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Ex-US official accused of pushing UAE propaganda by targeting jailed activist

Human rights activists have claimed that an article attacking a jailed Emirati activist was written at the behest of the UAE government
Nasser bin Ghaith appears on the Saudi-owned MBC television network (YouTube screen grab)

Human rights activists on Saturday questioned whether a former US official had been paid by the United Arab Emirates to write an article criticising a jailed Emirati dissident who says he has been tortured in prison.

Michael Rubin, who is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote on 19 May that Human Rights Watch was acting as an apologist for terrorism by calling for the release of Emirati economist Nasser bin Ghaith.

Ghaith is currently on trial facing charges that include violating the UAE’s cybercrime laws for comments he made on Twitter criticising the mass killing of protesters by Egyptian authorities in August 2013.

He is also accused of breaking counter-terrorism laws by “cooperating with terrorist and secret organisations".

Rubin claimed in his article that Human Rights Watch had ignored that Ghaith was announced as leader of the banned Ummah Party on 1 May 2016, and he accused the Emirati activist of “working to overthrow the state".

Nicholas McGeehan, Gulf researcher at Human Rights Watch, tweeted on Saturday that references to the Ummah Party had always been included in their Arabic language advocacy, but that they were mistakenly left out of an English language press release.

McGeehan said the error had been rectified and he called on Rubin to amend his article.

Ghaith’s family have publicly rejected his appointment as Ummah Party leader and questioned the timing of the announcement, which came one day before Ghaith’s first court appearance.

Mansoureh Mills, who works in Amnesty International’s Middle East section, questioned whether Rubin had been paid by the UAE to write the piece on Ghaith.

She also asked whether Rubin had spoken to Amnesty or Human Rights Watch prior to the article’s publication.

Rubin is a former official at the US Secretary of Defence, where between 2002 and 2004 he acted as country director for Iran and Iraq. While he is no longer a state employee, he still instructs senior military officers prior to deployment to the Middle East and Afghanistan.

In 2014, Rubin was linked to an investigation by The Intercept that revealed the UAE’s multimillion dollar deal with public relations firm Camstoll, which is a Washington-based company led by former senior US Treasury officials.

The investigation named Rubin as one of many American journalists briefed by Camstoll to write articles in support of the UAE’s political agenda to attack its neighbour Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood.

On Sunday, Rubin denied being briefed by a public relations firm for his piece about Ghaith.

“I hyperlinked my sources,” he said in an email sent to MEE. “I write on a variety of issues all the time.”

He added that he had not been contacted by Human Rights Watch and so he would not be updating his piece with the corrections requested by McGeehan.

In his article Rubin said human rights abuses in the UAE should be condemned, and he called for Ghaith to receive a fair trial, but he described the Gulf state as a “largely stable, secure, and tolerant” place.

Ahmed Mansoor, an Emirati human rights activist, has been insistent that Rubin’s article represented one of the UAE’s “paid PR tools”.

“Apparently these PR companies are fed with wrong information to build a foolish story purposefully,” he wrote on Twitter. “Money can buy pens and a space to publish articles, but [they] can’t buy facts.

“[The] peacefulness of Dr Nasser is never a question.”

Mansoor argued that Ghaith has consistently refused “to join any organisation or party”.

Ghaith is an Emirati economist who has lectured at the Abu Dhabi campus of the Paris-based Sorbonne University, which has declined to comment on his detention to MEE. He also worked as an economic and legal consultant to the UAE army.

Nasser bin Ghaith was arrested on 18 August last year by 13 plainclothes state security officers and taken to his home in Dubai, which was searched before being held at an unknown location where he has remained since.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are among numerous human rights groups that have called for Ghaith’s release, warning that he is at risk of being tortured while being held secretly by UAE state security.

His trial is ongoing at the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi.

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