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
More 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.
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 hearing 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.
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 @ahmed_mansoor — Laureate of Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, @HRW 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?”