Global week of action for Ahmed Mansoor #BirthdayWishes4Ahmed

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

More information about the event is on Facebook and Eventbrite.

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

  1. 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!
  2.  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!
  3. #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!
  4. .@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
  5. .@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
  6. .@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
  7. .@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.

Ahmed Mansoor on hunger strike

If you read my blog regularly or follow me on Twitter, you know the human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, because I have written quite a number of blog posts about him and I tweet about him regularly. I decided to write this blog post, because there is devastating news from United Arab Emirates which I want to share with you.

I. Background

I start with a few background information for those who are not so familiar with his case.

Ahmed Mansoor is a prominent blogger and human rights activist. He is married and a father of four little boys. He is an engineer, a highly regarded member of several human rights organisations, Martin Ennals award winner and he is a poet.

On 20 March 2017 Ahmed Mansoor was arrested. There are allegations that he was tortured. On 29 May 2018 he was sentenced to 10 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”. In addition the reports claim that he tried to “damage the relationship of UAE with its neighbours” by publishing false information. The court of appeal decided on 31 December 2018 to uphold the sentence which is now final.

If you want to know more about Ahmed Mansoor you can have a look at one of my previous posts about him, in particular “Arrested, Sentenced, Not Released – Human Rights Defender in the United Arab Emirates ” and “Ahmed Mansoor – 10 years in prison for defending human rights“.

II. Hunger Strike

1. On the 7 April Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) published an article and shared it on Social Media. They mentioned that they received reports from “local sources” which informed them that Ahmed Mansoor had been on hunger strike for three weeks to protest against the poor prison conditions and the unfair trial.

They clarified in an article earlier this week that he started his hunger strike on 17 March 2019, therefore around the time of the second anniversary of his arrest.

2. The details of the information they received are horrible: He is kept in isolation in Al-Sadr prison in Abu Dhabi and he had been in solitary confinement the whole time since his arrest more than two years ago. GCHR has also quite heartbreaking details about his cell and his general health:

“GCHR received news in early April that Mansoor was being kept in a cell with no bed and no water, and that he was held in “terrible conditions”, according to a confidential source. He was moving slowly and very weak.”

Apparently his family has not been able to see him since he started his hunger strike. It seems that family visits are not banned, but they were always very restricted anyway. Ahmed Mansoor’s mother was so far not allowed to visit him at all and she is very ill herself. I was previously told that Ahmed Mansoor is not even allowed to call his family. It seems that this has not changed.

3. In the meantime Ahmed Mansoor has been on hunger strike for almost six weeks. GCHR reports that his health has deteriorated further and that in particular his eyesight got so bad that he needs special glasses.

Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director, Lynn Maalouf summarised the situation in a press releases on 10 April in a very appropriate way:

“It is clearly not enough for the UAE authorities to have wrongly convicted and sentenced Ahmed Mansoor to 10 years behind bars. It seems they want to further crush him by making his life in prison unbearable, including by keeping him in solitary confinement since his arrest two years ago.”

III. Support for Ahmed Mansoor

Amidst all this devastating news about Ahmed Mansoor’s current situation, there are also some positive signs in form of increased support for him by individual activists and new urgent action and statements by many human rights organisations.

1. “Friends of Ahmed Mansoor”

On 10 April I came across a newly established Facebook page “Friends of Ahmed Mansoor“. April Allderdice who lives in the US set up this Facebook page the day before. She knows Ahmed Mansoor from the time when he went to the grad school in Colorado, USA. She set up the page to raise awareness about his situation and to link people who campaign for him all over the world. If you use Facebook, then please consider liking and following this page.

There is now also an active Twitter account “Friends of Ahmed Mansoor“. If you are on Twitter, then please consider following this account. It would be great, if the account had more follower and in particular even more people who retweet and share the information about him.

We will share on Facebook and Twitter articles, but also information about actions which are taken in support of Ahmed Mansoor around the world. On Twitter we plan to retweet all tweets about him and will obviously also send our own tweets. If you plan anything then please let us know with a Tweet or a message on Facebook. We are happy to share it further.

We also started a few days ago a photo action and ask people to send photos of their protests for Ahmed Mansoor. It can be a photo of a group of people protesting or also just a selfie in which you are holding a photo of Ahmed or a message asking for his release. Here is more information about the action and some examples. Please join the campaign and let us show the UAE authorities how many people care for him and campaign for him.

2. Urgent actions by human rights organisations

a) Amnesty International published an urgent action on 9 April. They recently changed the form of their urgent actions. This means that the pdf of the urgent action contains now a sample letter which you can easily copy and send to the UAE authorities. Please do so.

b) English PEN, Pen International, GCHR and many other human rights organisations published on 15 April a joint urgent action for Ahmed Mansoor. They ask members and supporters to “take action by writing, faxing, tweeting and posting on Facebook”. You can find addresses, fax numbers and also many Twitter handles in their articles. Here is a link to the English PEN article.

3. Sample tweets by ISHR

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) is one of the organisation which takes part in the joint action. They prepared a number of sample tweets and they agreed that I can share them so that people can use them on Twitter, if they are not sure what they should tweet in support of Ahmed Mansoor.

Here are the sample tweets:

  • .@Ahmed_Mansoor dared to express his opinions on social media. Now he is on hunger strike in protest over the unfair trial and poor prison conditions. #UAE #FreeAhmed https://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/2113
  • .@Ahmed_Mansoor is honoured around the world for his courageous activism and for speaking up for prisoners of conscience. In #UAE he is punished for this and held in inhumane prison conditions. #UAE #FreeAhmed now!
  • Award-winning human rights defender @Ahmed_Mansoor has been on hunger strike for a month now, protesting his unfair trial and poor prison conditions. Please call for his immediate & unconditional release! Help to #FreeAhmed
  • .@Ahmed_Mansoor gave his best in defence of others’ freedom. But in #UAE he is punished for it and held in inhumane prison conditions. #UAE #FreeAhmed now!
  • We urge #UAE to immediately and unconditionally release @Ahmed_Mansoor and other human rights defenders who are imprisoned solely for their peaceful human rights activities @HHShkMohd #FreeAhmed
  • #UAE: @Ahmed_Mansoor and other prisoners of conscience should be treated in line with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, incl. being provided with proper medical care, sanitary prison conditions and regular family visits. @HHShkMohd #FreeAhmed
  • #UAE: Allow UN experts or international NGOs access to visit @Ahmed_Mansoor, as well as other human rights defenders detained in Emirati prisons @HHShkMohd #FreeAhmed @ForstMichel @OHCHR_MENA @EP_HumanRights

GCHR provided the first picture and ISHR the other two pictures:

Please feel free to use these pictures. There are also quite a lot of pictures and graphics in my blog post about the Twitter Day at the anniversary of his arrest last year. Some refer specifically to the first anniversary of his arrest, but others are still correct. Please feel free to use also these photos and graphics from last year. A tweet with a graphic always gets so much more engagement.

IV. Conclusion

Let us also hope for good news from UAE. But until then, be part of the campaign and support Ahmed Mansoor, a brave human rights defender, who always spoke out for prisoner of conscience. Now he needs us to speak out for him.

V. Addendum (8 May 2019)

There are two new developments which I want to mention:

1. Gulf Centre for Human Rights reported a few days ago that they heard from one source that Ahmed Mansoor has ended his hunger strike. They emphasise that his situation has not improved:

“The GCHR confirms that his circumstances have not improved and he continues to sleep on the floor of the cell, which has only a small window.”

They also say that it is generally very difficult to get any reliable information about prisoners in the United Arab Emirates, because it is a country totally closed to the Civic Space.

2. There is also one positive development: The United Nations published yesterday a statement in which they condemned his imprisonment and also the specific conditions of his imprisonment. The experts said that prolonged periods of solitary confinement amount to torture. They also refer again to the unfair trial and demand his immediate release.

Please continue to raise awareness for his situation.

A Poetry Evening in Tweets: Words for the Silenced


Some of you have probably read my blog post about the poetry event “Words for the Silenced” which I published about two weeks ago. My post was an invitation to a poetry human rights event and more importantly shares the stories of four writers: Ahmed Mansoor (UAE), Ashraf Fayadh (Saudi Arabia), Galal El-Behairy (Egypt) and Nedim Türfent (Turkey). All four are in prison for their words, two of them are punished for their poetry (Ashraf Fayadh and Galal El-Behairy), Ahmed Mansoor is punished for his human rights work and Nedim Türfent for his journalism. All four write poetry.

The event “Words for the Silenced” took place on 4 March at the Poetry Cafe in London and it was very special for me, because campaigning for these writers is important to me and it is wonderful, if many many emails, WhatsApp messages and Twitter Direct Messages finally result in a moving evening, in which poets, writers, artists, journalists and human rights activists show solidarity and bring us closer to the four writers and their work, by sharing their stories, but also by sharing works written for and by these four writers.

I was quite nervous before the event, whether everything would work (including the video clips) and whether we would have an audience. I was delighted that so many people came and it is wonderful that we got a lot of enthusiastic feedback about the event – by participants and by members of the audience.

I want to indulge a little bit and share in this post a series of tweets about the event which include photos and videos. I hope you like them. The tweets are from the account of the Amnesty Group Westminster Bayswater, because the event was a joint event of this Amnesty Group and Exiled Writers Ink . Most of the photos and all of the videos were taken by me. The photo of Albert Pellicer was taken by Ricardo Esteban Pineda, the photo of the audience and the photo of Ramy Essam were taken by Fatima Hagi and the photo of Fleur Brennan and Amir Darwish was taken by a member of Amnesty International UK North Africa Team:

I hope events like this help to bring attention to the plight of so many prisoners of conscience and that more people decide to continue to speak up for them and take action for them.

Bill Law published his presentation about Ahmed Mansoor in the Fair Observer. I hope the article will be read and shared widely.

I want to end with a quote from his article because it is a perfect summary of my sentiments as well:

“We in the West must not be silent in demanding that the UAE government release Ahmed Mansoor. It is already a deep stain on the UK that we have accepted so many gross violations of human rights in Egypt, in the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in return for trade deals and weapons sales. We must demand that Alistair Burt, the Middle East minister, and Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary speak up, and that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office condemns the crackdown on dissent in the UAE and other Gulf states.

Ahmed would want me to mention Alya Abdulnoor, a young woman dying of cancer, chained to a hospital bed and refused permission to spend her last days at home. He’d want me to mention Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith, a distinguished economist serving 10 years, and the lawyer Mohammed al-Roken, and the many other prisoners of conscience cruelly held in jail in the UAE. He would want me to speak of the Bahraini opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman and the human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, and thousands of other political prisoners and protesters held in Bahrain’s Jau Prison; and of Loujain al-Hathloul and dozens of other women activists held in Saudi jails, subjected to appalling abuse.

Words for the Silenced

I have the great pleasure and the great honour to be co-organiser and co-host for a human rights poetry event “Words for the Silenced” on 4 March 2019, 7 pm at the Poetry Cafe, 22 Betterton Street, London WC2H 9BX. With this post, I want to invite everyone to this event. I also want to introduce the imprisoned writers on whom this event will focus. I hope that you will continue to read and share the stories of these writers also after the event. 

“Word for the Silenced” is an event which is organised in partnership of Amnesty International and Exiled Writers Ink. Exiled Writers Ink is an organisation in London which hosts a monthly Exiled Lit Cafe at the Poetry Cafe (first Monday each months). Exiled Writers Ink

brings together writers from repressive regimes and war-torn situations and it equally embraces migrants and exiles. Providing a space for writers to be heard. Exiled Writers Ink develops and promotes the creative literary expression of refugees, migrants and exiles, encourages cross-cultural dialogue and advocates human rights through literature and literary activism.

As mentioned in my last post, they organised last year in February an event which focused on writings about and from those imprisoned in Iran. I was involved in this event and spoke about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, Narges Mohammadi, Nasim Bagheri and Mahvash Sabet Shariari and read a selection of their poems.

I approached Catherine Temma-Davidson from Exiled Writer Ink in summer last year and asked her whether she would be interested in an event about writers who write in Arabic and who are in prison for their writing, in particular Ahmed Mansoor. She was delighted and we started organising.

On Monday we will have an evening which focuses on four writers / activists who are in prison for their writings: Ahmed Mansoor (UAE), Ashraf Fayadh (Saudi Arabia), Galal El-Behairy (Egypt) and Nedim Türfent (Turkey). Finally Amir Darwish, a Syrian writer who lives in London, will read from his new book “From Aleppo Without Love”.

I. Ahmed Mansoor (UAE)

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know Ahmed Mansoor, because I have written four blog posts about him over the last years.

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Ahmed Mansoor is a prominent blogger and human rights activist. He is an engineer and a member of several human rights organisations and he is a poet. He published a collection of poetry in Arabic in 2006. Some of his poems were translated into English.

On 20 March 2017 Ahmed Mansoor was arrested. He spent a long time in solitary confinement and his whereabouts are unclear. The International Centre for Justice and Human Rights (ICJHR) tweeted on the 21 December 2018 that they learned that Ahmed Mansoor is still in solitary confinement at Al Wathba prison since his arrest. There are allegations that he was tortured.

On 29 May 2018 Ahmed Mansoor was sentenced to 10 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”. In addition the reports claim that he tried to “damage the relationship of UAE with its neighbours” by publishing false information. The court of appeal decided on 31 December 2018 to uphold the sentence which is now final.

If you want to know more about Ahmed Mansoor you can have a look at one of my previous posts about him, in particular “Arrested, Sentenced, Not Released – Human Rights Defender in the United Arab Emirates ” and “Ahmed Mansoor – 10 years in prison for defending human rights“.

Ahmed Mansoor was the reason, why I contacted Catherine in summer and I am excited about the speakers we will have. Manu Luksch will start our event. She is currently working on a documentary on him (titled ‘The Million Dollar Dissident’). She will speak about her project and we will see an excerpt of her film. I am delighted that the journalist Bill Law and the human rights activist Drewery Dyke will speak about their friend Ahmed Mansoor and will read some of his poems. Finally poet and artist Albert Pellicer will read a poem he wrote in support of Ahmed Mansoor.

II. Ashraf Fayadh (Saudi Arabia)

Ashraf Fayadh is a Palestinian poet who was born in Saudi Arabia. FullSizeRender

On 6 August 2013 he was arrested following the accusation that he was “promoting atheism and spreading blasphemous ideas among young people”. These accusations were made in the context of his poetry collection “Instructions Within”. He was released the next day, but rearrested on 1 January 2014.

On 17 November 2015, the General Court sentenced Ashraf Fayadh to death for apostasy. He appealed the judgement. On 1 February 2016 the court of appeal reversed the decision of the General Court. They overturned the death-sentence and replaced it with eight years in prison, 800 lashes (to be carried out on 16 occasions with 50 lashes each time) and public repentance.

There is no further information about his current situation.

I wrote in 2015 a blog post about Ashraf Fayadh and also shared one of his poems. You can find more about him in these posts.

In our poetry event journalist and translator Jonathan Wright will read some of his English translations of Ashraf’s poems . The Palestinian journalist Samira Kawar will read Ashraf’s poem in the original version in Arabic.

III. Galal El-Behairy (Egypt)

galal_pic

1. Galal El-Behairy is an Egyptian poet and lyricist. He published two books: Chairs Factory (Masna’a El Karasy) published in 2015 and Colorful Prison (Segn Bel Alwan), 2017. He also wrote the lyrics of many songs by the singer Ramy Essam, among them is their biggest hits Segn Bel Alwan, a song in support of Women Human Rights Defenders. Ramy Essam is an Egyptian rock singer who performed on Tahrir Square during the popular uprising of 2011. Ramy had been arrested and tortured in 2011 and his song Irhal (Leave) was selected by Time Out 2011 as the third most world changing song ever. There is a fascinating interview with him from 2011 with CBS News on YouTube.

2. On 26 February 2018 Ramy Essam released a new song and music video Balaha. The release was one month prior to Egypt’s presidential elections. Galal El-Behairy wrote the lyrics for this song. Balaha means the fruit from a date palm tree and it is a well-known nickname for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in reference to a character in an Egyptian film who is a compulsive liar. The song criticises President al-Sisi in particular for the current state of economy and the poor political rights in the four years since he took office. The music video of Balaha went viral and has more than 4.7 million views so far. Shortly after the release of the video the Egyptian minister for culture Enas Abdel Dayem stated on television that he will bring a case against Galal and Ramy.

3. On 3 March 2018 Galal El-Behairy was arrested. For one week his family and friends did not know his whereabouts. On 10 March he appeared before the High State Security Court. He showed signs of beatings and severe torture.

The charges against Galal are numerous and include being “member of a terrorist group, spreading false news, the abuse of social media networks, blasphemy, contempt of religion and insulting the military“. There is also an arrest warrant against Ramy Essam in the context of the song Balaha, but Ramy lives in exile.

Galal El-Behairy’s lawyer says that he faces prosecution in two parallel proceedings: One is in front of the Military Court. It relates to “The Finest Women on Earth”, an unpublished collection of poetry. The public prosecutor claims that the title refers to the Egyptian troops and ridicules them and for the lyrics for Balaha. There are parallel proceedings in front of civilian courts.

4. Ramy Essam reacted to the arrest and Galal’s situation with a statement on 5 April 2018:

It is a song

We have been dreaming of a better Egypt for seven years. Even in the darkest of times, we haven’t lost hope. We have expressed ourselves peacefully through art, using music as a tool against violence, oppression and corruption.

With this song we wanted to remind everyone of the freedom we once had, granted by the revolution. We wanted to remind everyone of the right to speak, the right to criticize, and the right to dream of change.

We wanted to start a dialogue about where Egypt is now and where it could be. Our art is not created to make people fight. It is music, it is how we feel. It is a song.

However, Egypt does not seem to be interested in dialogue with its critics.

5. The first hearing at the Military Court in the procedure against Galal took place on 6 May. The judgement was initially announced for 9 May, but then postponed several times, first to 16 May, then 27 June and then 28 July. On 31 July 2018 the court finally handed down its verdict. Galal El-Behairy was sentenced to 3 years in prison and a fine for his poetry. The other case at the civilian court is still under investigation by the High State Security.

Galal was recently moved from Tora Prison (Cairo) to to Wadi el-Natrum prison (Alexandria).

On 25 January 2019 Galal El-Behairy, Islam Khalil, Shady Elghazaly, Abdelfatah Elbana and Ahmed AbuAlam started a hunger strike to draw attention to their situation. They are still on hunger strike.

6. Many organisations have called for Galal’s immediate and unconditional release. On 26 July 2018 UN human rights experts urged the Egyptian authorities to release him, because they see his prosecution as a “criminalisation of the legitimate exercise of artistic expression through the imposition of a range of dubious charges.” Among the human rights organisations calling for his release are Free MuseArtist at Risk, PEN International and a number of Pen centres including English PEN.

There is an online petition by Artists at Risk and several organisations ask supporters to take action for him and write to the Egyptian authorities on his behalf.

7. In our poetry event we hope to have a video message by Ramy Essam. Fleur Brennan, a member of the Amnesty Group Westminster Bayswater, will read the English translation of two poems which Galal wrote in prison. Amir Darwish, a Syrian writer, who will read from his latest book later in the event, will also read Galal’s poems in the original Arabic version. We also might show an excerpt of the video clip Bahala and of the video clip of Segn Bel Alwan.

IV. Nedim Türfent (Turkey)

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1. Nedim Türfent is a journalist. He worked for the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency. He reported mainly from the borders to Syria, because he had the feeling he had to give a voice to the people in the cities, town and villages there; those people “who would normally not be heard”.

2. On 12 May 2016 Nedim was arrested in the Eastern province of Van. Shortly before his arrest he had reported about a military action and clashes between Kurdish Civil Protection Units (YPG) and the Turkish army. One of his reports received country-wide media attention. In this report he highlighted the the ill-treatment of a group of detainees by a commander of the Turkish special forces.

In prison Nedim Türfent was subject to inhuman treatment and torture. He spend almost two years in solitary confinement in a small cell. The authorities say that he was held in solitary confinement, because he was a journalist. They fear he would write “news articles about someone every single day“.  He also had no access to books and newspapers and the police threatened and harassed him.

3. Nedim Türfent was formally charged 10 months after his arrest. The allegations against him were that he is a member of the forbidden Kurdistan’s Workers Party (PKK) and therefore supports a terrorist organisation. The prosecutor in particular criticised that he had interviewed members of YPG which Turkey also considers to be a terrorist organisations. By reporting about YPG they claimed he was “spreading terrorist propaganda”. The prosecutor said that his reports and the information he shared on his Twitter account were incorrect and distorted.

Nedim Türfent denied being a PKK member and said that it belongs to his job as a journalist to interview a wide range of different people. PEN International says that he is detained only for the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression. They think the real reason for his arrest and harsh treatment is that he uncovered human rights violations.

4. The trial against Nedim Türfent started on 14 June 2017. There were altogether six hearings in the trial. The hearings were held in Hakkari, 200 kilometres from Van where he was detained at this time. He was denied the right to appear in the court in person and had to participate via a video link. There were several technical problems. The system did not work on many occasions. There was occasionally no tone at the video link. Nedim gave his witness statement in Kurdish, but the translator did not always translate his statements properly. He could therefore not effectively follow the trial and defend himself.

The prosecutor based the charges on four secret witnesses and 22 open witnesses. Two of the secret witness and two of the open witnesses could not be contacted. 19 of 20 witnesses who was meant to give their statement at court recanted their witness statement. They said that they had made their statements under pressure, were asked to sign statements they were not allowed to read, experienced threats against themselves or family members. Some also said they were beaten and tortured to press them into making a witness statement against Nedim Türfent.

5. On 15 December 2017 the Court in Hakkari found Nedim Türfent guilty of “being a member of a terrorist organisation” and sentenced him to eight years nine months in prison. The court took no notice of the revocation of the witness statements, but only referred to the witness statements made to the public prosecutor. The court was also not interested in Nedim’s own statements, but rather based their decision on the articles he had written.

On 19 June 2018 Erzurum Regional Court rejected the appeal. His lawyers lodged an appeal to the Turkish Constitutional Court on 3 September 2018

6. Nedim Türfent started writing poetry in prison. He said:

I try to make use of my time in prison, and I try to make this period as colourful and alive to the extent that is possible. To do this, I put words together here and there’.

7. PEN International, including several sections in different countries, support Nedim Türfent. PEN International together with the International Press Institute (IPI) and the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) published an open letter in support of Nedim Türfent. In this letter more than 650 writers, journalists, publishers, artists and activists call for his immediate and unconditional release. The letter is still open for signatures. If you want to add your signature, please sign the petition here. You can also send messages of solidarity in English, German, Turkish or Kurdish, to the following address: Nedim Türfent, Van Yüksek Güvenlikli, Kapalı Ceza İnfaz Kurumu, Koğuş A53, Van, Turkey or write the Turkish authorities directly and ask for his release.

8. On Monday we will have Ege Dündar as a speaker about Nedim Türfent. Ege is a writer. He presented music shows in Turkey and worked as Sunday columnist in Milliyet Daily newspaper. Ege is the son of the Turkish journalist Cem Dündar who was prosecuted himself by the Turkish authorities and who lives now in Germany. Ege’s family is currently campaigning for his mother’s right to travel. Ege will read Nedim’s poems in Turkish. He also translated some of the poems into English. The writer James Miller will read a poem he wrote in support of Nedim Türfent.

 

I want to finish this post with a quote by Nedim Türfent about the role of the journalist. He wrote:

When storm clouds fall over the country, the first lightning strikes are always on journalists, on those who are trying to uncover the truth. Whenever a beam of light is cast upon the truth, there is always a price to be paid. I have to consider this price, this pound of flesh that is demanded for my work as a journalist.

I think this does not only apply to journalists, but also to poets and human rights activists and to everyone who decides to speak out against injustice, criticises authorities and shed a light on human rights violations. Our poetry evening will try to give a voice to those who were silenced and I hope many will come and join us on Monday. Also if you cannot come to the evening, there are many ways to show your support and I mentioned in this post and in previous posts actions you can take. Please help to share the stories of these writers and share their words and make sure that they are not silenced.

2018 in Review: Saudi Women Rights Defenders, J.S. Bach and Ahmed Mansoor

It is again the time of the year when people look back to the past year and think about the year to come. I began writing this blog in June 2015 and I started each year of my blog writing with a review of the previous year and some ideas for the new year. I want to continue this tradition and will share with you updates and also some statistics about my blog posts in 2018 and some ideas for 2019.

1. A blog post like this has to start with saying thank you to everyone who read my blog posts, who shared my blog posts and even more important who took action for the prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders during 2018. I want to thank in particular those who joined the Twitter Day for Ahmed Mansoor on 20 March 2018 to mark the anniversary of his arrest and those who continue to tweet photos for the #SkyForShawkan campaign.

It is wonderful, if blog posts translate into actions in real life and this happened last year. I wrote in November 2017 two blog posts about “Poetry behind bars” – poems written by five women who were prisoners in Evin Prison, Iran. I shared in one blog post poems written by Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, Narges Mohammadi, Nasim Bagheri and Mahvash Sabet Shariari and in the second blog post I told the stories of these five women. A short time after I published my two blog posts Catherine Temma Davidson got in contact with me about these posts. A few months later, in February 2018, she organised an evening at the Poetry Café, London, for Exiled Writers Ink with the title “Words for the Silenced” which focused on writings from and about those imprisoned in Iran. One part of the evening was a reading of poems which I had included in my blog post (and some newer ones) and the stories of the women who wrote the poetry. It is great that a larger audience heard the poems and the stories of these women. There is hopefully more to come in 2019. We are discussing at the moment another event in March 2019 which will focus on Arabic poems written by poets who are currently in prison in different Arab countries.

2. I wrote in 2018 ten blog posts. As usual most of these posts (six blog posts) are about human rights topics. Two of the blog posts are about a prisoner of conscience in the United Arab Emirates (Ahmed Mansoor), two about a prisoner in Bahrain (Hassan Mushaima), one about prisoners in Saudi Arabia and one about a prisoner in Egypt (Shawkan).  There were sadly no blog posts last year about poetry and – actually quite surprisingly – no blog posts about human rights in Iran. I am sure both will be back in 2019.

Three blog posts from 2018 are about classical music and one of my posts is in the “General” category.

a) My most popular blog post in 2018 was my article about Saudi women rights defenders: “Where are the Saudi reforms? Saudi women rights defenders Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef in prison“. Saudi Arabia saw in 2018 a crackdown for human rights defenders and there was obviously the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi. Many human rights activists were arrested in 2018, in particular in May 2018. I wrote in my blog post about five of these human rights defenders:

Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah (both arrested on 30 July 2018) and Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan and Loujain al-Hathloul (all three arrested in May 2018). You can see all of them in the picture on the left (from top left to bottom right). 

I am delighted that my blog post was shared and retweeted widely. It received 512 views last year which is quite a lot for my blog.

There are sadly worrying news from Saudi Arabia. Amnesty International has information that detainees in Saudi Arabia’s Dhahban Prison faced sexual harassment, torture and other forms of ill-treatment during interrogation. These prisoners include the five women about whom I wrote my blog post. The prison has warned the detainees not to disclose anything to their family members or the public. Torture is not unusual in Saudi Arabia.

“Many detainees have reported during trials that torture was used to extract “confessions” from them, to punish them for refusing to “repent” or to force them to promise not to criticize the government. Such “confessions” have furthermore routinely formed the basis for harsh sentences, including the death penalty, without the judiciary taking any steps to duly investigate these claims”

Amnesty International, 20 November 2018

As far as I know Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan and Loujain al-Hathloul have not yet been charged. Amnesty reports that they have no legal representation and where held incommunicado and in solitary confinements for the first months after their arrest.

Amnesty had a special page to mark 100 days after the arrest of Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan and Loujain al-Hathloul. You can find on this page postal addresses as well as email addresses and Twitter handles of Saudi authorities. Please take action for these women.

b) The blog post which got the second most views is suprisingly from June 2016.

On 25 June 2016 one of my choirs Highgate Choral Society sung Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Mass in B Minor”. I wrote a blog post about the piece: Bach: Mass in B Minor – a “Great Catholic Mass”?. This blog post did quite well when I published in 2016 with 140 views (which made it my fifths most popular one in 2016). Last year it did even better and got 314 views.

Generally my blog posts about classical music and different choral works get frequent views over a longer period of time. Most people find the posts via Google and other search engines. I am very pleased by that and there will be more blog posts about choral works in 2019.

c) Everyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I campaign quite a lot for Ahmed Mansoor, a human rights activist from the United Arab Emirates. I wrote two blog posts about him in 2017 and two blog posts in 2018. My two blog posts from 2018 were my third and forth most popular posts in that year. My post “One year of solitary confinement – Join the Twitter Day for Ahmed Mansoor” from March 2018 had 195 views and my post “Ahmed Mansoor – 10 years in prison for defending human rights” from May 2018 had 205 views.

As explained in my post from May 2018 Ahmed Mansoor was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his human rights activism. There is sadly also no good news about Ahmed Mansoor.

It is generally really difficult to hear any news about him. Amnesty International published on 21 December 2018 an urgent action about him and mentions in this action that there is a court hearing in front of the court of appeal on 24 December 2018. The International Centre for Justice and Human Rights (ICJHR) tweeted on the 21 December that they learned that Ahmed Mansoor is still in solitary confinement at Al Wathba prison since his arrest. They said that there was a court hearing on the appeal of his judgement on 17 December 2018 and that there was one scheduled for 24 December 2018. A few days ago on 26 December they tweeted that he did not attend the court hearing on 24 December and that the hearing was postponed to the 31 December 2018. The court of appeal decided on 31 December to uphold the 10 year jail sentence against Ahmed Mansoor.

Bill Law wrote an article which is well worth reading: “Two court cases the UAE and Bahrain are hoping the West forgets”. I also want to repeat what I said before: Please tweet about Ahmed Mansoor and please take action via the urgent action and urge the authorities to release him. Please make sure that he is not forgotten.

d) There are a couple of other cases on which I would like to give you an update – luckily there is also at least some good news among all the bad news.

(1) Sadly no good news for the Egyptian photographer Shawkan. I wrote a blog post about him on the 1 October 2018 in which I reported about the judgement against him (five years in prison). I also mentioned that he had already spent more than five years in prison and everyone hoped for his immediate release. Sadly Shawkan is still in prison in Egypt. According to his lawyer he will spend six additional months in prison and is due to be released on 16 February 2019. The lawyer said that the court decided that all defendants in the Rabaa trial have to pay a fine for the damages occurred during the sit-in. The persecution decided to carry out the sentence of “physical coercion” instead of asking for payment of the amount and added six more months in prison to Shawkan’s sentence (and the sentence of other defendants). I hope that February will finally bring freedom for Shawkan.

(2) Ali Mushaima stopped his protest outside the Bahraini Embassy in London on 2 October. I wrote in 2018 two blog posts about him and his hunger strike to raise awareness for his father Hassan Mushaima and emphasise very basic demands for him. Ali received the support of 15 MPs who said that would follow his father’s case and try to help. This is all positive, but Ali also tweeted on 5 December that his father is still waiting for the results of his cancer scans which were made in August and that he did no receive his medication the other week. I hope 2019 will bring more positive news for Ali and his family.

(3) There was good news from Iran in 2019: I already mentioned at the beginning of this article my post about poetry and poems written in Evin prison. One of the women about whom I wrote is Nasim Bagheri. She was released on 29 March 2018 after having completed her four year prison sentence.

I wrote in December 2016 a blog post about three lawyers who were punished for being human rights lawyer. One of these lawyers was Abdolfattah Soltani from Iran. He had been arrested in 2011 and in 2012 sentenced to ten years in prison. On 20 November 2018 he has been conditionally released after more than seven years in prison.

3. I do not want to bore you with statistics, but I am always curious and intrigued to see how many people visit my blog during a year and from how many different countries they come. In 2018 4131 people visited my blog and my blog posts got 6211 views. That is more than in previous years which wonderful and also a little bit surprising given that I wrote in 2018 fewer blog posts than in 2017. The visitors came from 97 countries. The most views came from the United States with 1953 views, followed by the United Kingdom with 1198 views and Germany with 515 views.

4. I am a little bit reluctant to share my ideas for posts in 2019. Mainly because I often do not find the time to write posts about all my ideas and if I mention something in my January post it almost feels a bit like an obligation or promise to write a post. Nevertheless, here are my ideas for 2019:

a) I already mentioned that I did not write any posts about prisoners in Iran. That is certainly something I want to do again in 2019. There are a number of prisoners and human rights activist about whom I would like to write a blog post. Among them is certainly Atena Daemi, a human rights activist who spoke out against the death penalty and who featured in 2018 Write for Rights campaign. Others are Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer, or also Kamran Ghaderi, an Iranian-Austrian dual national. We will see.

b)  I would also like to write one or two blog posts about poetry. I mentioned that I am currently planning an event together with Exiled Writers Ink for March 2019. There should be a chance to write about the event or the poems and poets who will feature in the event.

c) When I tweeted about my blog post about the Saudi women rights defenders, many mentioned that Hatoon al-Fassi, another well known Saudi women rights defender, was also arrested in summer last year and that I should have included her in my post as well. I would like to write about her in 2019.

d) Finally I will certainly also write again about classical music. Highgate Choral Society’s programme for 2019 includes Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, Vivaldi’s Gloria and music by Zelenka. Therefore the programme notes of some of the works will certainly find their way into my blog.

5. I want to close this blog post with wishing everyone all the best for 2019. The United Arab Emirates declared on 15 December 2018 that 2019 will be a “Year of Tolerance”. I fear that this is mainly a publicy stunt and the decision of the court of appeal against Ahmed Mansoor is the opposite of tolerance. Nevertheless, it would be wonderful, if 2019 would really be a year of tolerance, freedom for prisoners of conscience and peace.


Ahmed Mansoor – 10 years in prison for defending human rights

If you are regular reader of my blog, you know the human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor from the United Arab Emirates. My last blog post about him was on 20 March to mark the anniversary of his arrest with a Twitter Day. I am writing this new blog post, because there is devastating news about him. Ahmed Mansoor was tried in the past months in a secret trial and sentenced on Tuesday to a harsh sentence for his human rights activism.

1. The Arrest

296More than one year ago, on the 20 March 2017, Ahmed Mansoor was arrested.

Around midnight security forces entered his home where he lives with his wife and their four small boys. They searched it for several hours. At the end they confiscated all phones and electronic devices and took him around 3:15 am to an undisclosed location.

This arrest was just the culmination of years of physical assaults, harassment, travel bans, death threats and different sorts of surveillance and hacking attacks against his phone and his computer. You find more information about all this in my blog post “Arrested, sentenced, not released” which I published one year ago.

2. Solitary Confinement and Torture

Ahmed Mansoor’s family was initially not informed about his whereabouts and his well-being. Nine days after his arrest, on 29 March 2017, the authorities stated that Ahmed Mansoor was at the Central Prison in Abu Dhabi (al-Wathba prison). They added that he has the “freedom to hire a lawyer” and that his family can visit him. On 3 April 2017 he was brought to the Public Prosecution building in Abu Dhabi for a short supervised family visit.

According to Amnesty International Ahmed Mansoor spent long periods in solitary confinement, maybe even all the time since his arrest. Despite the declaration of the authorities, Ahmed Mansoor had no access to a lawyer. He had no contact to the outside world and was not allowed to call his family.

On 17 September 2017 Ahmed Mansoor was again brought to the Public Prosecution building in Abu Dhabi for a second short family visit. He had lost a lot of weight and his physical and mental state of health at this visit gave reasons for grave concern.

For more than six months after this visit, the family had no contact with or news about Ahmed Mansoor. The place of his detention was unclear. On 26 February 2018 lawyers from Ireland approached the Ministry of Interior and wanted to gain access to Ahmed Mansoor. Neither the Ministry nor the police nor the prison were able or willing to give them information about his whereabouts.

About one month ago, International Campaign for Freedom in the United Arab Emirates (ICFUAE) reported that they have indications that Ahmed Mansoor had been tortured in prison. Jaseem al-Shasimi, a former UAE government official, gave an interview to the al-Hiwar TV channel. He said that he had spoken with detainees in the UAE. They had confirmed that torture was frequently used in prisons in UAE and added that also Ahmed Mansoor had been tortured by security officials.

3. Trial

The trial against Ahmed Mansoor began in secret. International Centre for Justice and Human Rights published on 12 April 2018 a press release and confirmed that the first 2900hearing in the trial against him took place on 14 March 2018. The second hearing took place on 11 April 2018. The charges against him were unclear at that point in time.

There is also no definitive information about the third hearing on 9 May 2018.  Human rights organisations reported in the first week of May that local media articles mentioned that the next trial date was on 9 May. However there is no information whether the hearing took place on this day and about its contents, if it did.

4. Judgement

a) Two UAE newspapers (“Gulf News” and “The National“) reported yesterday in the late afternoon that the State Security Court had sentenced Ahmed Mansoor on Tuesday 29 May to 10 years in prison and a fine of 1 million Emirati Dirham (ca. GBP 200,000). Following the 10 year-sentence he will be put on probation for three years. The court ordered to confiscate all communication devices and delete statements, close websites and social media accounts. Gulf News only mentioned his initials, but The National published his full name. A short time after the publication of these two articles the international press followed with numerous articles and the accuracy of the information was confirmed by several human rights organisations.

Gulf News and The National report that there were a number of charges against Ahmed Mansoor. He was found guilty of publishing false information on social media which “insulted the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols” and “incited hatred and sectarian feelings”. In addition the reports claim that he tried to “damage the relationship of UAE with its neighbours” by publishing false information. He was cleared from the charge of “conspiring with a terrorist organisation”. According to the newspaper reports, he was defended by a court appointed lawyer who seemed to have spoken for him in a hearing earlier in May.

The article in The National mentions that the judgement can be appealed through the Federal Supreme Court.

b) I explained in my previous posts that Ahmed Mansoor used Twitter days before his arrest to speak out for Osama al-Najjar and Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith. You find more information about both of them in my blog post from May 2017. Both are prisoners of conscience. He also had criticised human rights violations in the region, in particular in Egypt and through the war in Yemen by a Saudi-led coalition.

Ahmed Mansoor is punished, because he decided not to be silent, but to speak out against human rights violations and for prisoners of conscience. The trial against him was conducted in secrecy and was not a fair trial.

After his arrest the United Nations rights experts said about him in a statement:

“We regard Mr. Mansoor’s arrest and detention as a direct attack on the legitimate work of human rights defenders in the UAE,” …  “Mr. Mansoor’s outstanding work in the protection of human rights and the advancement of democracy, as well as his transparent collaboration with UN mechanisms, is of great value not only for the UAE but for the whole region”.

c) Since the publication of the articles in Gulf News and The National yesterday, several human rights organisations, human rights activists and politicians commented on the court decision. They all echo the statement of the United Nations mentioned above:

Fadi Al-Qadi, a MENA human rights commentator, was one of the first who tweeted about the court decision. His verdict was “Horrible news: UAE court sentence prominent human rights advocate Ahmed Mansoor to 10-year prison term. For what? Contacting human rights groups. Appalling, shameful, unbelievable”.

David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion & expression, tweeted: “#UAE sentences Ahmed Mansoor to ten yrs prison for . . . using social media. Outrageous & shd be reversed”. Marietje Schaake who is an MEP and is a member of the committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament and the subcommittee on Human Rights quoted David Kaye’s tweet and said: “Ahmed Mansoor was the victim of targeted surveillance software attacks made by companies in the West, every aspect of this case is scandalous. #UAE showing true colors”.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director, Middle East and North Africa Division, Human Rights Watch, tweeted: “Shame on #UAE for this cowardly and despicable sentence of — Laureate of Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, advisory committee member, and my friend. The only defamation here is of his character”. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights sees in the judgement a “[t]otal disregard for fair trial standards & right to free expression”.

Amnesty International published a press release earlier today. Lynn Malouf, Middle East Research director for Amnesty International, says “his persecution is another nail in the coffin for human rights activism in the country”. Amnesty International sees him as a prisoner of conscience and urges the authorities to quash the sentence and release him immediately.

These are just a few examples of reactions to the judgement against Ahmed Mansoor. Many other organisations and individuals used social media today to condemn the judgement in a similar way.

5. What can we do?

Since yesterday evening I had several conversations on Social Media. The main question was “is there anything that can be done” to help Ahmed Mansoor?

I was earlier this months at a panel discussion “Human Rights in the UAE – Why Britain Should Care” at one of the Committee Rooms in the Palace of Westminster. It was organised by ICFUAE and Drewery Dyke, Bill Law and David Wearing were the speakers. I asked each of the speakers exactly that same question: What can each of us do to help prisoners of conscience in the UAE? I want to quote Bill Law’s answer. Bill Law is an award winning journalist with a focus on the Gulf states and spoke in the event about “three heroes”: Ahmed Mansoor, Dr. Nasser Bin-Ghaith and Tayseer al-Najjar. He recommended that we share and tell the stories of each individual human rights defender. He suggested that we could “adopt” these people as prisoner of conscience and then campaign for them.

I want to pass on Bill Law’s recommendation and would like to ask you: Please share Ahmed Mansoor’s story. Speak about him on social media. Tweet for and about him. Share information about him on Facebook, Instagram or other social media. Speak about him and his fate with your family and your friends, in particular if UAE, Dubai and Abu Dhabi come up in your conversations. Raise awareness for him. Write to your MP and urge them to raise his case with your government. Support the human rights organisations who campaign for Ahmed Mansoor and other prisoner of conscience and join their protests.

UAE wants to silence Ahmed Mansoor and wants the world to forget him. Please make sure that they do not succeed.

I want to end this post with a quote by Ahmed Mansoor himself (taken from an article by Bill Law in Middle East Eye) about how he sees this own role as a human rights activist:

“The only way to counter repression is by revealing it. And yes there is always that possibility that I will go back to jail. But if (activists) do not talk, who will?”

One year of solitary confinement – Join the Twitter Day for Ahmed Mansoor

If you are a regular reader of my blog you know that I wrote twice before about the human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor. Last May I wrote a blog post about him and two other human rights activist in the UAE. The second post about him was in September and I asked you to join a Twitter Storm for Ahmed Mansoor to mark the day six months after his arrest. Ahmed Mansoor is still in prison and the anniversary of his arrest will be on 20 March. I would like to invite you to mark the 20 March 2018 with a Twitter Day for Ahmed Mansoor. 

1. What is Ahmed Mansoor’s current situation?

Ahmed Mansoor was arrested one year ago on 20 March 2017.  Around midnight security forces entered Ahmed Mansoor’s home where he lives with his wife and their four small boys. They searched the place for three hours, confiscated all phones and electronic devices and took him around 3:15 am to an undisclosed location.

During the whole year Ahmed Mansoor’s family was only allowed two short family visits. One visit was shortly after his arrest on 3 April 2017. The second visit was on 17 September 2017. Drewery Dyke spoke with ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) about this family visit. He said that Ahmed Mansoor was not in a good condition. He continues:

He had lost a considerable amount of weight to the extent that he was looking gaunt, quite gaunt, that he was in a disorientated confused state. Repeatedly expressing his regret about the situation and seeking an end to it.

I understand that the family had no further contact with Ahmed Mansoor after this devastating visit. Ahmed Mansoor is not allowed to call his family and there were no further visits. They have not heard about him for almost six month and I am sure they are very worried about his health and his well being.

Amnesty International stated that Ahmed Mansoor spent the first six months in solitary confinement. This may still be the case a further six months on. I think it is likely that he is still in solitary confinement, but no one knows for certain, because he is held incommunicado at an unknown place.

According to Ahmed Benchemsi, the Middle East Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch, it is also unclear whether Ahmed Mansoor had access to a lawyer. Mr. Benchemsi said to ABC that lawyers are afraid to defend Ahmed Mansoor because they fear repression and potential arrest themselves.

On 26 February 2018 lawyers from Ireland approached the Ministry of Interior of UAE and tried to get access to Ahmed Mansoor. The mission was mandated by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the Martin Ennals Foundation, Front Line Defenders, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). They were not able to get any information about Ahmed Mansoor’s whereabout.

Amnesty International published on 16 March 2018 also an urgent action, because Ahmed Mansoor’s whereabout is unknown. Please take action for him – also after the Twitter Day.

2. What can I do to help Ahmed Mansoor?

To mark the day of Ahmed Mansoor’s arrest, we would like to invite you to join a Twitter Day for Ahmed Mansoor on 20 March 2018. Join us and show the United Arab Emirates that we have not forgotten Ahmed Mansoor, but will continue to demand his release until he is free at last. If you use other social media like Facebook or Instagram, please use also these accounts to raise awareness about him

You can start sending tweets on 20 March after midnight in your time zone and tweet during the whole Tuesday until midnight. Tweet as much as you can, if many people from different time zones take part, we will have hopefully tweets during the whole of Tuesday.

Please join in, even if you have only time for a few tweets at a specific time. It is a team effort and we will all work together.

Twitter Day for Ahmed Mansoor

3. 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 is held incommunicado and that his family had not contact with him for six months. 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, e.g. Federica Mogherini (@FedericaMog) 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. You can tweet that you stand with him and that you will campaign for him until he is released and similar messages.

4. Is there a special hashtag?

Please use the hashtags #FreeAhmed and #WhereIsAhmed – irrespective of the language in which you tweet. If everyone does, it is easy to find and retweet the tweets of others.

5. Suggested tweets

You can write your own tweets, but if you need some inspiration here are some suggested tweets:

  • Human rights defender @Ahmed_Mansoor has been in detention in Abu Dhabi without trial, access to his lawyer and only very limited access to his family for one year. #FreeAhmed #WhereIsAhmed
  • The family of @Ahmed_Mansoor had no contact with him for more than 6 months. They do not know where he is and they do not know whether he is well. Show your support for Ahmed and his family. Ask @SaifBZayed #WhereIsAhmed and urge #UAE to #FreeAhmed immediately and unconditionally
  • . @Ahmed_Mansoor is a human rights defender who is honoured around the world for his courageous activism and for speaking up for prisoners of conscience. In UAE he is punished for it. He is now a prisoner of conscience himself. Be his voice. #FreeAhmed #WhereIsAhmed
  • Harassed, given death threats, held in solitary confinement without access to the outside world for one year. @HHShkMohd must release @Ahmed_Mansoor immediately and unconditionally. #FreeAhmed NOW

  • Urge @HHShkMohd @AnwarGargash @SaifBZayed to release @Ahmed_Mansoor immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience detained solely for peacefully exercising his human right to freedom of expression. #FreeAhmed #WhereIsAhmed
  • #UAE holds @Ahmed_Mansoor incommunicado with no information for more than 6 months. #UAE wants the world to forget Ahmed. Please speak out for him and make sure that UAE doesn’t succeed and that he is not forgotten. Help him & be his voice. #FreeAhmed #WhereIsAhmed
  • .@Ahmed_Mansoor was arrested one year ago. He is a highly regarded human rights defender who always speaks out against injustice and for prisoner of conscience. Until his arrest he was the last human rights defender who dared to criticise #UAE authorities in public. #FreeAhmed
  • Since @Ahmed_Mansoor arrest one year ago, he was only allowed two short family visits, but no calls and no one has any news about him since the last visit in September 2017. Join the call #FreeAhmed #WhereIsAhmed
  • Please @FedericaMog intercede for @Ahmed_Mansoor #UAE. He has spent one year in solitary confinement for defending #humanrights. #FreeAhmed #WhereIsAhmed
  • Please @guardian write about @Ahmed_Mansoor #UAE. He is a brave human rights defender in jail for speaking up for others. Ask #UAE #WhereIsAhmed and help to #FreeAhmed.

6. Where can I find more information about Ahmed Mansoor?

If you want to know more about Ahmed Mansoor or want to share articles about him to your followers, here are some useful websites:

  1. Amnesty International: “United Arab Emirates: Release Emirati Human Rights Defender Ahmed Mansoor!” (March 2017)
  2. Human Rights Watch: UAE: Free Prominent Rights Defender Ahmed Mansoor Held on Speech-Related Charges (April 2017)

  3. Ahmed Mansoor Discusses the Human Rights Abuse in the UAE (on YouTube) (June 2012)

  4. United Nations: UN rights experts urge UAE: “Immediately release Human Rights Defender Ahmed Mansoor” (March 2017)
  5. European Union: DROI Chair calls on the United Arab Emirates to unconditionally release Ahmed Mansoor (March 2017)
  6. Bill Law: Ahmed Mansoor: Why we must not allow a brave man to be silenced by the UAE, Middle East Eye (March 2017)
  7. Sophie McNeill: Ahmed Mansoor: NGOs fear world has forgotten arrest of UAE’s last human rights defender, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (November 2017)

7. Graphics you can use:

Tweets are always far more effective and get greater attention, if you include a picture. Here are some graphics which you can use during the Twitter Day and afterwards. I want to thank in particular Gianluca Costantini and Aseem Trivedi for their support through art:

 

 

 

2017 in Review: #SaveArash, Ahmed Mansoor and Bahrain

The old year is over and the new one has just started. This is the time of the year to look back to the previous year and think about the year to come. As twice before I want to do exactly that in this post. I want to give an overview over my blog in 2017 and want to share ideas and topics I would like to cover in 2018.

1. Writing a blog would not be much fun, if no one read my blog posts and shared them.

Therefore, I want to start this post again with saying thank you – to all who visited my blog, left a comment, liked my blog posts or even decided to reblog one of my posts on your own blog. I also want to thank you for retweeting my tweets in which I shared my blog posts and for sharing my posts on Twitter and Facebook.

I am really grateful for all these signs of your appreciation for my posts. It shows me that you share my passion for the topics I cover and makes what I am doing worthwhile.

It is great that many of you followed the links in my posts, in particular the links to Amnesty International petitions and urgent actions. Please continue to do so and take action for the prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders. I am also grateful to everyone who continued to contribute photos to the “Sky for Shawkan” campaign and to the many people who joined the Tweet Storm for Ahmed Mansoor in September.

2. I wrote last year 14 blog post. Most of my blog posts were about “Human Rights” (ten posts) – three posts were about prisoners of conscience in Bahrain, three about Iran, two about the United Arab Emirates (UAE), one about Egypt and one about Saudi Arabia. Four of these posts belong to two categories (two to “Human Rights” and “Twitter” and two to “Human Rights” and “Poetry“). In addition I wrote three blog posts about “Classical Music” and one post in the “General” category.

I like all my blog post, but some are just a little bit more special and closer to my heart than others. It is always a particular joy for me, if these blog posts are also the most popular ones. This was certainly true this year.

a) IMG_3541The most popular post in 2017 was my article about Arash Sadeghi and Golrokh Iraee: “A love story in Iran – #SaveArash” with 341 views. Sadly Arash Sadeghi and Golrokh Iraee are both still in prison and the situation is worse than it was in February, because Arash and Golrokh are not any longer in the same prison. On the 18 October 2017 Arash was transferred to Rajaee Shahr Prison. Golrokh is still in Evin Prison. You might have read the background for this transfer in my post “Poetry behind bars: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and fellow prisoners“. A few days ago Arash and Golrokh were allowed to visit each other briefly after a separation of two months. I fear that also in the coming months their situation will not improve and it would be great, if you could continue to share their story and raise awareness about their situation.

b) Another topic in 2017 which was very important for me was to arise awareness about the human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor (UAE) who was arrested on 20 March 2017.

9B9EB703-BE88-4E97-97C5-48329CD50417I am therefore delighted that my blogs posts about him received so many views. I wrote in May a post with the title “Arrested, sentenced, not released – human rights in the United Arab Emirates” about Ahmed Mansoor, Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith and Osama al-Najjar. This post received 253 views on my blog and was therefore the second most popular post on my blog. The article was also included in Issue #10 of The Wolfian. I am very grateful to the editor Jay Wolfe for asking me for a contribution to this magazine and for accepting this article. In addition my article was published on the websites of two human rights organisations which both focus on the UAE: International Campaign for Freedom in the United Arab Emirates (ICFUAE) and Emirates Centre for Human Rights (ECHR). The article had on each website more than 500 views (597 views on the ICFUAE website and 540 views on the ECHR website).

To mark the day six months after Ahmed Mansoor’s arrest, I organised a Tweet Storm for him in September. I am extremely grateful to organisations like Amnesty International (Middle East and North Africa Programme), English PEN, ICFUAE and ECHR, but also individuals like Jonathan Emmett, Nicholas McGeehan, Joe Odell, Sina Watling and Drewery Dyke for supporting my idea and joining the tweet storm. I am obviously also grateful that many other Twitter users joined the tweet storm and showed their support for Ahmed Mansoor. My article “Tweet Storm for Ahmed Mansoor” received 195 views which makes it the fourth most popular article in 2017.

Sadly, Ahmed Mansoor’s situation is unchanged. He has spent in the meantime more than nine months in prison, in solitary confinement. He was only allowed two very short family visits and there is generally very little information available about him.

There is a fear that UAE will try to break Ahmed Mansoor or perhaps already has. Drewery Dyke’s statement about him is extremely worrying:

“He had lost a considerable amount of weight to the extent that he was looking gaunt, quite gaunt, that he was in a disorientated confused state. Repeatedly expressing his regret about the situation and seeking an end to it.”

Therefore, please do not forget Ahmed Mansoor, but continue to support him and make sure that people know about him and his situation.

c) If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I wrote several articles about the Bahraini human rights defender and Chairman of the European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR) Hussain Jawad.

img_3508

Hussain lives now with his wife Asma and their children Parweez and Maryam in France and they are safe. However Hussain’s father Mohammed Hassan Jawad who is called “Parweez Jawad” is in prison in Bahrain. I had planned for a long time to write about him. In January 2017 I met with Hussain in France and asked him a lot of questions about his father. In March 2017 I published two posts about Parweez Jawad: “Do you know Bahrain’s eldest prisoner of conscience?” and “Support EBOHR’s campaign to #Free_Parweez Jawad”. The first article who tells Parweez Jawad’s story was my third most popular article in 2017 (with 231 views).

Also Parweez Jawad is still in prison. His health has deteriorated further and he asked for a special meeting with his family in October. He informed his family about his last will and added that expects to die.

Again, the only thing I can do, is to ask you to share Parweez Jawad’s story and campaign for him. Please also join EBOHR’s campaign #Free_Parweez.

d) After so much devastating updates some good news about 2017 at the end of this section:

  • I wrote in 2016 several articles about the Iranian human rights defender Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki. Hossein was released in May 2016. Maybe you remember my article about his release. Hossein was only given furlough for a limited period of time. It seems that this was extended several times. I do not know what the current legal status is, but luckily he is still free in January 2018 and together with his family.
  • I wrote in November 2016 about the Iranian film maker Keywan Karimi. Originally he had been sentenced to six years in prison and 223 lashes. After the appeal the sentence was reduced to a one-year prison term, 223 lashes and a five-year suspended prison sentence. He was summoned on 23 November 2016 to start his prison sentence. After nearly five month in prison he was released on 19 April 2017. It is only a conditional release. This means that he was on probation until October 2017, that the flogging sentence could still be enforced and that the suspended prison sentence stayed in place, but at least he is not any longer in prison.
  • Finally many of you read my article about the Bahraini human rights defender Ebtisam Al-Saegh. She was released on 22 October 2017. However, the charges were not dropped and there is the risk that she can be rearrested or might face an unfair trial on unjustified terrorism charges.

3. As in previous years I am delighted and amazed by the numbers of visitors to my blog in 2017. 3213 people visited my blog and it got 5262 views. The visitors came from 98 countries. The most views came from the United Kingdom with 1421 views, followed by the USA with 1117 views. There are almost the same number of views from Germany (317 views) and from France (315 views). I hope for many visitors in 2018.

4. I want to close this post with some ideas for 2018:

a) I mentioned in my review article about 2016 that I would like to write about art and human rights. I did not have time for that last year, but I hope that I will be able to do so in 2018. I use very often on Twitter drawings and pictures of prisoners of conscience by several artists and more than once I asked one of them to support a particular cause and make a drawing for a particular prisoner. I would love to introduce you to some of the artists who use their art for human rights activism.

b) Another long time plan is to write a blog post about the Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab. Nabeel is currently on trial for his tweets about the war in Yemen and about torture in Bahrain’s Jaw Prison. There are also other charges in the context of newspaper articles he wrote. He could face up to 15 years in prison, if he is convicted. The next hearing is on 15 January 2018. I thought it is better to wait until the end of the trial and write an article when the verdict is rendered.

c) I also would like to write further articles about Egypt. Azza Soliman is a prominent women’s right lawyer who is harassed by the Egyptian state. I would love to write about her. I am sure there will also be many more articles about human rights in Iran, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and UAE in 2018.

d) Also in 2018 I plan to write about classical music. Highgate Choral Society has an exciting programme for 2018, which includes Handel: Israel in Egypt, Bernstein: Chicester Psalms and Britten: Saint Nicolas. I will therefore very likely write about these and other works. Another idea is to write about Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice. Some of you might remember my post about Monteverdi’s Orfeo. I mentioned at the end of that post that I would love to write about other opera versions of the myth. I did not manage to do so in 2015, but I will see Gluck’s opera twice in 2018 in different version and I am tempted to publish a blog post about it.

I hope you find my ideas interesting. If you do so, please visit my blog from time to time or follow my blog; you only need an e-mail address and you will get an e-mail each time I publish a new article.

I close this article with my best wishes to all of you for 2018. Again, I hope that the year 2018 will bring freedom to many prisoners of conscience, justice and peace.

 

Tweet Storm for Ahmed Mansoor

If you have read my May blog post about human rights defenders in the United Arab Emirates (UAE): “Arrested, Sentenced, Not Released” you will know that Ahmed Mansoor was arrested on 20 March 2017. He is still in prison six months later.

We decided to organise a tweet storm for Ahmed Mansoor on 20 September 2017, six months after his arrest.  

Please join the tweet storm and share the information about the action. We want as many participants as possible. Please read the post and continue to support him even when the Tweet Storm is over.

Tweet storm Ahmed Mansoor Var1

1. Who is Ahmed Mansoor?

Ahmed Mansoor is a prominent human rights activist from the United Arab Emirates. In October 2015 he received the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. Ahmed Mansoor has been targeted and harassed for years for his human rights activism.  He was arrested six months ago on 20 March 2017. He is still in prison in solitary confinement. Ahmed is married and has four small boys. His family had a chance to meet him two weeks after his arrest for 15 minutes. They did not have any contact for months.

If you want to know more about Ahmed Mansoor have a look at Amnesty International Action page for him or read my blog post about him.

2. Why shall I participate in the tweet storm?

Ahmed Mansoor is a brave advocate for victims of human rights violations and prisoner of conscience. He always speaks out for others. Now he is a prisoner of conscience himself and needs our support.

Please join the tweet storm and mark the day 6 months after his arrest. Raise awareness for him and show the United Arab Emirates that you have not forgotten him, but will stand with him and campaign for him. 

3. When does the Tweet Storm take place?

The tweet storm will take place on Wednesday, 20 September at 8pm (UAE time).

This is equivalent to 5pm (London), 6pm (Paris), 12 noon (New York), 9am (Los Angeles).

If you cannot make it, then please let your followers know about the tweet storm and ask them to join.

English PEN also launched a Thunderclap in support of Ahmed Mansoor. Please follow the link and sign up to this action as well.

4. 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. You can also send tweets to journalists and newspapers and ask them to report 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 politicians in Europe and the US, e.g. Federica Mogherini (@FedericaMog) 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. You can tweet that you stand with him and that you will campaign for him until he is released and similar messages.

5. Which hashtag shall I use?

Please use the hashtag #FreeAhmed for all your tweets (irrespective of the language in which you tweet). If everyone does, it is easy to find and retweet the tweets of others.

6. Suggested tweets

You can tweet whatever you want. Be inventive and tweet in whatever language you want. It would be great to have tweets in many different languages. Use pictures and graphics in your tweets to help them stand out. You can find some images you can use at the bottom of this post.

If you need some inspiration for tweets here are some examples:

  • Human rights defender @Ahmed_Mansoor has been in detention in Abu Dhabi without trial, or access to family for 6 months #FreeAhmed
  • UAE has detained human rights defender @Ahmed_Mansoor for last 6 months without access to the outside world for tweets #FreeAhmed #Emirates
  • Brave defender @Ahmed_Mansoor , arrested 6 months ago is detained in solitary confinement, all for his human rights activities #FreeAhmed
  • Harassed, given death threats, held in solitary confinement without access to the outside world for 6 months. @HHShkMohd must #FreeAhmed NOW
  • We call for the immediate and unconditional release of human rights defender @Ahmed_Mansoor. We urge @HHShkMohd @AnwarGargash to #FreeAhmed
  • .@Ahmed_Mansoor is a prisoner of conscience who is detained solely for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression. #FreeAhmed
  • .@Ahmed_Mansoor has spent 6 months in solitary confinement for speaking up for others & defending #humanrights. Join our call to #FreeAhmed
  • Please @FedericaMog intercede for @Ahmed_Mansoor #UAE. He has spent 6 months in solitary confinement for defending #humanrights. #FreeAhmed
  • Please @guardian write about @Ahmed_Mansoor #UAE. He is a brave human rights defender in jail for speaking up for others. Help to #FreeAhmed

7.  Can I do anything after 20 September?

Please do not stop supporting Ahmed Mansoor when the Tweet Storm on 20 September 2017 is over.

There is still the Amnesty International petition “Free Ahmed Mansoor” available online which you can sign and share with family, friends and followers.

As always, if you are on Twitter or in other Social Media, please continue to raise his case and make other people aware of it. If you like the suggested tweets, just continue to use them.

8. Graphics you can use:

 

 

Arrested, sentenced, not released – human rights in the United Arab Emirates

March 2017 was a dismal month for human rights in the United Arab Emirates. Two months later the situation has not improved. I want to tell in this post the stories of three human rights defenders from the United Arab Emirates: Ahmed Mansoor, Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith and Osama al-Najjar and what happened to them in the previous months.

1. Arrested: Ahmed Mansoor

Ahmed Mansoor – (c) Martin Ennals Foundation

a) Ahmed Mansoor is a prominent blogger and human rights activist. He is an engineer and a member of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Advisory Committee as well as the Advisory Board of the organisation Gulf Centre for Human Rights.

b) Ahmed Mansoor had been targeted by the UAE authorities for several years. On 8 April 2011 he was arrested and questioned. A months before his arrest, on 9 March 2011, he was one of 133 activists who had signed a petition to demand the introduction of universal direct elections for the Federal National Council, a quasi-parliamentary body, and give them full legislative power. Ahmed Mansoor had strongly supported this petition and had given interviews to the media in favour of  this initiative. Human rights organisations assumed at the time that his activism for political reform was the reason of his arrest.

He was charged under article 176 of the UAE Penal Code which makes it an offence to “publicly insult the State President, its flag or national emblem”. Art. 8 of the UAE Penal Code widens its application to other top officials. Another charge against him was “conspiracy against the safety and security of the state” by his participation in the online political discussion forum Hewar which had been banned in UAE in early 2010. Ahmed Mansoor was tried together with four other defendants (including Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith) who were charged with similar offences. The trial opened at the Abu Dhabi’s Federal Supreme Court on 14 June 2011 and is widely referred to as UAE5 trial. Amnesty International and other human rights organisations held that the trial was unfair and did violate basic rights of the defendants.  The first four hearings in the trial were held behind closed doors, the defendants were denied any meaningful opportunity to see the charges and evidence against them and to prepare a defence. The defendants also did not have a right to appeal the judgement, because the offences were tried subject to State Security criminal proceedings in which the Federal Supreme Court was the first and last instance. On 27 November 2011 Ahmed Mansoor was sentenced to three years in prison. The following day the President of the UAE pardoned Ahmed Mansoor and the four other defendants. However the charges were not dropped and Ahmed Mansoor was denied a passport and banned from travelling.

c) Since 2011 Ahmed Mansoor had been the target of numerous attacks via social media. He was targeted by spyware which enabled the government to track his movements and read his e-mails. He was generally under close physical and electronic surveillance. The authorities did not issue him with a “certificate of good conduct” which is necessary to obtain employment in the UAE. This meant that he could not work anymore as an engineer. Ahmed Mansoor started studying law in 2012. However, he was physically assaulted twice in university by government supporters and stopped his studies after the second assault.

d) On 6 October 2015 the Martin Ennals Foundation announced Ahmed Mansoor as the 2015 Laureate Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. The award is given to human rights defenders who have shown strong commitment and face great personal risk. The aim of the award is to provide protection through international recognition. Ahmed Mansoor was not able to attend the ceremony in Geneva to accept the award in person, because of the travel ban against him.

e) The constant harrassment of Ahmed Mansoor was just a prelude to what happened in March 2017. Around midnight of 20 March 2017 security forces entered Ahmed Mansoor’s home where he lives with his wife and their four small boys. They searched the place for three hours, confiscated all phones and electronic devices and took him around 3:15 am to an undisclosed location. According to an official news agency, he was arrested on orders of the Public Prosecution for Cybercrimes and accused of using social media to publish false and misleading information that harm the national unity and damage the reputation of the country. He was also accused of “promoting sectarian and hate-incited agenda”. Ahmed Mansoor had used his Twitter account to speak out for Osama al-Najjar and Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith and had criticised human rights violations in the region, in particular in Egypt and through the war in Yemen by a Saudi-led coalition.

His family did not hear from him for the next two weeks. On 3 April he was allowed a short supervised family visit. He was being held in solitary confinement and had no access to a lawyer.

On 28 March 2017 a group of United Nations human rights experts called for his release and described the arrest as “a direct attack on the legitimate work of human rights defenders in the UAE“. Also the Subcommittee on Human Rights at the European Parliament urged the UAE government to release Ahmed Mansoor. A coalition of 20 human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Scholars at Risk, Gulf Centre for Human Rights and many others joined the call for his immediate and unconditional release. He is still in prison.

Please raise your voice for Ahmed Mansoor. He always stands up for others and we should now campaign for him in this time where he needs our support. Amnesty International launched two different online petitions for his release, the petition “Free activist detained for blogging in the UAE” and the petition “Free Ahmed Mansoor“. Sign the petitions, share them via e-mail and social media and raise awareness about his situation. You can also write a letter, fax or e-mail to the UAE authorities. Amnesty put together all relevant information.

2. Sentenced: Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith

IMG_0418
Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith – (c) private

a) Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith is a well known economist, academic and human rights defenders. He is lecturer at the Abu Dhabi branch of the Sorbonne University, Paris. Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith had also been a target of harassment because of his advocacy for human rights and political reforms for a long time.

b) On 10 April 2011 he was arrested in Dubai. He had written online articles asking for political reform. As Ahmed Mansoor he had also signed the petition which asked for meaningful democratic reform of the Federal National Council. The authorities saw in his articles a threat for national security and an insult against government leaders and charged him under article 176  and article 8 of the UAE Penal Code, the same offence Ahmed Mansoor was charged with. Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith was also tried in the UAE5 trial. I have already mentioned the human rights violations in this trial in the context of Ahmed Mansoor. On 27 November 2011 the Federal Supreme Court of Abu Dhabi sentenced Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith to two years imprisonment for insulting the UAE government. As Ahmed Mansoor, Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith was pardoned on the following day, but the charges against him have not been dropped and the harassment and intimidations continued.

c) On 18 August 2015 Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith was arrested at 2 pm at his work place by State Security officers. He was brought to his home and the security officers searched his house between 4 pm and 8:30 pm and confiscated several items. Neither he nor his family were informed about the reasons for his arrest. For the next eight months Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith was disappeared. His family did not know about his whereabouts and he did not have any contact with his lawyer. On 4 April 2016 he appeared the first time in public after his arrest in front of the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi. The court session was also his first opportunity to speak briefly with his lawyer. Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith claimed that he had been held in solitary confinement and had been tortured by beating him and depriving him of sleep. The court did not order an independent investigation into the allegations of torture and ill-treatment and the judge switched off the microphone so that he could not continue to state his allegations.

Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith faced a number of charges, including “committing a hostile act against a foreign state”, because he had criticised on Twitter the Government of Egypt in the context of the massacre which happened at the camp of protesters against General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at Rabaa al-Adwiya Mosque (Cairo) in August 2013. Further charges were “posting false information in order to harm the reputation and stature of the State and one of its institutions” based on his comments that the UAE5 trial had not been fair. There were also charges on the basis of statements he had made and contacts he had had – including contacts to persons who were tried in the so-called UA94 trial in 2013 and with Amnesty International’s General Secretary in December 2011.

Further hearings in the trial against Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith took place on the 2 May, 23 May, 20 June and 26 September 2016. In the hearing on 5 December 2016 he was informed that the case had been transferred to the recently established Federal Appeal Court in Abu Dhabi. After two hearing at that court on 18 January and 22 February 2017, the court delivered a verdict on 29 March 2017. Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He can appeal the sentence within 30 days before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court.

On 30 March 2017 he was transferred to a Al-Razeen Prison – a maximum security prison in the middle of the Abu Dhabi desert. The prison is often used to hold activists, government critics, and human rights defenders. Before his transfer he wrote a letter and announced that he would start on 2 April an open ended hunger strike until his release. He said in his letter:

“Unfortunately, I was forced to take such decisions as I have no choice but to go on hunger strike to restore my stolen freedom .”

Amnesty International has issued an urgent action and asks for the release of Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith. There is also a call for his immediate and unconditional release by 10 human rights organisations including Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and Scholars at Risk. Please take action for him, tweet about him and write letters and ask the UAE authorities to release him.

3. Not released: Osama al-Najjar

Osama al-Najjar – (c) private

a) Osama al-Najjar is a 28 years online activist. He is the son of Hussain Ali al-Najjar al-Hammadi, a science teacher.

b) His father was arrested on 16 July 2012 and was one of the defendants in the infamous mass trial UAE94 against 94 individuals, including government critics and advocates of reform. The human rights lawyer Dr. Mohammed al-Roken about whom I wrote a blog post in December last year was another defendant in the UAE94 trial. You can read more about the trial and the human rights violations during it,  in my post about Dr. Al-Roken. Hussain al-Najjar was sentenced to 10 years in prison (followed by a three years probation period) on the charges of “plotting to overthrow the government”. In a separate trial in January 2014 he was sentenced to 14 further months in prison which he will serve after the 10 years sentence is completed.

c) Osama al-Najjar was arrested on 17 March 2014. He had been campaigning on social media for his father. Three weeks before his arrest, he had tweeted to the Ministry of Interior and expressed concern about his father’s torture and ill-treatment during the detention, the conditions in Al-Razaan prison and the unfair UAE94 trial.

After his arrest Osama was brought in a secret detention place. For four days he was continuously questioned from morning to evening. During the questioning, he was tortured and ill-treated. Osama was beaten and threatened with electric shocks if he would not cooperate. There were also threats that his mother and his younger siblings would be detained. He had no contact with his lawyer or with his family. After four days he was transferred to Al-Wathba Prison in Abu Dhabi were his family could visit him. However, he still did not get an opportunity to speak with his lawyer.

The trial against Osama al-Najjar began on 23 September 2014. In this hearing he also had the first time the chance to speak with his lawyer. A second hearing took place on 14 October 2014. On 25 November 2014 the State Security Court at the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi sentenced him to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 Emirate Dirhams (about GBP 106,000) on the charges of “instigating hatred against the state”, “designing and running a website on social networks with the aim of publishing inaccurate, satirical and defamatory ideas and information that are harmful to the structure for State institutions”, “belonging to the al-Islah organisation” and “contacting foreign organisation and presenting inaccurate information”. Osama’s electronic devices were confiscated and his Twitter account and website were closed. No appeal was possible against this judgement.

d) After spending three years in prison, Osama al-Najjar was due for release two months ago, on 17 March 2017. The authorities did not release him. There is no indication for how long his detention will be extended. Apparently the prosecutor said that his release poses a threat to society and had applied for the continuous detention on the basis of anti-terror laws, even so he was not found guilty of a “terrorist offence”.  He is kept incommunicado in a “counselling centre”. International Campaign for Freedom in the United Arab Emirates (ICFUAE) explains in a recent article how the UAE authorities generally misuse the “counselling centre” to extend the imprisonment on human rights defenders. Osama al-Najjar is not the only one whose detention is extended in this arbitrary way.  Amnesty International and other human rights organisations ask for his immediate release and state there is no basis for his ongoing arbitrary detention.

Please take action for Osama al-Najjar and join the urgent action of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. Join the campaign on Twitter and write letters to the UAE authorities to ask for his release.