In this Aug. 25, 2016 file photo, human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor speaks to Associated Press journalists in Ajman, United Arab Emirates.
© 2016 AP Photo/Jon Gambrell
(Beirut) – United Arab Emirates authorities retaliated against the detained human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor after July 2021, when regional media published a prison letter he wrote detailing his mistreatment in detention and flagrantly unfair trial, Human Rights Watch and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) said today.
An informed source told the groups that following the letter’s publication, UAE authorities moved Mansoor to a smaller and more isolated cell, denied him access to critical medical care, and confiscated his reading glasses. Since detaining him in March 2017, UAE authorities have held Mansoor largely incommunicado, isolated him from other prisoners, and denied him a bed and mattress. The United Nations, as well as the UAE’s allies, the United States, United Kingdom, and others, should publicly and privately call for an immediate end to Mansoor’s isolation and for his unconditional release.
“Allies have been helping to promote the UAE’s narrative of a tolerant and culturally open country while ignoring rampant abuses, including the legal railroading and ghastly mistreatment of one of its most respected citizens,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The UN Human Rights Council should not keep silent while its member, the UAE, flagrantly violates human rights standards and blocks UN and other international and independent monitors from accessing its prisons.”
In June 2021, for the first time since 1986, UN member states elected the UAE to serve on the UN Security Council for its 2022-23 term, despite its dire human rights record. In October, the UAE won membership on the UN Human Rights Council for a third time. For years, the UAE has disregarded the Human Rights Council’s mechanisms and experts and no UN special rapporteur has been allowed to visit the country since 2014.
Mansoor has been held in the notorious al-Sadr prison near Abu Dhabi serving a 10-year prison sentence handed down on May 29, 2018, by the State Security Chamber of the Abu Dhabi Court of Appeals following a grossly unfair trial on spurious charges. The prison letter, published on July 16 by Arabi21, a London-based Arabic news site, details the grave violations by the UAE’s state security agency against Mansoor since his arrest and detention.
It says that the authorities held him in indefinite solitary confinement, deprived him of basic necessities, and denied him any meaningful contact with other prisoners or the outside world. Human Rights Watch and GCHR detailed the UAE’s mistreatment of Mansoor in January in a joint 30-page report, “The Persecution of Ahmed Mansoor: How the United Arab Emirates Silenced its Most Famous Human Rights Activist.”
“Our courageous colleague Ahmed Mansoor is facing very dangerous targeting that threatens his life,” said Khalid Ibrahim, GCHR’s executive director. “In addition to completely isolating him from the outside world and preventing him from accessing the necessary medical care, authorities are working systematically to psychologically break him down. This requires urgent action by all international mechanisms and governments concerned with human rights to save his life.”
The UAE’s powerful state security agency has violated Mansoor’s rights for more than 10 years with arbitrary arrest and detention, death threats, physical assault, government surveillance, and inhumane treatment in custody, the organizations said. He has been denied his rights as a prisoner under international human rights law, including the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
By holding Mansoor in isolation for nearly four years, which amounts to torture, UAE authorities are violating their obligations under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which the UAE ratified in 2012.
Mansoor is not the only victim of the UAE authorities’ complete intolerance of dissent. Since 2011, when the UAE began a sustained assault on freedom of expression and association, Human Rights Watch and GCHR have repeatedly documented serious allegations of abuse at the hands of state security forces against dissidents and activists who have spoken up about human rights issues.
The most egregious abuses are arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, and torture. The UAE has arrested and prosecuted scores of lawyers, judges, teachers, and activists and shut down key civil society associations and the offices of foreign organizations promoting democratic rights, effectively crushing any space for dissent.
Simultaneously, the UAE has embarked on a decades-long effort to whitewash its reputation on the international stage, most recently with the Expo 2020 Dubai, a mega event that promotes a public image of openness at odds with the government’s efforts to prevent scrutiny of its rampant systemic human rights violations. In October, GCHR and two dozen partners initiated the Alternative Human Rights Expo to counter this narrative, featuring Mansoor’s poetry and calling for the release of detained Emirati activists.
Governments have a human rights responsibility to avoid contributing to UAE authorities’ efforts to whitewash its abuses, including its cruel and unjust imprisonment of Mansoor and others detained solely for exercising their right to free expression. As countries showcase their pavilions at the Dubai Expo, they should advocate for the UAE to unconditionally release all those unjustly detained for exercising their right to free expression, Human Rights Watch and GCHR said.
These countries should press for the UAE to regularly open up the country, including its prisons and its courts, to scrutiny by independent researchers and monitors. Governments should also immediately urge UAE authorities to allow independent and international monitors access to check on the safety of Mansoor and other human rights defenders.