Rights group: UAE deports online activist

The United Arab Emirates deported an online activist to Thailand on Monday after stripping him of his right to live in the country, part of a widening crackdown on alleged challenges to the state since the Arab Spring uprisings, a rights group said.

The deportee did not have any reported connection to Thailand, but was a member of one of a number of families who have lived for generations in the Emirates who have never been given full citizenship.

His expulsion followed a separate wave of detentions this week of at least seven people suspected of plotting against the ruling system in the Western-allied Emirates, which has stepped up pressures on perceived dissent since the political upheavals across the region began last year.

The UAE is a key Western military foothold in the Gulf, including a base for U.S. warplanes, and this week sharply boosted its oil-exporting capabilities with a pipeline that bypasses the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf - which Iran has threatened to block in retaliation for tighter Western sanctions.

The UAE has not faced street protests or violence over calls for change, but authorities have sharply increased web monitoring and other measures against groups urging for reforms in the tightly ruled federation of seven emirates.

The London-based Emirates Center for Human Rights said activist Ahmed Abdul Khaleq was deported on a Comoros Islands passport arranged by UAE authorities, in the first banishment by the country of one of its "stateless" residents.

UAE officials have revoked some activists' citizenship after they campaigned for reforms, but Khaleq had never held nationality in the first place despite living his whole life in the country. Such groups, common throughout the Gulf, are most often descendants of nomadic tribes that do not have formal citizenship.

Khaleq's website included appeals for a greater public voice in affairs of the UAE, which bans political parties and allows only hand-picked voters to cast ballots for a national advisory assembly.

He was among five political activists - including an economics professor who frequently lectured at Abu Dhabi's branch of the Sorbonne university - who were convicted last year of anti-state crimes after signing an online petition calling for a greater public role in politics. They were later freed by a presidential order, but the charges against them were not officially dropped.

It was unclear whether the UAE would seek further deportations. UAE officials had no immediate comment. Khaleq's mobile phone number was inactive.

On Sunday, the Abu Dhabi public prosecutor said it was investigating a group suspected of plotting "to commit crimes against state security." No further details have yet emerged, but activist groups say at least seven UAE citizens have been taken into custody.

Earlier this year, at least eight people, including a member of the ruling family of the emirate Ras al-Khaimah, were detained for suspected links to the Islamist group al-Islah, or Reform. It advocates a greater public role in the country's decisions and emphasizes the need to retain strong Muslim traditions in a place where foreigners greatly outnumber native-born Emiratis.

Dubai's police chief, Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim, has repeatedly raised alarms about the growing influence of Islamist groups, including factions inspired by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which won the country's presidency and dominated the now-dissolved parliament.