a letter urging authorities to not deport him over fears that he could be “subjected to torture”.
“We, the undersigned organisations, urge the authorities of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) not to deport Sherif Osman to Egypt, where he would be at high risk of being subjected to torture and other human rights violations,” the petition, which was posted on Wednesday by ALQST for Human Rights on its website, said.
“We further urge the UAE to release Osman immediately,” the statement said.
Since Mr Osman was detained, he has been “denied the right to challenge the legality of his detention” and has not been permitted to meet his lawyer by the Emirati authorities, the letter alleged.
However, in a statement sent to The Independent, a UAE government official said the country was adhering to “all internationally accepted standards” in Mr Osman’s case.
It isn’t clear whether Mr Osman will be deported to the US or Egypt. However, the UAE official said he was arrested at the request of the Arab Interior Ministers Council (AIMC), the Arab League body responsible for coordinating matters of law enforcement and national security.
“As in each detention case, the UAE strictly adheres to all internationally accepted standards including regular consular access and legal counsel,” the official said in an email.
“The UAE continues to work closely with AIMC’s relevant authorities to secure the requisite legal documentation required in preparing the extradition file.”
Egypt has detained a large number of activists for the slightest criticism of the government of Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, a clampdown which intensified ahead of the conference resulting in hundreds of arrests.
Many human-rights activists skipped this year’s conference due to lack of freedom for demonstrations.
Mr Osman’s arrest during a personal trip to UAE, which has close ties to Egypt, has also raised alarms among many activists planning to attend next year’s Cop28 climate conference in Dubai.
“#UAE’s detention of #SherifOsman at the behest of Egypt as a reprisal for his call for protests at #COP27 must be met with strong condemnation and action from governments committed to civic space and climate justice. This is a critical test run for #COP28,” wrote Phil Lynch, director of The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR).
Several activists, many of whom have US citizenship, have been arrested by the UAE in the past with several of them having allegedly faced torture.
**This story was updated with the statement from the UAE official on 23 December 2022