United Arab Emirates: A look inside Ahmed Mansoor’s isolation cell after two years in prison


The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) has confirmed that imprisoned human rights defender and blogger Ahmed Mansoor ended his hunger strike after a month, but notes that he remains in an isolation cell without a bed or access to running water, despite small improvements reported by a prison source. GCHR welcomes the call by United Nations experts for Mansoor to be treated according to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules), and urges the United Arab Emirates to immediately free him.

Mansoor started the four-week hunger strike on 17 March 2019 to protest poor prison conditions and his unfair trial which led to a ten-year prison sentence for his human rights activities in the UAE. A prison source told GCHR that he was held in “terrible conditions”, and that due to the hunger strike, he was moving slowly and appeared to be very weak. According to several sources, Mansoor ended his hunger strike in mid-April, after authorities promised to address his demands. Although visits are not officially banned, his family has not been able to see him regularly, gaining more access to him only recently. Mansoor’s mother, whose health is poor, has not been permitted to visit him, but after the hunger strike ended, he was reportedly allowed to call her.

Mansoor remains in isolation in Al-Sadr prison in Abu Dhabi. GCHR received news from a fellow prisoner in early April that Mansoor was being kept 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. The prisoner, who has since been freed and left the country, provided additional details of the isolation ward to GCHR this week. 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.

The former prisoner says that most of the people in the isolation ward are allowed to go to the canteen, except Mansoor, who receives his canteen items in his cell. He has not been allowed to leave the cell since his arrest, except for family visits. After the hunger strike garnered publicity, Mansoor was allowed to go outside to the sports yard for the first time. Normally, prisoners in the isolation ward are not permitted outside, but the former prisoner said he was allowed out about five times after some Embassies and European Union representatives took up his case; and they are not allowed to mix with the general population when they go outside. The prisoner arrived in Al-Sadr at the end of January 2018 and Mansoor was there already.

While the former prisoner did not witness any acts of torture perpetrated against Mansoor, he noted the psychological torture of being kept in a small cell at length in what he described as “medieval conditions.” Mansoor has been sleeping on the floor since his detention in Al-Sadr, but it’s possible he may recently have received a mattress.

On 07 May 2019, seven UN experts' issued a statement calling for Mansoor to receive medical treatment, improved conditions and a retrial. The UN human rights experts noted that the poor conditions in which he is being held, “including prolonged solitary confinement, may constitute torture.” The experts wrote that he has been held “in conditions of detention that violate basic international human rights standards and which risk taking an irrevocable toll on Mr. Mansoor’s health,” as well as violating the Mandela Rules.

Two government news sources said on 08 May 2019 that he no longer “remains on hunger strike” and claimed he was being given proper food and medical attention. The report was a reaction to the statement by the UN special procedures, but did not address the issue of Mansoor being held in prolonged isolation. GCHR asks that UN or EU representatives, diplomats and international observers be allowed to visit Mansoor in prison to verify his conditions.

Mansoor, the 2015 Martin Ennals Laureate, and a member of the advisory boards of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch, was the last human rights defender openly working in the UAE. On 29 May 2018, he was sentenced by the State Security Chamber of the Federal Appeal Court to ten years’ imprisonment, followed by three years of surveillance and a fine of 1,000,000 Emirati Dirhams (around USD $270,000). This sentence was upheld on 31 December 2018.

Mansoor is also known as the “million-dollar dissident” after his iPhone was hacked and Apple was forced to develop a patch for spyware used against him in 2016. The hacking incident was in the news this week again when it was revealed that hackers may have used WhatsApp to install spyware made by NSO Group, including Pegasus, which was used to target Mansoor prior to his arrest.

Over 3000 prisoners were reportedly released in the UAE this month for Ramadan, but Mansoor and other human rights defenders were not included in the pardon.

While welcoming the news that Mansoor is not on hunger strike and that he has gained a few small concessions, GCHR continues to call for his immediate and unconditional release and to ask the authorities to improve the conditions of his imprisonment, including removing him from the isolation ward and providing him with a bed and ready access to water. GCHR joins Mansoor in sending thanks to all his supporters for shedding light on his hunger strike and helping to improve the conditions of his confinement. Let’s keep up the pressure to help #FreeAhmed!

GCHR organised a protest in Toronto, with representatives from Amnesty Canada, IFEX and Citizen Lab, where they delivered a letter to the Emirates Consulate on 10 May and called on the UAE to #FreeAhmed and #GiveAhmedABed.

Join Us!

Join GCHR and partners the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), ARTICLE 19, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), CIVICUS, English PEN, FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Front Line Defenders (FLD), IFEX, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Martin Ennals Foundation, PEN International and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Visit a Facebook page set up by Ahmed Mansoor’s friends and post messages and photos of support, and tweet to Ahmed Mansoor’s account at @Ahmed_Mansoor using the hashtag #FreeAhmed and to UAE Vice-President and Prime Minister @HHShkMohd, copying your own country’s authorities. Feel free to use the image in this appeal. Supporters are encouraged to organise protests in other cities such as Geneva and Washington.

Call on the UAE authorities to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release Ahmed Mansoor and other human rights defenders who are imprisoned solely for their peaceful human rights activities;
  2. Pending release, ensure that Ahmed Mansoor, and other prisoners of conscience are treated in line with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, including not being held in prolonged isolation and being provided with proper medical care, sanitary prison conditions, exercise outside and regular family visits; and
  3. Allow UN or EU experts, diplomats and international NGOs access to visit Ahmed Mansoor, as well as other human rights defenders detained in Emirati prisons.

Contact info:

Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Vice-President and Prime Minister

Prime Minister’s Office

PO Box 212000 Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Fax: + 97144404433

Letters can be sent via web: https://uaecabinet.ae/en/contact-the-prime-minister (upload a pdf of the letter where it asks for ID)

Twitter: @HHShkMohd