United Arab Emirates: Shocking 10-year sentence for award-winning activist Ahmed Mansoor for Twitter posts is a devastating blow to human rights
The authorities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) must immediately and unconditionally release prominent human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, who has been sentenced to 10 years in prison following an unfair trial in Abu Dhabi, says the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR).
Mansoor, a member of GCHR’s Advisory Board, won the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2015 and is a member of the advisory committee of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division. He is the father of four young boys.
On 29 May 2018, Mansoor was sentenced following a grossly unfair trial before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court, according to local media reports. He was also fined one million Dirhams (USD $272,294.00) and the court ordered him to be put under surveillance for three years on his release.
Local media have said that Mansoor was convicted of “insulting the 'status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols' including its leaders” and of “seeking to damage the relationship of the UAE with its neighbours by publishing false reports and information on social media.” It appears that he had also faced the charge of “conspiring with a terrorist organisation” but was cleared of this charge. Under new laws in the UAE, he will be entitled to appeal the verdict; however, since the appeal process is held in the same court, it is unlikely that the process will be a fair and independent one.
The shocking 10-year prison sentence against Mansoor, despite widespread calls for his release from human rights groups and UN human rights experts, demonstrates the UAE’s brazen disregard for its obligations under international law to respect the right to free speech as well as to protect human rights defenders. It’s also yet another example of how the country’s abusive criminal justice system is used as a tool of repression to crack down on peaceful freedom of expression. There is no doubt that Mansoor is being unjustly punished for his steadfast commitment to human rights and his peaceful criticism of the human rights record of the UAE government and those of its neighbours. The UAE authorities have made clear their ruthless determination to silence human rights defenders and instil fear in anyone who dares to use social media to raise concerns about human rights in the UAE and the wider Middle East region.
The conviction and sentencing of Mansoor follows a grossly unfair trial, during which he was denied access to a lawyer of his choosing. Following his 20 March 2017 arrest and in the lead up to his trial, he was held in solitary confinement in an undisclosed location and only permitted three visits with his wife, all held in the office of the State Security Prosecution office in Abu Dhabi. In February 2018, two lawyers who had travelled from Ireland to the UAE on behalf of GCHR and its partners to provide Mansoor with representation were denied access and were told by authorities that they had no knowledge of his whereabouts. GCHR has also received credible information that he was tortured or otherwise ill-treated prior to his trial.
Following Mansoor’s arrest, a group of UN human rights experts issued a statement on 28 March 2017, calling 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 that they feared 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.”
A dozen security officers arrested Mansoor at his home in Ajman in the pre-dawn hours of 20 March 2017 and took him 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 Mansoor to his family, who had no information about him until a statement was issued on the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s website on 29 March 2017 claiming that he was in detention in the Central Prison, also known as Al-Wathba, in Abu Dhabi. However, to date, the authorities have failed to confirm his place of detention.
Since his arrest, according to informed sources, Mansoor is believed to have been held in solitary confinement without any access to a lawyer of his choosing. Prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement can amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under international human rights law. Human rights organisations have also received reports from informed sources that Mansoor has been subjected to torture or other or ill-treatment in detention.
In the weeks leading up to his arrest, Mansoor had used Twitter to call for the release of the human rights activist Osama Al-Najjar, who remains in prison despite having completed a three-year prison sentence in March 2017 for his peaceful activities on Twitter; as well as the release of prominent academic and economist Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith, sentenced in March 2017 to 10 years for his Twitter posts. Mansoor had also used his Twitter account to draw attention to human rights violations across the Middle East region, including in Egypt and Yemen. He had also signed a joint letter with other activists in the region calling on Arab League leaders, meeting in Jordan in March 2017 for the Arab Summit, to release political prisoners in their countries. He also has a blog, which he used to write on various topics, including articles about the human rights violations that he is subjected to because of his peaceful activities, as well as about the situation of freedom of expression and prisoners of conscience in the UAE.
His conviction and sentencing indicate that he may have been convicted under 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 February 2018, a group of international human rights organisations commissioned two lawyers from Ireland to travel to Abu Dhabi to seek access to Mansoor. The UAE authorities gave the lawyers conflicting information about Mansoor’s whereabouts. The Interior Ministry, the official body responsible for prisons and prisoners, denied any knowledge of his whereabouts and referred the lawyers to the police. The police also said they had no information about his whereabouts. The lawyers also visited Al-Wathba Prison in Abu Dhabi following statements made by the authorities after Mansoor’s arrest, which suggested that he was held being held there. However, the prison authorities told the lawyers there was nobody matching Mansoor’s description in the prison. The mission to locate Mansoor was sponsored by GCHR, the Martin Ennals Foundation, Front Line Defenders, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), as well as FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), under their partnership, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights calls on the UAE authorities to:
- Immediately and unconditionally release Ahmed Mansoor, as his conviction and sentence are based solely on his peaceful human rights activities;
- Pending his release, immediately disclose his whereabouts and ensure that he is held in an official place of detention;
- Pending his release, ensure that he is protected from torture and other ill-treatment, including prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement which can amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and
- Pending his release, ensure that he is treated in line with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, including by giving him regular access to his family and a lawyer of his choosing, as well as to any medical care he may require.