Ahmed Mansoor – a human rights activist and prisoner of conscience

Today, on 20 March is the third anniversary of Ahmed Mansoor’s arrest. Tomorrow, on 21 March is World Poetry Day. I have decided to write two blog posts in which I will focus on two aspects of Ahmed Mansoor. This blog post is about Ahmed Mansoor, the human rights activist and prisoner of conscience since 20 March 2017. I want to remind everyone of the arrest of an incredible brave man who is still suffering in terrible conditions in prison. In the next blog post I want to introduce you to Ahmed Mansoor, the poet. I hope you will read and share both posts and support the #FreeAhmed campaign.

1. What you need to know about Ahmed Mansoor

Ahmed Mansoor is a highly regarded 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.

Ahmed Mansoor was arrested three years ago, 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.

One year ago (on 17 March 2019), Ahmed Mansoor went on a four week hunger strike to protest poor prison conditions and his unfair trial. His situation in prison is terrible. His cell does not have a bed and he has to sleep on the floor. The cell also does not have running water (not even in the toilet, which is little more than a hole in the floor). Ahmed Mansoor has been in solitary confinement since his arrest three years ago. He was only allowed to leave his cell for a handful of very infrequent family visits. After the hunger strike last March, he was once allowed to walk in the prison yard. He has no access to books or newspapers. Gulf Centre for Human Rights reported at the end of September that he was beaten and had started a second hunger strike.

If you read my blog regularly or follow me on Twitter, you know that I have written quite a number of blog posts about Ahmed Mansoor over the years. 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”, “Ahmed Mansoor on hunger strike“ and my last post about him from October last year “Global week of action for Ahmed Mansoor #BirthdayWishes4Ahmed“.

2. Ahmed Mansoor’s current situation

There is sadly again little information available about Ahmed Mansoor’s current situation. Human Rights Watch published recently a fascinating article “Artur and Ahmed: Prison Mates in UAE Hell“. The Polish businessman and former prisoner Artur Ligeska speaks in this article about Ahmed’s situation in prison (up to May 2019). He explains that the decision of the court of appeal in December 2018 had a deep impact on Ahmed.

“… [I]n December 2018, when the Federal Supreme Court upheld his 10-year sentence, the news shook him. “I remember the day when he lost the appeal,” says Artur. “He came [back] to the isolation ward and he start[ed] to shout.” Shortly after, Ahmed decided to go on hunger strike. Artur, who unlike Ahmed was allowed to leave the isolation ward to go to the canteen, caught glimpses of Ahmed’s physical deterioration as he passed by the tiny window to Ahmed’s cell. “He lost immediately a lot of weight. Changed color of the face.”

After four weeks of hunger strike Artur was so concerned for Ahmed Mansoor’s life that he did everything to get information out of the prison. Via another prisoner he got hold of two telephone numbers. One of them belonged to Kristina Stockwood, Gulf Centre for Human Rights and the information Kristina received enabled them to inform the public about Ahmed Mansoor’s hunger strike last spring. Artur Ligeska was released in May 2019 and it is again almost impossible to get information about Ahmed Mansoor’s situation.

About a months ago, Amnesty International and Gulf Centre for Human Rights both published very worrying news. It seems that Ahmed Mansoor started his hunger strike on 7 September 2019. He did so, because he was beaten and he wanted to protest against broken promises. During his last hunger strike he was promised better prison conditions, including a bed. However, the authorities broke most of these promises. He was allowed to walk in yard once and he could call his ill mother once, but apart from that not much changed.

The first week of his hunger strike the prison guards forced him to eat, but from 14 September 2019 onward the prison authorities did not interfere any longer with his hunger strike. Both organisations say that he was on hunger strike until at least mid January and that he was refusing all solid food and was consuming fluids only. Gulf Centre for Human Rights says his life is at risk:

As the anniversary of Mansoor’s arrest on 20 March 2017 approaches, his health is suffering and his life is at risk. He has been held continuously in an isolation cell, which he is not allowed to leave apart from occasional family visits. A local source told GCHR recently that he has been psychologically abused to put pressure on him, and could no longer walk, since he continues the liquids-only hunger strike that he started five months ago. He also still has no mattress, no sunshine, and no books or television.

From 25 to 28 February 2020 the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi took place. The UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance uses this festival as many other cultural and sports events to distract from the UAE’s human rights violations. More than 60 NGOs and individuals called in an open letter for release of Ahmed Mansoor and other prisoners of conscience, in particular the human rights lawyer Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken, the human rights lawyer Dr. Mohammed Al-Mansoori and the professor Nasser Bin-Ghaith. The signatories included the winner of the Noble Prize for Literature Wole Soyinka, the co-winner of the Noble Prize for Peace Ahmed Galai, the author and presenter Stephen Fry, the Egyptian novelist and political and cultural commentator Ahdaf Soueif and many other writers, journalists and human rights activists, some of them were participants in the festival. During the festival Ahdaf Soueif warned that cultural events should not be used to “paper over” human rights violations. She specifically highlighted the situation of Ahmed Mansoor and of Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken.

Amnesty International and Gulf Centre for Human Rights published today a new statement in which they call for the immediate and unconditional release of Ahmed Mansoor. However, there is sadly no update on his situation.

3. Please take action for Ahmed Mansoor

A number of organisations, including the local Amnesty Group Westminster Bayswater, Friends for Ahmed Mansoor, English PEN, International Campaign For Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE) and Gulf Centre for Human Rights planned a protest at the UAE Embassy in London on Wednesday 25 March 2020. Because of the Coronavirus and recommendation of the UK government to avoid any not necessary personal contact, we had to cancel the protest, but these and many other organisations ask their supporters to use social media to raise awareness for Ahmed Mansoor on this third anniversary of his arrest. I would also like to ask you to join the social media action for Ahmed Mansoor today.

a) When shall I tweet?

You can tweet the whole day on 20 March 2020. Please start past midnight in your time zone and tweet as much or as little as you like. These Twitter actions are always team efforts and the aim is to keep a topic and a hashtag in as many Twitter feeds as possible.

b) Is there a special hashtag?

We will use two hashtags: One is the usual hashtag #FreeAhmed. We also want to ask people to use the hashtag #GiveAhmedaBed.

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 the third anniversary of his arrest. 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. Possible targets are Josep Borrell: @JosepBorrellF (EU Minister for Foreign Affairs), Mary Lawlor: @MaryLawlorFLD (the new UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders), Emmanuel Macron: @EmmanuelMacron, Boris Johnson: @BorisJohnson, Donald Trump: @realDonaldTrump
  • You can finally send tweets with words of support to @Ahmed_Mansoor and his family. It would be too risky for his family to campaign for him, but many NGOs say that they see the tweets in support of #FreeAhmed

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 and by ICFUAE:

  • BRAVE @Ahmed_Mansoor, 3 years since your arrest, but every day on our mind and in our hearts #FreeAhmed
  • Today Human rights defender @Ahmed_Mansoor has needlessly spent a third year in prison. We call on the #UAE @HHShkMohd @MohamedBinZayed to #FreeAhmed NOW!!!
  • Today marks 3 years since @Ahmed_Mansoor’s arrest in the #UAE. He is a #BRAVE #PrisonerOfConscience. Call for his immediate and unconditional release #FreeAhmed @MohamedBinZayed @HHShkMohd @SaifBZayed
  • The #UAE government is committing an atrocious human rights violation by arbitrarily detaining @Ahmed_Mansoor for his human rights work. Call for his immediate and unconditional release now! #FreeAhmed #GiveAhmedaBed
  • .@MaryLawlorFLD @JosepBorrellF @EmmanuelMacron @BorisJohnson @realDonaldTrump please take action and call on the #UAE to release @Ahmed_Mansoor. He is a #PrisonerOfConscience who is spending yet another year in solitary confinement for defending #humanrights. #FreeAhmed
  • The #UAE must allow independent monitors access to @Ahmed_Mansoor if they have nothing to hide! #FreeAhmed
  • On the 3rd anniversary of his arrest, our heart goes out to @Ahmed_Mansoor and his family. He has committed no crime, and shouldn’t have to spend another day in a cell without even a bed to sleep on. We urge @HHShkMohd @MohamedBinZayed to #FreeAhmed or at least #GiveAhmedaBed
  • Today marks 3 years since @Ahmed_Mansoor’s arrest in 2017. He has spent all of this time in degrading conditions and solitary confinement, which amounts to #torture. His health has deteriorated & he can no longer walk. @HHShkMohd @MohamedBinZayed #FreeAhmed #GiveAhmedaBed
  • 3 years after his arrest @Ahmed_Mansoor remains in prison amid the #COVID19 outbreak. His health has significantly deteriorated following his hunger strikes in protest of torture & extremely poor detention conditions. We fear for his life! #FreeAhmed #GiveAhmedaBed 
  • Is tweeting a crime? In the #UAE it can be! It has been 3 years since leading #HRD @Ahmed_Mansoor ‘s arrest for speaking out against #humanrights violations in the #UAE . We urge @HHShkMohd @MohamedBinZayed to #FreeAhmed.
  • 3 years ago today @Ahmed_Mansoor was arrested for peacefully exercising his right to #FreedomOfSpeech. He remains in prison where he is held in an isolation cell with no mattress and no access to books. #FreeAhmed #GiveAhmedaBed 

Suggested thread:

  1. #Brave human rights defender @Ahmed_Mansoor was arrested 3years ago, today in the #UAE. He was unfairly convicted and sentenced to 10yrs in prison. He is a #PrisonerOfConscience and we call for his immediate release.
  2. Since his arrest three years ago today, he has been held in solitary confinement which amounts to #torture. His physical and psychological conditions have significantly deteriorated.
  3. The #UAE must ensure that pending his release Ahmed Mansoor is detained in conditions that comply with international standards, that he is not subjected to torture or other ill-treatment; and has immediate and regular access to his family and any health care he may require.
  4. We call on the #UAE authorities to allow independent monitors access to Ahmed Mansoor
  5. When the #UAE authorities punish individuals in such a cruel and enduring manner for simply exercising their right to freedom to expression, their talk of ‘tolerance’ is nothing but deceitful.

English PEN plans to share poems by Ahmed Mansoor and will also encourage supporters to make short clips in which they read one of his poems and in which they call for his release. You can find on their website a poem by Adam Baron which he wrote in support of Ahmed Mansoor. English PEN invites everyone to join an online vigil at 2pm (London time).

Please join these actions and as always please continue to support Ahmed Mansoor also when once the anniversary of his arrest is over.

Artur Ligenska told Human Rights Watch the following:

“Ahmed always was saying [to] me stories about you guys. About his friends in human rights activism all around the world. And he always knew that no matter what would happen, you guys [are] going to stay next to him.”

Let us make sure that we do not disappoint Ahmed Mansoor, but “stay next to him” until he is free.

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