Ahmed Mansoor – 10 years in prison for defending human rights

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

1. The Arrest

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

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

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

2. Solitary Confinement and Torture

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

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

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

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

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

3. Trial

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

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

4. Judgement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. What can we do?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

1. What is Ahmed Mansoor’s current situation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. What can I do to help Ahmed Mansoor?

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

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

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

Twitter Day for Ahmed Mansoor

3. What shall I tweet?

  • Send tweets to raise your followers’ awareness for Ahmed Mansoor. Tell them about him and his courageous work defending human rights in the UAE. Tell them that he is held incommunicado and that his family had not contact with him for six months. You can also send tweets to journalists and newspapers and ask them to write about his case.
  • Send tweets to the United Arab Emirates, in particular to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum  @HHShkMohd, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and to Dr. Anwar Mohammed Gargash @AnwarGargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and ask them to release Ahmed Mansoor. You can also tweet to Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan @SaifBZayed, the Minister of Interior of the United Arab Emirates. He is the authority who controls and runs prisons in UAE. Other accounts to address are Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan @ABZayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum @HamdanMohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan @MohamedBinZayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.
  • In addition you can tweet to politicians in Europe and the US, e.g. Federica Mogherini (@FedericaMog) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of your country. Feel free to tweet in your own language.
  • You can finally send tweets with words of support to @Ahmed_Mansoor. You can tweet that you stand with him and that you will campaign for him until he is released and similar messages.

4. Is there a special hashtag?

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

5. Suggested tweets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Graphics you can use:

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




2017 in Review: #SaveArash, Ahmed Mansoor and Bahrain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tweet Storm for Ahmed Mansoor

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

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

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

Tweet storm Ahmed Mansoor Var1

1. Who is Ahmed Mansoor?

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

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

2. Why shall I participate in the tweet storm?

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

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

3. When does the Tweet Storm take place?

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

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

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

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

4. What shall I tweet?

  • Send tweets to raise your followers’ awareness for Ahmed Mansoor. Tell them about him and his courageous work defending human rights in the UAE. You can also send tweets to journalists and newspapers and ask them to report his case.
  • Send tweets to the United Arab Emirates, in particular to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum  @HHShkMohd, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and to Dr. Anwar Mohammed Gargash @AnwarGargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and ask them to release Ahmed Mansoor.
  • You can also tweet to politicians in Europe and the US, e.g. Federica Mogherini (@FedericaMog) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of your country. Feel free to tweet in your own language.
  • You can finally send tweets with words of support to @Ahmed_Mansoor. You can tweet that you stand with him and that you will campaign for him until he is released and similar messages.

5. Which hashtag shall I use?

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

6. Suggested tweets

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

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

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

7.  Can I do anything after 20 September?

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

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

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

8. Graphics you can use:



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

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

1. Arrested: Ahmed Mansoor

Ahmed Mansoor – (c) Martin Ennals Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Sentenced: Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith

Dr. Nasser bin-Ghaith – (c) private

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Not released: Osama al-Najjar

Osama al-Najjar – (c) private

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human Rights Lawyer in Jail – Dr. Mohammed al-Roken, Waleed Abulkhair and Abdolfattah Soltani

On 10 December is Human Rights Day. The date was chosen to honour the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted and proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948. Human Rights Day was established in 1950. The United Nations and many human rights organisations mark this day with conferences, meetings, cultural events and exhibitions dealing with human rights issues. Also Amnesty International “Write for Rights” campaign is in December around Human Rights Day.

On the occasion of Human Rights Day, I want to highlight the fate of three men whose profession and passion are the defence of human rights. All three are human rights lawyers and all three are currently in prison for their work: Dr. Mohammed al-Roken (UAE), Waleed Abulkhair (Saudi Arabia) and Abdolfattah Soltani (Iran).

1. Dr. Mohammed al-Roken

img_3231Date of birth: 26 November 1962

Country: Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE)

Profession: Academic, former professor of constitutional law, former president of UAE Jurists Association, member of many further legal associations and human rights lawyer. Dr. Al-Roken holds an PhD in Constitutional Law from the University of Warwick, Coventry, UK.

Arrest: 17 July 2012, only hours after his son and his son-in law were arrested.

Trial: The trial against Dr. Al-Roken began in March 2013. It was a mass trial against 94 people, therefore it is also know as UAE94. The group of defendants included human rights lawyers, academics, judges, teachers and students. Many belonged to the Reform and Social Guidance Association (Al-Islah) which had called for more democracy in UAE.

There were altogether 14 hearings which took place on various dates between 4 March and 2 July 2013. 86 defendants pleaded non guilty and 8 were tried in absentia.

The trial and the pretrial detention were unfair and affected by several human rights violations, including

  • Rights on arrest: Most detainees were not informed about the reason for their arrest and did not have prompt access to a lawyer.
  • Right to liberty: All defendants were held in solidary confinement at secret places and were denied contact with their family and their lawyers. The family of the defendants were not informed and sometimes did not know their whereabouts for months.
  • Prohibition against torture: Many defendants said that they were tortured to get them to confess “their crimes” and some said that signatures on confessions were forged
  • Right to fair trial: The hearings were not held in public. Several defendants did not have access to defence lawyers. There were only seven defence lawyers in the case and they did not get the evidence in time to prepare appropriately. Dr. Al-Roken handed in a paper on 26 March in which he requested the defendants to be allowed to access the case papers. This application was declined. The defendants did not have the right to call and examine witnesses.
  • Right to appeal: All defendants were denied the right to appeal the judgement.

Charges: Founding and administrating an institution aimed at overthrowing the government pursuant to Art. 180 Federal Penal Code (UAE)

Sentence: The highest court of the United Arab Emirates sentenced Dr. Al-Roken on 2 July 2013 to a 10 year prison sentence. 55 other defendants were also sentenced to 10 years in prison, 5 others were sentenced to 7 years in prison and the 8 who were tried in absentia were sentenced to 15 years in prison. 25 accused were acquitted.

Background: Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken has acted as a human rights lawyer for individuals but also for organisations like Amnesty International for around two decades. For years he was targeted for his human rights activities. Since 2006 he was arrested and detained several times, his passport was confiscated and he was placed on travel ban. In March 2011 113 UAE citizens signed a petition which asked the government for more democracy in line with the constitutional provisions. The signatories included Dr. Al-Roken and also Ahmed Mansoor, a prominent human rights activist. In April 2011 Ahmed Mansoor and four other persons were arrested. Dr. Al-Roken served as one of the defence lawyers in this trial (UAE 5) and was also defence lawyer in other important trials.

Current situation: Dr. Al-Roken is in Abu Dhabi’s al-Rezin prison. Amnesty International reports an incident in November 2015 when the prison authorities installed loud speakers in each block and played extremely loud propaganda music for hours. Dr. Al-Roken had a panic attack, high blood pressure and an ear infection. Amnesty International says that his health has now improved. He and other prisoners are still subject to insults and degrading treatment and his family members are harassed. img_1207

Further information: Amnesty International issued on 23 September 2016 an appeal with further information about Dr. Al-Roken and other UAE activists who were tried in the UAE 94 trial. Please read and share this appeal and take action for them. More information about the UAE 94 trial and details about the human rights violations can be found in a report by FIDH, Gulf Centre for Human Rights and other organisations and a report by International Commission of Jurists.

2. Waleed Abulkhair

img_0121Date of birth: 17 June 1979

Country: Saudi Arabia

Profession: Human rights lawyer and human rights activists, head of “Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia” (MHRSA), an organisation he founded in 2008.

Arrest: Waleed Abulkhair was arrested on  15 April 2014 when he attended the fifth hearing in his trial. He was taken to al-Ha’ir prison, kept in solitary confinement and deprived of sleep. Waleed said he was beaten and denied food. He also did not have access to his lawyer and his family.

Trial: The trial against Waleed Abulkhair began on 6 October 2013 before the Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh which deals with terrorism cases. Waleed Abulkhair did not defend himself because he refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the court. In February 2014 a new terrorism law came into force. Saudi Arabia applied this new law retroactively to Waleed’s case. The law labels free speech as “terrorism” and its aim is to persecute and punish human rights activists. He was the first human rights activist who was tried and sentenced under this new law.

Charges: There were numerous charges against Waleed Abulkhair, including (1) seeking to disarm the state legitimacy, (2) abuse of public order in the state and its officials, (3) inciting public opinion and insulting the judiciary, (4) publicly defaming the judiciary and discrediting Saudi Arabia through alienating international organizations against the Kingdom and make statements and documents to harm the reputation of the Kingdom to incite and alienate them, (5) adopting an unauthorized association and being its chairman speaking on its behalf and issuing statements and communicating through it and (6) preparing, storing and sending what would prejudice public order.

Sentence: On 6 July 2014 Waleed Abulkhair was sentenced to 15 years in prison (10 years executed and 5 years suspended), a 15-year travel ban starting from the end of his imprisonment and a fine of 200,000 Saudi Arabian riyals (over GBP 35,000). The sentence was upheld in appeal court on 12 January 2015. The judge in the appeal court told Waleed Abukhair that he will serve the full 15 years and not a reduced sentence of 10 years, because he had refused to apologise for the alleged offences.

Background: Waleed Abulkhair has dedicated his life to human rights and their defence. He began to practice law in 2007. He represented many victims of human rights violations and reformers. He advocated for democracy and reforms in Saudi Arabia. In 2009 the authorities banned him from representing certain defendants. Waleed did not obey and continued to defend human rights activists in court. One of the people he represented was Raif Badawi. Waleed Abulkhair was arrested several times and banned from travelling since March 2012 to prevent him from attending to human rights conferences or receiving international human rights prizes. While the trial in Riyadh was ongoing another criminal court in Jeddah sentenced Waleed to three months in prison for similar charges (29 October 2013). Part of the evidence in both trials was a petition Waleed Abulkhair signed in support of 16 Saudi reformists. He wrote over 300 articles in Arabic, he also wrote articles for Western newspapers and received several prizes. img_2411

Current situation: Waleed Abulkhair was transferred several times and was in different prisons. He is currently in prison in Jeddah (Dhahban). On 7 June 2016 Waleed started a hunger strike to protest against harassment, denial of reading material, ongoing ill-treatment and a refusal to provide him with medical care. On 12 June 2016 he ended his hunger strike after gaining concessions from the prison administration.

Further information: You can find more information about him on a blog in his support. Also the Wikipedia article about him is very detailed. The United Nations (UN) Working Group for Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) adopted in their session in September 2015 an opinion in which they request the release of Waleed Abulkhair and eight other human rights defenders who are arbitrarily detained in Saudi Arabia.

3. Abdolfattah Soltani

img_3200Date of birth: 2 November 1953

Country: Iran

Profession: Human rights lawyer and spokesman of Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran. He is also co-founder of this group together with Mohammed Seifzahdeh und Nobel Peach Prize winner Shirin Ebadi. He was a member of the Arbitrary Detention Investigation Committee.

Arrest: On 10 September 2011 security forces entered his offices and confiscated files, his briefcase, his computer and also several personal and family documents. Abdolfattah Soltani was arrested at the Revolutionary Court where he was to review the files of one of his clients.

Trial: The trial against Abdolfattah Soltani started on 8 January 2012 at Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court. On 1 January 2012 he was allowed to see his file the first time for 3 hours per day. Abdolfattah Soltani did not defend himself, because he did not belief the court to be qualified. The rights of Abdolfattah Soltani were violated in several ways, in particular through an illegal extension of his imprisonment (after the pre-trail detention expired). He was not released on bail until the court of appeal issued his final ruling, even so he should have been released. He did not have access to records or law books and could not properly prepare his defence. In addition personal items which were confiscated at his arrest were not returned. His family were not allowed to visit him.

Charges: There were four charges against Abdolfattah Soltani: “propagating against the regime” (in particular interviews with media about his client’s cases), “establishing the Defenders of Human Rights Centre (founding an illegal group)”, “assembly and collusion against national security” and “accepting an unlawful prize”. The “unlawful prize” was the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award which he received in 2009.

Sentence: On 4 March 2012, Branch 26 of Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced Abdolfattah Soltani to 18 years in Borazjan prison and a 20-year ban on his legal practice.

  • 10 years for founding the Defenders of Human Rights Center
  • 5 years for gathering and colluding with intent to harm the national security
  • 2 years for accepting an illegal award
  • 1 year for spreading propaganda against the system.

In June 2012 an appeal court reduced his prison sentence to 13 years.

Background: Abdolfattah Soltani has been a human rights lawyer for many years and represented many political and human rights activists and their families as well as Nationalist-Religous figures and Iranian union activists. In 2005 he represented the family of the Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi who was allegedly tortured and murdered in Evin Prison in 2003. In the context of this trial Soltani criticised the fairness of the trial brought by Kazami’s family. Two days later, his house and office was searched and on 30 July 2005 he was arrested for espionage charges. In prison he was kept incommunicado. On 6 March 2006 Abdolfattah Soltani was released on bail.

During the unrest after the disputed president elections in 2009, Soltani and many other political figures, human rights activists and journalists were arrested – without an arrest warrant. He was arrested on 16 June 2009 and on 26 August 2009 after 72 days released on bail secured by property deeds. During this time his access to his family was limited; he was in solitary confinement for 17 days and lost 15 pounds in prison.

After his arrest in 2011, the Iranian conservative politician, Chief Justice of Iran and Iran’s highest human rights official Mohammad Javad Larijani made false allegations against Abdolfattah Soltani and claimed he was “connected with a  terrorist group” even so there were no such charges against him.

Current situation: Even so the judgement stated that Abdolfattah Soltani should serve his sentence in Borazjan prison which his almost 1,000 km from Tehran, he was not transferred to Borazjan. He has served his sentence up to now in Evin prison in Tehran. He spent several months in solitary confinement in the Intelligence Ministry’s Ward 209 in Evin prison. He went on hunger strikes to protest against inadequate health care and prison conditions. Abdolfattah Soltani has several health problems, in particular heart problems. The authorities prevented hospitalisation and treatments several times. He was also refused necessary medication. So far he was given once furlough on medical grounds on 17 January 2016 and had to return to prison before he had fully recovered. On all other occasions furlough was denied. On 17 May 2016 he was granted temporary leave on compassionate grounds, because his mother had passed away on the same days a few img_3201hours earlier. It was only the second time that he was granted furlough. He had applied for it several times to spend time with his dying mother, but the authorities delayed their decision until it was too late.

In addition also his family is harassed and was denied the right to visit him in prison on several occasions. His daughter stated in November 2016 that there are currently serious concerns about his health. She hopes that he will be released soon, because he has served half of his sentence and therefore qualifies for conditional release. So far none of their requests was answered.

Further Information: There is detailed article about Abdolfattah Soltani on Tavaana homepage. Also the homepage of the City of Nuremberg which gave him in 2009 their human rights contains a lot of information. Finally there were a number of articles on the website International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and HRANA (Human Rights Activists News Agency) which are worth reading.