Ahmed Mansoor – another birthday in prison

Today is Ahmed Mansoor’s 52nd birthday. It is his fifth birthday in prison, in solitary confinement separated from his loved ones.

I am writing his blog post to mark this day and ask you to speak out for him. I also want to give an update on his situation and current developments, introduce you to the Alternative Human Rights Expo which was launched by Gulf Centre for Human Rights together with other NGOs in parallel to the Dubai Expo and share an Arabic reading of one of his poems and the English translation of this poem.

1. Key Information about Ahmed Mansoor

Most of you will probably know Ahmed Mansoor, but a few key information might still be useful:

Ahmed Mansoor is a highly regarded blogger and human rights activist. He is an engineer and a member of several human rights organisations. He is among others a member of the Advisory Board of Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and a member of the Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch (HRW) Middle East and North Africa Division. In 2015 he won the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights.

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.

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. Ahmed Mansoor has been in solitary confinement since his arrest more than four years seven months ago. He was only allowed to leave his cell for a handful of very infrequent family visits. After the hunger strike in March 2019, he was once allowed to walk in the prison yard. He has no access to books or newspapers.

Ahmed Mansoor went on a second hunger strike in early September 2019. This time he was on the hunger strike for 49 days and lost during this time 11 kgs of weight. Gulf Centre for Human Rights and other NGOs said that his health is at risk.

There is no information about him specifically in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic, but if you read my blog post from June last year, you might know that Human Rights Watch had a quite alarming article about the dire situation in UAE prisons during Covid-19 outbreaks.

2. Current information and recent developments

It is always difficult to find up to date information about Ahmed Mansoor, because he has virtually no contact with the outside world. Even the contact with his family is only very limited and even if his family had up to date information, they run the risk to endanger themselves and possible him if they openly share such information with the public. Nevertheless, there is some recent information which I want to share with you.

a) The Persecution of Ahmed Mansoor, Report by Gulf Centre for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch (January 2021)

At the beginning of the year Gulf Centre for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch published a detailed 35 page report “The Persecution of Ahmed Mansoor. How the United Arab Emirates Silenced its Most Famous Human Rights Activist”. In addition to past research conducted by GCHR, HRW and other organisations, it is based

“on statements obtained from a source with direct knowledge of Ahmed Mansoor’s court proceedings as well as interviews with two former prisoners who, at different times during his detention in al-Sadr prison, were detained alongside Mansoor in the designated isolation ward. Human Rights Watch and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) are withholding the names and identities of some sources for their security”

The report contains background information about Ahmed Mansoor, information about the original trial and the appeal hearing and details about his treatment in prison. It also includes recommendations to the UAE and to Western states and deplores “A Complacent International Community”.

The report is fascinating and at the same time horrible to read. It shows clearly the unfairness of the trial against him and illustrates the terrible prison conditions which he has to endure. Some was known before through individual articles, but it is certainly worth to read the whole report. Please read the report and share it widely.

b) A tribute to Artur Ligęska (May 2021)

The report I have just mentioned would probably not have been possible without the late Artur Ligęska (at least not in the current form)

Artur Ligęska was a Polish fitness instructor. He went to Dubai in 2018. His plan was to open several fitness clubs there. During the opening of one of the clubs he got to know Angel, Prince of Abu Dhabi, who fell in love with him. Because he rejected the love of the prince, he was arrested in April 2018 on trumped up charges of the possession and the use of drugs. There was no evidence in the trial and no witnesses and also the drug test which was carried out on the day after his arrest was negative. Nevertheless, Artur was sentenced to life in prison. He experienced torture and sexual abuse in prison. Thanks to international pressure he was released in May 2019.

There is a special link between Artur Ligęska and Ahmed Mansoor. Artur was in in the same prison as Ahmed, in a neighbouring cell and they got to know each other. They shouted to each others through the prison walls (in particular in the evenings) and were so able to communicate with each other. When Ahmed Mansoor went on his first hunger strike in April 2019 Artur was so worried about Ahmed Mansoor’s health and life that he asked Ahmed for telephone numbers of human rights organisations. As soon as he got a chance to use the telephone, he did not call his family, but he tried to call Human Rights Watch and Gulf Centre for Human Rights. He did not manage to reach HRW, but he spoke with Kristina Stockwood from GCHR. Without his courage the outside world would probably not have heard of Ahmed Mansoor’s first hunger strike and the terrible prison conditions he is in. The public attention to his situation lead to slight improvements for him. There are two articles worth reading “A look inside Ahmed Mansoor’s isolation cell after two years in prison” on the GCHR website and “Artur and Ahmed: Prison Mates in UAE Hell” on the HRW website.

On 26 May 2021 Artur was found dead in his apartment in Amsterdam. The circumstances of his death are unclear.

His sudden death was a great shock for the human rights community. There are several tributes to him in articles and video clips. The Austrian film maker Manu Luksch made a beautiful, moving and at the same time terrifying documentary film about Artur Ligęska. It is called “Cry and Sing. Sing and Cry”. The film will be shown at different film festivals. You can find a preview of the film on Vimeo. Manu hopes that she will also be able to make the whole film available on Vimeo, once the film festivals are over. Please watch the film if you have a chance to do so.

c) Caleo Castro about Ahmed Mansoor and leaked letters about trial and prison conditions (July / August 2021)

Caleo Castro is another former prisoner who was in a cell close to Ahmed Mansoor. Caleo Castro is Brazilian. He is a former flight attendant who used to work for Emirates Airlines. He was in prison in UAE from 7 November 2019 until 21 October 2020 after he was arrested on far fetched charges.

He spoke in August about his experience in prison with newspapers and at online events. He tells a similar story as Artur Ligęska. He was first (until 29 January 2020) in Dubai’s central prison, but was then transferred to Abu Dhabi and was in the same prison as Ahmed Mansoor. Also he and Ahmed could communicate with each other by shouting through the walls. He was moved to a cell next to Ahmed Mansoor’s cell and found out who Ahmed Mansoor is. Caleo Castro says that he had a right to a mattress and a blanket, but Ahmed Mansoor had no such rights and slept on the floor, without a mattress and without a blanket. Ahmed Mansoor was allowed occasional phone calls with his family, but they were always cut off after 3 minutes or less.

Castro says that Ahmed looks much older than 52. His hair gone white and he has developed several health problems, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. In one way it is reassuring that he apparently receives medical treatment for these problems. But Castro says that Ahmed “joked” about this attention and said

“listen, they just want to make sure that I would not die (during) the ten years inside the jail and that I would die at the end”.

Also Caleo Castro did a very brave thing. Ahmed Mansoor gave him a handwritten letter in which he described his trials and his prison conditions, including the many depravations he has to endure. When Castro was released he smuggled the letter out of prison. Also he decided to speak out for Ahmed Mansoor, because he was impressed by him and had the feeling that he had to do whatever is possible to get Ahmed Mansoor out of prison.

These letters was leaked to press and published by a London-based Arab new site on 16 July 2021.

d) Resolution of the European Parliament on 16 September 2021

I finally also want to mention a positive development. About one months ago, on 16 September, the European Parliament adopted a resolution in which they called for “the immediate and unconditional release of Ahmed Mansoor, Mohammed al-Roken and Nasser bin Ghaith, as well as all other human rights defenders, political activists and peaceful dissidents”. The resolution even went so far to “invites the international companies sponsoring Expo 2020 Dubai to withdraw their sponsorship and encourages Member States not to participate in the event”. Let’s hope that more pressure from the European Union and individual states will follow and will show results.

3. Alternative Human Rights Expo

On 1 October 2021 the Expo opened in Dubai. It will run until March 2022. It is the the first expo in the Arab world. Dubai and UAE uses the Expo to white wash their image from human rights violations and present themselves as an open and tolerant nation. The motto of the expo is “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future through sustainability, mobility and opportunity”. However, this motto sounds hollow and hypocritical given that all UAE Human Rights Defenders are locked up and serve long sentences in horrible conditions just because they tried to share their ideas, connect with minds around the world and wanted to create a positive and open future for the UAE and the Arab world. 

Gulf Centre for Human Rights together with 20 other Human Rights Organisations decided to organise an “Alternative Human Rights Expo”. You can find more information about this Alternative Human Rights Expo on the website.

There is an open letter which was signed by more than 80 human rights organisations. The letter is an appeal to UAE to release detained UAE human rights activists. It mentions in addition to Ahmed Mansoor, specifically Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith, Mohammed Abdul Razzaq Al-Siddiq and the human rights lawyers Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken and Dr. Mohammed Al-Mansoori.

There is also a petition which urges UAE to release the human rights activists during the Expo. Please sign and share the petition.

Last Thursday, 14 October, GCHR organised together with other organisations an “Alternative Human Rights Expo” online event. It was similar to last years “Prisoner and the Pen” event, but had a wider scope. It again had a focus on imprisoned human rights activists and their writings and featured in particular:

  • Ahmed Mansoor & Mohammad Al-Siddiq, UAE
  • Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Bahrain
  • Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, Iran
  • Alaa Abd El-Fattah and Sanaa Seif, Egypt

However, it also showed poetry, art, prose texts and music from a cross the Middle East. You can find the full programme here (choose the tab “Programme”) and the video clip of the full event here. It was a wonderful and moving event. Please watch it, if you can.

Until the end of the Dubai there will be more actions and potential also further events. Please keep an eye on the website and follow the social media accounts of the participating NGOs for further details.

4. A Poem from his collection “Beyond Failure”

If you read my blog post “Ahmed Mansoor – a poet” from March last year, then you know that Ahmed Mansoor published in 2007 a collection of poetry (in Arabic) with the title “Beyond Failure”. I included in my blog post last year the English translation of all poems for which we had translation at that time. For the Alternative Human Rights Expo event, Gulf Centre for Human Rights asked someone to make an English translation of another poem in the book. In the event his book was described as follows:

His first poetry collection “Beyond the Failure” was published in 2007 and contains 29 texts in which all of the human suffering and torment, and the perplexing hardship he is going through, are manifested.

The poem was read in the event in Arabic by Khalid Ibrahim, Executive Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. You can watch a video clip of this reading (with English surtitles) here. .

And here is the English translation of this poem:

First day: 
with my hand,
I dug a small hole
put in the vase hole
I filled the bowl with water.
in front of the bowl,
the earth was paved, and on its flanks,
protruding stones are planted,
behind the paved ground,
dune pile
behind the dunes,
I hid my secret.

Second day:
from my secret,
made little clouds,
and scattered over stones, water and steppes.
behind the clouds,
I stuck little stars and a lonely moon.
I blew into the scene tenderly,
I had a slight jerk in it
the murmur was fixed in the forehead.

Third day:
between the jutting stones and the water,
cracked some grooves,
and one of them,
It brought 2 canals to the steppes and dunes.
and without careful care,
I dug scattered spots in the place,
About jutting stones and spots,
scattered wildflowers and algae,
then I planted reeds around it,
I repeated it,
I let the dunes absorb the puff.

Fourth day:
near the water,
I built a hut out of sticks,
for the hut, window on each side,
a tongue on the water.
inside,
I put a sofa for two and a single stove,
waterproof,
made a sailboat,
the boat is tightened in the tongue.

Fifth day:
I fixed a bug in a cloud and a bug in a channel,
I trimmed the edges of the sticks,
and arranged some tables,
among the reeds,
I sent down two lovers and enveloped the scene with transparent darkness,
above the lovers
rained clouds,
and across the steppe,
valleys ran from jutting mountains
the streams were filled with water,
reed sticks, green
the wildfire of herbs rattled,
and algae sprouted on the ponds.
the murmur took off,
she gave birth to a wind that tickles the sail hanging at the tongue.

Sixth day:
the two lovers went to the hut,
sitting on the sofa by the sea
lit the stove,
and kisses.
What is missing then for the world to level and shine? The poet notes that there must be a sun, the sun of freedom, in order for the whole scene to be manifested, and therefore on the seventh day he adds a sun to the scene.

Seventh day: 
the sun stayed,
I will add it,
until the lovers are concluded,
from the kiss.

5. Please take action for Ahmed Mansoor

I want to close this blog post in the same way as always. Please do not forget Ahmed Mansoor, but speak our for him and campaign for him.

It was wonderful to see during the day many people who tweeted their #BirthdayWishes4Ahmed. There were also protests and actions for him in Brussels, Geneva and in London.

Please continue to support Ahmed Mansoor also when his birthday is over. Please use the hashtag #FreeAhmed and tag Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum  @HHShkMohd, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Dr. Anwar Mohammed Gargash @AnwarGargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan @MohamedBinZayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. Urge them to release Ahmed Mansoor immediately and unconditionally.

Please sign and share the petition for Ahmed Mansoor and other human rights defenders in UAE which was launched in the context of the Alternative Human Rights Expo and which I have mentioned above.

Let us hope that this birthday will be the last birthday Ahmed Mansoor has to spend in prison and that he will soon be released and re-united with his family and his friends.

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