DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Six activists in the United Arab Emirates previously stripped of their citizenship for criticizing the country's rulers were detained on Monday and told they were illegally residing in the oil-rich union, one of their attorneys said.
The arrests were the latest move by the UAE to crack down on political dissent in the federation of seven city-states, each ruled by a hereditary sheik.
Authorities revoked the nationality of the six last year. The UAE has deported non-citizens suspected of political activities but it is an unusual tactic to be used against nationals.
Lawyer Mohammed al-Roken said the six are being held after they were summoned to the Interior Ministry in the capital, Abu Dhabi. He said they were told they are now in the country illegally and were asked to sign a statement obligating them to find a new nationality within two weeks.
After refusing to sign the statement, they were taken to an Abu Dhabi detention facility where illegal immigrants are held.
One of the activists, Mohammed Abdel-Razzaq al-Siddiq, said that he and the other men were part of an Islamist organization known as the Reform and Social Guidance Association. He said they were targeted because they have been campaigning for political reform.
The U.S.-allied UAE has not been hit by the mass unrest that spread across the Middle East including neighboring Bahrain during the last year's Arab Spring. UAE authorities have moved aggressively against any signs of dissent that could pose a challenge to the tight political controls in country.
Political activity is severely restricted in the Gulf federation. There are no official opposition groups in the country, and political parties are banned.
Last year, five political activists, including a prominent blogger and an economics professor who has frequently lectured at Abu Dhabi's branch of the Sorbonne university, were jailed after they had been convicted on anti-state charges that included insulting the UAE's leadership, endangering national security and inciting people to protest.
They were freed on order of the federation's president a day after their sentences of two to three years in jail were handed down. Despite the order, charges against them were never officially dropped.
All the convicted activists had signed an online petition calling on UAE rulers to allow free elections and changes to the constitution that would give more powers to the parliament, which now serves as an advisory body.
Last week, the UAE temporarily detained members of a U.S.-funded democracy group as they tried to leave the country after their office in the Gulf country was ordered closed.
The National Democratic Institute, or NDI, was closed two weeks ago over licensing issues, the authorities said. Branches of a German pro-democracy group, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, were also closed along with the NDI and the Washington-based polling organization Gallup.