On 22 October is Ahmed Mansoor’s 50th birthday. It is very likely that he will spent this day alone in his cell in solitary confinement as all the time since his arrest more than 2 1/2 years ago. Amnesty International, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, International Service for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, PEN and CIVICUS among many other organisations start today, 16 October, a global week of action with protests in many cities and actions on social media to mark his birthday and call for his release.
I. Who is Ahmed Mansoor?
I am sure most of you know in the meantime Ahmed Mansoor. I have written quite a number of blog posts about him.
Nevertheless here are some key information about him: Ahmed Mansoor is a prominent blogger and human rights activist. He is an engineer and a member of several human rights organisations.In 2015 he won the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights. He is also a poet and published a collection of poetry in Arabic in 2006.
Ahmed Mansoor was arrested on 20 March 2017. His arrest was the culmination of years of harassment, arrests, travel bans and physical and electronic surveillance. On 29 May 2018 he was sentenced to ten years in prison for false information on social media which “insulted the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols” and “incited hatred and sectarian feelings”. The court of appeal decided on 31 December 2018 to uphold the sentence which is now final. Ahmed Mansoor went on a four week hunger strike on 17 March 2019 to protest poor prison conditions and his unfair trial.
If you want to know more about him, then please have a look at one of my previous posts about him, in particular “Arrested, Sentenced, Not Released – Human Rights in the United Arab Emirates“, “Ahmed Mansoor – 10 years in prison for defending human rights” and “Ahmed Mansoor on hunger strike“. If you want to read some of his poems as well as an excerpt of an interview with him and some others texts about him, then please have a look at the webzine “Words for the Silenced” which Exiled Writer Ink published about a week ago.
II. What is Ahmed Mansoor’s current situation?
I already mentioned in my last post in April some details about the horrible prison conditions he has to endure. Gulf Centre for Human Rights published in May a detailed report about his “medieval” prison conditions: “A look inside Ahmed Mansoor’s isolation cell after two years in prison“. They received further information from a former prisoner.
He said that Ahmed Mansoor is in a cell ” with no bed and no running water (not even in the toilet, which is little more than a hole in the floor), and no access to a shower “. He added the following details:
Prisoners must keep their own cells clean but with no running water or cleaning supplies, that is difficult. While there are showers installed in the cells, they do not work, due to a problem with the water system.
The former prisoner described the conditions in the isolation ward, where many prisoners are ill and do not receive medical care, some of whom have been there for 20 years. He said the cells are 4 x 4 meters wide with a door with a small window and a small window eight metres up in the wall, allowing sunlight about three hours a day. The walls are 11 metres high and prisoners are able to shout to hear each other from cell to cell. The lights are very abrasive so prisoners request that they are kept off most of the time.
He also mentioned that even prisoners in the isolation ward are usually allowed to leave the cell to go to canteen, but Ahmed Mansoor has to stay in his cell all the time. He receives food from the canteen in his cell and he is only allowed to leave the cell for very sparse family visits. After the hunger strike he “was moving slowly and appeared to be very weak”.
About two weeks ago Gulf Centre for Human Rights published another report with more worrying news. They received information that Ahmed Mansoor began in early September a second hunger strike. Neither they nor any other NGO has information whether he is still on hunger strike. He was at the time in a very bad physical and mental state. It also seems that he was beaten as retribution for his protest. They say that he “was beaten badly enough to leave a visible mark on his face, indicating he may have been tortured”.
III. What can I do to help?
We decided to mark Ahmed Mansoor’s 50th birthday on 22 October with protests in different cities around the world and a week long of online actions and also draw by this actions attention to his current situation.
1. Protests and other events in London
If you are based in London, then please join us on Saturday, 19 October for two events.
Amnesty International UK, the Amnesty Group Westminster Bayswater, English PEN, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Friends of Ahmed Mansoor and others organise for 3 pm a protest at the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, 1-2 Grosvenor Cresent, London SW1X 7EE. You can find more information on Facebook and Eventbrite.
At 5 pm Oscar Jenz, country coordinator for UAE at Amnesty International UK, will be host for a panel discussion “Human Rights in the UAE: Repression at home and abroad” at Amnesty International UK, 25 New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EA. There are three interesting speakers:
- Matthew Hedges, Academic freedom campaigner and former prisoner in the UAE
- Safa Al Ahmad, Award-winning Saudi journalist and filmmaker
- Tarek Megerisi, Libyan political analyst and researcher
Please share the information about these events and come, if you can.
2. Protests in other cities
There will not only be protests in London, but also in a number of other cities, on 20 October in Melbourne and on Ahmed Mansoor’s birthday, 22 October in New York, Washington, Toronto, Brussels, Paris and Oslo. There are also plans for potential protests and actions in Switzerland, Berlin and Sydney. If you are interested in any protest or action in another country or if you want to organise a protest, please contact “Friends of Ahmed Mansoor” on Facebook or Twitter.
3. Open Letter
Over the last weeks more than 140 NGOs signed an open letter to the President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan. The letter refers in particular to the designation of 2019 as “Year of Tolerance” and the World Expo trade fair in 2020 with the motto “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future” which is at odds with the severe punishment of Ahmed Mansoor for asking for this same openness and tolerance.
“It is in this same spirit that we, the undersigned, call upon the UAE government to immediately and unconditionally release human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, whose life we believe may be at risk following beatings and hunger strikes to protest deplorable and inhumane prison conditions. The Authorities have convicted and imprisoned him solely for his human rights work and for exercising his right to freedom of expression, which is also protected under the UAE’s Constitution. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience”
The letter was published today. You can find a link to the letter here. Please share it widely in your networks.
4. Social Media Action
In addition to the protest, we plan a week of actions on Social Media, in particular on Twitter to raise awareness for Ahmed Mansoor, show the UAE authorities that we have not forgotten him and also to send him symbolically our birthday wishes.
a) When shall I tweet?
We plan to start the action on Social Media, today (16 October). It will last until the day after Ahmed Mansoor’s birthday (23 October).
b) Is there a special hashtag?
We will use two hashtags: One is the usual hashtag #FreeAhmed. The other hashtag is #BirthdayWishes4Ahmed, a hashtag we also use for Ahmed Mansoor’s last two birthdays.
c) What shall I tweet?
- Send tweets to raise your followers’ awareness for Ahmed Mansoor. Tell them about him and his courageous work defending human rights in the UAE. Tell them that he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his work and that he spent all the time in solitary confinement. Mention that it is his 50th birthday on 22 October. You can also send tweets to journalists and newspapers and ask them to write about his case.
- Send tweets to the United Arab Emirates, in particular to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum @HHShkMohd, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and to Dr. Anwar Mohammed Gargash @AnwarGargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and ask them to release Ahmed Mansoor. You can also tweet to Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan @SaifBZayed, the Minister of Interior of the United Arab Emirates. He is the authority who controls and runs prisons in UAE. Other accounts to address are Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan @ABZayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum @HamdanMohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan @MohamedBinZayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.
- In addition you can tweet to politicians in Europe and the US and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of your country. Feel free to tweet in your own language.
- You can finally send tweets with words of support to @Ahmed_Mansoor and please also send your birthday wishes for him, maybe together with a photo of flowers.
d) Are there sample tweets?
You can tweet what you want and you can also tweet in whatever language you want to. If you need some inspiration, here are a couple of tweets which were drafted by Amnesty International, Gulf Centre for Human Rights and International Service for Human Rights
- This year the #UAE is celebrating its #YearofTolerance, yet human rights defenders like @Ahmed_Mansoor and Mohammed Al-Roken remain in prison. @MohamedBinZayed @HHShkMohd, for Ahmed’s 50th birthday, I urge you to #FreeAhmed and all other prisoners of conscience in the UAE!
- Imprisoned, isolated, but not silenced: ‘the last human rights defender left in the #UAE’ @Ahmed_Mansoor is serving a 10-year prison sentence for speaking out for human rights. @MohamedBinZayed @HHShkMohd, I call on you to #FreeAhmed and all other prisoners of conscience!
- #UAE human rights defender @Ahmed_Mansoor is on hunger strike protesting poor conditions in prison. He is held in solitary confinement – no bed, no water, & is never allowed to leave his cell. This Tuesday is his birthday. @MohamedBinZayed @HHShkMohd I call on you to #FreeAhmed!
- .@Ahmed_Mansoor – a poet, engineer, father, and human rights defender many of us know personally – has been sentenced to 10 years in prison in the #UAE for defending human rights. @MohamedBinZayed @HHShkMohd #FreeAhmed for his 50th birthday this Tuesday! #YearofTolerance
- .@Ahmed_Mansoor is a 50-year-old Emirati electrical engineer, poet, blogger and human rights defender sentenced to 10 years in prison for sharing his opinions on social media #FreeAhmed #BirthdayWishes4Ahmed @HHShkMohd
- .@Ahmed_Mansoor has 4 young sons who need their father at home, not in prison for 10 years. Let them celebrate his birthday together #FreeAhmed #BirthdayWishes4Ahmed @HHShkMohd
- .@Ahmed_Mansoor shouldn’t have to spend his 50th birthday in prison for his human rights work. It’s the Year of Tolerance #FreeAhmed #BirthdayWishes4Ahmed @HHShkMohd
e) Are there any graphics I can use?
Tweets are always better with graphics. Amnesty International designed unbranded graphics which can be used by everyone who joins the global campaign.
IV. Why shall I help?
If you have still doubts why you should support Ahmed Mansoor, then just imagine his terrible situation. He is maybe still on hunger strike, even if has stopped in the meantime, the hunger strike will have taken its toll on his physical and mental health. A birthday, and in particular such a significant birthday, is day one should spend celebrating surrounded by family and friends and not alone in a cell in solitary confinement, knowing that there are at least about 7 1/2 more years of prison to come.
Matthew Hedges, one of the speakers at the London panel discussion, is an academic who was arrested in UAE around the same time as Ahmed Mansoor. He was released last year. That is what he says about Ahmed Mansoor’s situation:
“Ahmed and I were imprisoned at roughly the same time last year – I’m now free but he remains behind bars. I suffered immensely and the damage done will be with me forever – I can only imagine the terrible toll that this prolonged imprisonment will be having on him. No-one should ever be imprisoned for expressing opinions, and promoting a free and fair society with human rights for all.”
Please join us and help us to #FreeAhmed! Show the UAE authorities that we have not forgotten Ahmed Mansoor.