Happy birthday to my blog!

I published my first blog post on 21 June 2015, exactly five years ago. Now five years and 60 blog post later, I want to look back on the themes and topics over the past five years. I hope you will enjoy this retrospect.

1. Visitors and views

Let’s start with some statistics.

This is a map which shows in different shades of pink from which countries the visitors to my blog came over the past five years:

My blog had in the past five years 15,487 visitors with 26,148 views (because many visitors look at more than one page at their visit to my blog). Most of my visitors were from the USA with 7,039 views, this is followed by visitors from the UK (5,901 views), Germany (2,011 views), France (1,434 views) and Canada (898 views). Visitors to my blog came from 141 different countries, including countries like American Samoa, Kenya, South Korea, Panama and Zimbabwe to name a few countries from which I had recent visitors.

2. Themes and Categories

In my first blog post, I wrote that

I will basically write about all topics I am passionate about.Currently these are mainly two which are very different, the one topic is human rights, the other one is the arts. 

That is exactly what I have done over the past five years. The 60 blog posts I wrote are in six categories (some posts are in two categories): Human Rights, Poetry, Twitter, Classical Music, General and Art.

I wrote 40 blog posts about human rights topics, eight of these posts are in the category human rights and the category poetry, because they share poetry and are human rights related, most of the time, because the poet is in prison and was punished for his or her poetry. Eight of the human rights topics are also in the category Twitter. Sometimes these were blog posts about tweet storms, at other times, they included or reported a campaign on Twitter like the “Sky For Shawkan” campaign for the Egyptian photographer Shawkan or the translations project of a phrase of support for Raif Badawi.

The second most important category in my blog was “Classical Music“. I wrote 14 blog posts about classical music topics. Most of these posts were about the programme of concerts with one of my choirs, Highgate Choral Society. I have been writing the programme notes for our concerts for almost five years and I usually put the programme note for the main work (or the work I find particularly interesting) on my blog.

In addition to the human rights posts and the ones about classical music, I wrote one blog post about art and five blog posts in the “General” category – usually a post at the beginning of the year with some thoughts about the previous year.

3. My most popular posts

There are six of my post which got more than 500 views since their publication. I want to give you a short overview over these posts.

a) On 25 June 2016 Highgate Choral Society sung in our summer concert J.S. Bach’s massive choral work B Minor Mass – in a sense the culmination of his choral writing. I published on 2 June 2016 the post “Bach: Mass in B Minor – a “Great Catholic Mass”?“. This post got since his publication four years ago 1,059 views and is the most popular one in my blog.

b) The second most popular one is a human rights post about Saudi women rights defenders which I published on 13 August 2018. It is called “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“. Between May 2018 and end of July 2018 Saudi Arabia arrested 13 women rights defenders. My blog post is about five of them: Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef were arrested between the 15 and 18 May 2018. Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah were arrested on 30 July 2018. Eman al Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef were both temporarily released on 27 March 2019, but their trial is still ongoing and they could still face years in prison. Loujain al-Hathoul, Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah are still in prison and on trial. There are allegations of torture, sexual abuse and long periods of solitary confinement.

This post got since his publication less then two years ago 692 views. Given that the women are still on trial and some of them are still in prison, I hope that this post will continue be viewed by many people.

c) Almost the same number of views (686 views) got my third most popular post: “Brahms: A German Requiem – a Requiem for Humankind“. I published it on 1 November 2016 and it is about a concert of Highgate Choral Society on 12 November 2016.

d) The fourth most popular post is about the Egyptian photographer Mahmoud Abu Zeid, also called “Shawkan”. On 11 August 2016 I published the post “Three years of injustice – Freedom for Mahmoud Abu Zeid “Shawkan”“. Shawkan had been arrested on 14 August 2013 and my post marked the third anniversary of his arrest. It was viewed 637 times.

I wrote over the years five blog posts about Shawkan. We started in September 2016 the photo campaign “Sky for Shawkan” where we asked people to share photos of the sky with the hashtag #SkyForShawkan, because Shawkan said in a letter from prison that he missed the sky, In my posts in September 2016, December 2017, October 2018 and the final post in March 2019 I gave updates of his situation and shared in each post photos of the sky which activists from all over the world had posted on Twitter in support of Shakwan. My final post “After 5 years 6 months 18 days: Shawkan released from prison!” had the good news that Shawkan was released on 4 March 2019. However, it was not an unconditional release and he was still required to report at the police station at 6 pm every day and potentially sleep there. Shawkan described this as “half free”. This obligation was meant to be in place for five years, however I am not sure how the situation is at the moment. In any case you can follow Shawkan on Twitter or on Instagram and see his amazing photos.

e) My fifths most popular post is again one about classical music. Highgate Choral Society sung in our concert on 11 March 2017 Edgar Elgar’s The Music Makers. I published on 21 February 2017 “Elgar: The Music Makers – a musical autobiography?“. This blog post got 590 views over time.

f) The last post which was viewed more than 500 times is the post “Poetry behind bars: The Poems“. It got 515 views and it is one of two post about five women in Evin Prison, Iran and the poems they wrote. The five women are Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, Narges Mohammadi, Nasim Bagheri and Mahvash Sabet Shariari. The post shared the poems by these women. When I published my post on 15 November 2017 four of the women were still in prison. Mahvash Sabet Shariari had been released 18 September 2017 after having served almost 10 years in prison. On 29 March 2018 Nasim Bagheri was released after having completed her sentence of four years in prison. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee and Narges Mohammadi are still in prison. Please continue to support them.

4. Countries and prisoners

a) The country about which I wrote the most posts is Iran. 13 of my 40 human rights posts are (also) about a human rights defender and / or prisoner in Iran.

I mentioned in my first post five years ago two prisoners from Iran for whom I was campaigning at that time: Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki and Saeed Malekpour.

Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki with his parents in June 2015

aa) I wrote three posts about Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki all of them in 2016.

In January 2016 we organised a Tweet Storm for him. On 17 June 2015 he had been given furlough on medical grounds.

On 11 January 2016 the authorities called him back to prison. We could not do much about that, we could at least show him that we stand with him and support him. On a Twitter Day on 18 January 2016 people from all over the world tweeted in support of Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki.

Tweet by Laleh, a close friend of Hossein,
on the day after he went back to prison

He returned to prison on 19 January 2016. I shared a few days later the last blog post he published before returning to prison (in an English translation by his friend Laleh).

In May 2016 there was finally good news, because he was again temporarily released on 4 May after 105 nights in prison and 38 days of hunger strike.

This was an uncertain freedom for a quite a long time, but one year ago on 24 June 2019 he posted that his 15 year sentences had been suspended and that he was finally unconditionally free, almost 10 years after his initial arrest.

An Iranian-born Canadian resident has returned to British Columbia after being imprisoned and allegedly tortured in his home country for 11 years. Saeed Malekpour, left, poses for a photo with his sister Maryam Malekpour in a Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Kimberley Motley,

bb) There was also fantastic news last year about Saeed Malekpour.

Over the years I tweeted regularly for Saeed Malekpour. In June 2016 I wrote a post for Saeed Malekpour’s birthday.

Saeed Malekpour is a Canadian resident. In autumn 2008 he went to Iran to see his dying father. He was arrested on 4 October 2008. He was initially sentenced to death, but then his sentences was commuted to life in prison.

After almost 11 years in prison he was able to use a temporary release last year to flee Iran and returned to Canada on 3 August 2019.

He is now finally reunited with his sister Maryam Malekpour who has been campaigning for him tirelessly over all the years. There is a fascinating article about his escape from Iran which I highly recommend you to read.

Nazanin-Zaghari Ratcliffe after her temporary release
from prison (with ankle tag).

cc) The third Iranian prisoner about whom I wrote several times is Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Nazanin was arrested on 3 April 2016 when she went with her daughter Gabriella to the airport in Tehran to travel back from a family visit in Iran.

I wrote three posts about her. The last one was last year, one months after her hunger strike and the hunger strike of her husband Richard.

Because of Covid-19 Nazanin was temporarily released on 17 March 2020. She is under house arrest at her parents home and her movements are restricted to 300 m from her parents home. She also has to wear an ankle tag. The furlough was extended several times and she is currently still free. She and her husband hope for a pardon, but there is still no decision made by Iran and at the moment she has to call the prosecutors office twice a week on Saturdays and on Wednesdays.

Please continue to support the campaign for her release. I hope that there will soon be a positive decision for her and she can return to her family in London.

b) I wrote over the years eleven posts about prisoners in Saudi Arabia and also eleven posts about prisoners in the United Arab Emirates. I mentioned in my first post Raif Badawi and Waleed Abukhair from Saudi Arabia and Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken from the United Arab Emirates.

aa) Raif Badawi is the reason I started using social media and he was in a sense also the reason why I started writing this blog. I wrote over time four blogs post about him. The first one was my first proper post in this blog on 27 June 2015: “Why I do care about Raif Badawi“. Others post were about two boooks (one biography by Ensaf Haidar, Raif’s wife and a book of texts by Raif Badawi), another one was about the translation project for him.

There is sadly no news about him. There was some information that he had been on hunger strike a few times, but I find it always difficult to assess how reliable the information is. Even so his wife campaigns for him and seems to have regular contact with him, there is often conflicting information.

Just a few days ago, on 17 June, was the eighth anniversary of his arrest. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1000 lashes and a fine. After the first public flogging on 9 January 2015 (50 lashes) there were further threats that Saudi Arabia would continue to flog him, but it seems that this has not happened. I still hope for a Royal Pardon and his release, but there are sadly no indications that this would happen anytime soon.

bb) The situation of Waleed Abulkhair, a human rights lawyer, is very similar. I wrote one blog post about him. He worked among others also for Raif Badawi. He was arrested on 15 April 2014 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Also he has been on hunger strike a couple of times and there is no new information about him available.

cc) When I started writing my blog, human rights in the United Arab Emirates was not a major focus for me. I included in my first post Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken. I wrote also one blog post about him and have been campaigning for him ever since. As Waleed Abulkhair also Dr. Al-Roken is a human rights lawyer, and I assume being a lawyer myself, I am particularly drawn to campaigning for him. However, ten of my eleven posts about the United Arab Emirates are not about Dr. Al-Roken, but rather about Ahmed Mansoor. There is no human rights activist and prisoners of conscience about whom I have written more blog posts than about Ahmed Mansoor.

Ahmed Mansoor with two of his four boys

Ahmed Mansoor is blogger and human rights activist. He is an engineer and a member of several human rights organisations. He is poet and he is also a husband and father of four boys.

Ahmed Mansoor was arrested on 20 March 2017. I wrote my first blog post about him in May 2017 and as mentioned I have written in the meantime ten blog posts about him, the last two were in March this year to mark the third anniversary of his arrest and to share his poetry. As always there is only limited news available about him. Gulf Centre for Human Rights published the last article about him at the beginning of June. Because of the Covid-19 crisis there are currently no visits allowed to the prisons in the United Arab Emirates. Therefore Ahmed Mansoor and his family have not seen each other since January 2020. They are theoretically allowed to have phone calls, but the last one was in April 2020. There was no contact between him and his family since then. Also his situation in prison has not improved. He still has no bed and no access to books, no access to a shower and cleaning products and is not allowed to leave his cell, except for rare family visits. There is more worrying news from Human Rights Watch. They published on 10 June an article about reported Covid-19 outbreaks in several prisons in UAE, including Al-Sadr prison in which Ahmed Mansoor is detained. There is no specific information about him in this article, but Human Rights Watch quotes family members of other prisoners in Al-Sadr prison:

“He [my relative] told me it’s filthy,” …. “There are cockroaches everywhere. There are no blankets or pillows. It’s so overcrowded, they’re kept like cattle. And there’s no sunlight.”

One family member of a prisoner told Human Rights Watch at the end of May that seven prisoners were tested positively for Covid-19. They were transferred to a hospital and others were quarantined in solitary confinement cells. The relative of the prisoner said:

“He is so scared to go into that dark hole,” … “He has a heart condition too.”

I am really worried about Ahmed Mansoor’s situation and I would like to ask you to continue to support the campaign for him. I am sure more blog posts about him will follow, if he is not released soon.

c) I mentioned in my first post three other prisoners / human rights activists: Shawkan (Egypt), Nabeel Rajab (Bahrain) and Hussain Jawad (Bahrain). I wrote eight posts about prisoners and human rights defenders in Bahrain, seven about prisoners in Egypt, two posts in which I mentioned a prisoner from Qatar (Mohammed Al-Ajami) and two in which I mentioned a prisoner from Turkey (Nedim Türfent).

aa) I already wrote in the previous chapter about the photographer Shawkan who was in prison in Egypt and my five blog posts about him.

bb) Nabeel Rajab was released a few days ago after almost four years in prison. I hope that he will stay free.

Hussain Jawad with his father Parweez Jawad

I wrote over the years five blog post about Hussain Jawad (including two about his father Mohammed Hassan Jawad, also called Parweez Jawad). Hussain fled Bahrain and currently lives in France, but his father is still in prison in Bahrain. Hussain wrote over the last weeks quite often about him on social media. His father is over 70 years old and not in good health anyway. In particular because of the Covid-19 crisis Hussain fears for his father’s health and even his life. You can read more about Parweez Jawad in my blog post from March 2017. Please support the campaign for Parweez Jawad’s freedom.

Please support also Ali Mushaima and his campaign for his father’s freedom. Ali Mushaima went on a hunger strike for some basic demands for his father in summer 2018. I wrote two blogs about him. Hassan Mushaima is about the same age as Parweez Jawad and has also several health conditions.

Both belong to the so-called Bahrain 13, a group of human rights activist and opposition leaders who were arrested during the Arab Spring in March 2011. Hassan Mushaima was sentenced to life in prison, Parweez Jawad to 15 years in prison. Both are prisoners of conscience and should be free.

5. What will come next?

We will see what will come next. I really enjoy writing in my blog and I will therefore certainly continue writing blog posts. I also assume that the topics will not change much, therefore you will be able to read more blog posts about human rights, mainly in the Middle East, and about classical music. I enjoy doing research about these topics and share my results and thoughts with my readers. I would like to write more posts about art, but we will see how things will go.

I do not think I can be more specific about future posts. Some of my posts are planned for some time, e.g. the mark the birthday of a prisoner or the anniversary of his or her arrest or the judgement against him or her. I also wrote posts for World Poetry Day, the Day of the Imprisoned Writer and in particular Human Rights Day. However, very often posts react to something which happens, like the arrest of someone, a hunger strike or also a happy event like the release of someone. These are posts which I obviously cannot plan in advance, but I certainly plan to give updates on the prisoners about whom I have written before. I usually write about classical music in the context of the Highgate Choral Society concerts, but with Covid-19 it is uncertain when these will resume.

If you are curious about my future posts, the please consider following this blog. You only need an email address to do so. If you follow the blog, you will get an email whenever I publish a new post. I usually also share my posts on social media. If you have the impression that there is a human rights defender or a prisoner or conscience about whom I should write, then please leave a comment and I will see what I can do.

Let me end this post with saying thank you to everyone who read and shared my posts and in particular thank you to everyone who supported the prisoners I am writing about. Please continue to support human rights and prisoners of conscience.

Ahmed Mansoor – a poet

In the previous blog post, I gave an update on Ahmed Mansoor’s current situation and asked you to take action for him to mark the third anniversary of his arrest on 20 March. In this post I want to introduce you to Ahmed Mansoor, the poet and will also share some of Ahmed Mansoor’s poems in English translation.

Ahmed Mansoor is a very well know human rights activist. Not so many people probably know that he is also a poet and has a keen interest in literature. In an interview with the researcher, activist and film maker Manu Luksch in May 2016 he described the connection between his interest in human rights activism and literature as follows:

“Of course, throughout this history I was involved in many different things. The first was literature—I’d been writing in almost all the newspapers in the UAE about literature and specifically about poetry, and later I published a book on poetry. That’s where the value of freedom of expression became of great importance for me, and I started my involvement in human rights driven by the great respect that I have for freedom of expression.”

The book Ahmed Mansoor mentioned in this quote is called “Beyond the Failure”. It is a collection of poetry in Arabic and was published in 2007. The collection was never published in English, but Manu Luksch got a few of these poems translated into English. You can find them on a wonderful publication which also include the 3,159 most recent tweets from Ahmed Mansoor’s Twitter feed (in the original and in an English machine translation).

I will share the English translations of the poems here and I am very grateful to Manu Luksch for giving me her permission to do so.

1. “Final Choice”

At the beginning of this post has to be Ahmed Mansoor’s best known poem “Final Choice”. It is a very powerful poem and I am not surprised that people go back to this poem again and again and use it to campaign for Ahmed Mansoor.

I have read this poem a few times at vigils and protests and also other people read it at vigils and other events.

It was also part of a display last year at the Peoples History Museum in Manchester (in the Protest Lab).

At the Human Rights & Poetry Event “Word’s for the Silenced” last March Drewery Dyke chose to read “Final Choice”. You can listen to him reading it in this tweet which I tweeted last year.

Final Choice
I have no other means now
but a tight-lipped silence in the square and through corridors
Since I have tried everything
screams, chants, signboards
obstructing roads
and lying on the ground in front of the queues

Cutting through the procession with eggs, tomatoes, and
blazing tires
Hurling burning bottles and stones

Stripped naked in front of the public
Carving statements in the flesh
Walking masked in front of cameras
Dressed in shackles
Tied and chained to garden fences
Swallowing rusty razor blades and splintered glass
Hacking of fingers with a machete
and hanging myself from the lampposts
Dousing the body with kerosene
and setting it aflame

I have tried all this, but you didn’t even turn to look
This time, I swear
I won’t utter a word, or move
I will stay the way I am
until you turn to look
or until I am petrified

The person who translated “Final Choice” wants to stay anonymous.

2. “What are all the stars for” and “How did you not see me”

There were two other poems by Ahmed Mansoor which also featured in the Human Rights & Poetry Event “Words for the Silenced” and which were used in other similar events. The first poem is “What are all those stars for”. It was translated into English by Tony Calderbeck.

What are all those stars for?
And the night
And the clouds
And the sky erected like a tent in the desert.

In a place like this
Everything is
Luxury
.

Listen to this short clip in which the journalist Bill Law reads the poem. It is again a tweet I send last year to mark the anniversary of Ahmed Mansoor’s arrest and World Poetry Day.

And here is the poem “How did you not see me” which was also translated by someone who wants to stay anonymous.

How did you not see me
As if I were hiding behind a mountain
And how did I see you then
Passing in a distance of two leagues
Curving the moon with a gaze
And pulling the stars
To the field
.

3. More poems translated by Tony Calderbeck

Tony Calderback translated two more poems by Ahmed Mansoor. The first one is a very short one “They’ve gone”.

They’ve gone
And I am left alone
Poking about in the ashtray
Trying to find a pulse
.

The second poem “Like a celestial body” reminds me almost of surreal poetry.

Like a celestial body we burned bright
And went out like a jellyfish

Just for you
All these waves hidden like a wreath or a bomb
Just for you
A blend of the spirit and annihilation
Just for you
The entire
Cemetery
.

4. More poems translated by an anonymous translator

There are eight further poems who were translated into English by someone who prefers to stay anonymous. Many of these poems are quite short and succinct.

Time does not gore my wounds anymore
For I have no wound and there is no such thing as time
And no consolation
.

Happening
He didn’t finish the whole glass,
If he had, and had left the table,
the sky outside would have rained.
How would he have crossed the street.
when he had forgotten his umbrella
!

Quite a number of the poems are love poems.

Heart
A deep bow to you
You, the heart that died twice
and never grew jaded

Another bow
to what approaches with its dagger

From the horizon.

The flower of the door
This morning I greeted the flower at the door by lifting my hat
She surprised me
leaning softly,
when my lover passed by
in the evening.

Longing
The love we buried together,
we’ve lost its location,
so we dug the whole desert,
when we felt the first prick
of nostalgia.

Love
I fell in love with you
without any regret directed at you or the grave
I fell in love with you
but I
I forgot the shoes in the dream
and the keys
in the coffin.

Another Love
When will you come?
My insides froze on the barrow
and the coat melted in the wind.


I blew the whistle
I nodded with my heart one million times
and one million times the galaxy fell
.

But you
Did not come

All that is
A hair from your braid
Fell into the dream
And I found it

Finally.

Boredom
How much time has passed,
Oh clock,
And you are ticking ?!
My heart,
Is beating as well,
But the tear had dried
And the bullet,
Is still,
Penetrating.

I hope you like the poems. Please share them, in particular please join English PEN’s call for action, make short video clips of you reading these poems and share this clips to campaign for Ahmed Mansoor.

As always please continue to be Ahmed Mansoor’s voice.

Ahmed Mansoor – a human rights activist and prisoner of conscience

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

1. What you need to know about Ahmed Mansoor

Ahmed Mansoor is a highly regarded blogger and human rights activist. He is an engineer and a member of several human rights organisations. In 2015 he won the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights.

Ahmed Mansoor was arrested three years ago, on 20 March 2017. His arrest was the culmination of years of harassment, arrests, travel bans and physical and electronic surveillance. On 29 May 2018 he was sentenced to ten years in prison for false information on social media which “insulted the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols” and “incited hatred and sectarian feelings”. The court of appeal decided on 31 December 2018 to uphold the sentence which is now final.

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

If you read my blog regularly or follow me on Twitter, you know that I have written quite a number of blog posts about Ahmed Mansoor over the years. If you want to know more about him, then please have a look at one of my previous posts about him, in particular “Arrested, Sentenced, Not Released – Human Rights in the United Arab Emirates“, “Ahmed Mansoor – 10 years in prison for defending human rights”, “Ahmed Mansoor on hunger strike“ and my last post about him from October last year “Global week of action for Ahmed Mansoor #BirthdayWishes4Ahmed“.

2. Ahmed Mansoor’s current situation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Please take action for Ahmed Mansoor

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

a) When shall I tweet?

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

b) Is there a special hashtag?

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

c) What shall I tweet?

  • Send tweets to raise your followers’ awareness for Ahmed Mansoor. Tell them about him and his courageous work defending human rights in the UAE. Tell them that he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his work and that he spent all the time in solitary confinement. Mention that it is the third anniversary of his arrest. You can also send tweets to journalists and newspapers and ask them to write about his case.
  • Send tweets to the United Arab Emirates, in particular to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum  @HHShkMohd, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and to Dr. Anwar Mohammed Gargash @AnwarGargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and ask them to release Ahmed Mansoor. You can also tweet to Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan @SaifBZayed, the Minister of Interior of the United Arab Emirates. He is the authority who controls and runs prisons in UAE. Other accounts to address are Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan @ABZayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum @HamdanMohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan @MohamedBinZayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.
  • In addition you can tweet to politicians in Europe and the US and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of your country. Feel free to tweet in your own language. Possible targets are Josep Borrell: @JosepBorrellF (EU Minister for Foreign Affairs), Mary Lawlor: @MaryLawlorFLD (the new UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders), Emmanuel Macron: @EmmanuelMacron, Boris Johnson: @BorisJohnson, Donald Trump: @realDonaldTrump
  • You can finally send tweets with words of support to @Ahmed_Mansoor and his family. It would be too risky for his family to campaign for him, but many NGOs say that they see the tweets in support of #FreeAhmed

d) Are there sample tweets?

You can tweet what you want and you can also tweet in whatever language you want to. If you need some inspiration, here are a couple of tweets which were drafted by Amnesty International and by ICFUAE:

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

Suggested thread:

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

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

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

Artur Ligenska told Human Rights Watch the following:

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

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

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)

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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: