United Arab Emirates: UAE: Human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor must be freed on International Human Rights Day
As the world observes International Human Rights Day on 10 December, prominent Emirati human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, a member of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) Advisory Board, remains in arbitrary detention in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), nearly nine months after his arrest. GCHR once again calls on the UAE authorities to immediately and unconditionally release him, as he is being held solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression, association, and assembly through his peaceful human rights activities.
Mansoor, who is an award-winning human rights defender, was arrested by a dozen security officers at his home in Ajman in the pre-dawn hours of 20 March 2017 and taken to an undisclosed location. The security officials conducted an extensive search of his home and took away all of the family’s mobile phones and laptops, including those belonging to his young children. The authorities refused to disclose any information about him to his family, who had no information about Mansoor until a statement was issued on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website on 29 March 2017 saying that he was in detention in the Central Prison in Abu Dhabi. However, to date, the authorities have failed to confirm his place of detention to his family.
Since his arrest on 20 March 2017, Mansoor has been held in solitary confinement without any access to a lawyer of his choosing or regular contact with his family. He has been allowed only two short visits with his family, which have both taken place under supervision at the State Security Prosecution office in Abu Dhabi, and has not been allowed any telephone contact with them. GCHR fears that Mansoor may be subjected to torture or other ill-treatment in detention.
The UAE authorities have said in their public statements that Mansoor is accused of using social media websites to “publish false information that harms national unity.” The UAE’s official news agency, WAM, said on the day of his arrest that he is also accused of using social media websites to “promote [a] sectarian and hate-incited agenda;” and “publish false and misleading information that …damages the country’s reputation.” The statement classified these as “cybercrimes,” indicating that the charges against him may be based on alleged violations of the UAE’s repressive 2012 cybercrime law, which authorities have used to imprison numerous activists and which provides for long prison sentences and severe financial penalties.
In the weeks leading up to his arrest, Mansoor had used Twitter to call for the release of activist Osama Al-Najjar, who remains in prison, despite having completed a three-year prison sentence this year on charges related to his peaceful activities on Twitter, as well as prominent academic and economist Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith, arrested in August 2015. Both men have been convicted of charges related to peaceful messages they posted on the social media platform Twitter. Mansoor had also used his Twitter account to draw attention to human rights violations across the region, including in Egypt and Yemen. He had also signed a joint letter with other activists in the region calling on leaders at the Arab Summit who met in Jordan in March 2017 to release political prisoners in their countries.
Mansoor is a distinguished human rights defender who received the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2015. As a result of his selfless and tireless efforts to defend the rights of migrants and Emirati nationals in the UAE, he had become a thorn in the side of the UAE authorities and consequently the object of years of government harassment and persecution.
Since his arrest, a group of United Nations human rights experts have called on the UAE government to release Mansoor immediately, describing his arrest as “a direct attack on the legitimate work of human rights defenders in the UAE.” They said they feared that his arrest “may constitute an act of reprisal for his engagement with UN human rights mechanisms, for the views he expressed on social media, including Twitter, as well as for being an active member of human rights organisations.” The experts include special rapporteurs on human rights defenders, on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression and opinion, along with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.
GCHR continues to call on the UAE authorities to:
- Immediately and unconditionally release Ahmed Mansoor, as he has been detained solely for his peaceful human rights activities;
- Pending his release, immediately remove Ahmed Mansoor from solitary confinement, as prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement can amount to torture under international law;
- Pending his release, ensure that he is treated in line with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, including by ensuring that he is protected from torture and other ill-treatment and is given access to any medical care he may require in order to safeguard his physical and psychological safety and wellbeing; and
- Provide Ahmed Mansoor with immediate and ongoing access to his family and a lawyer of his choosing.