United Arab Emirates: Ahmed Mansoor - Isolated But Not Alone
By Brian Dooley
The thing that the articles, awards and biographical material on the prominent Emirati activist Ahmed Mansoor don't usually tell you is what great company he is.
His achievements are rightly recognised - winner of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, a member of the advisory boards of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and Human Rights Watch's Middle East division.
His case rightly gets international attention - the European Parliament, United Nations Special Rapporteurs, and human rights organisations have all repeatedly called for his immediate and unconditional release.
He is known around the world for his rights activism in the highly repressive environment of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a defiant symbol of dissent against a government that brooks no criticism no matter how peaceful, one backed by the United States, the United Kingdom and other major powers.
But he's also great to be around; funny, smart, modest, and sardonic. "Let's face it," Mansoor said to me when I spent a week with him in Dubai a few years ago, "sooner or later they're going to arrest me. There'll be a bit of a fuss but it will hardly be showstopper."
He's right that the outcry following his arrest in March 2017 hasn't much dented relations between the UAE and their powerful international backers. Last week President Trump swept aside Congressional objections to supply more arms to the UAE (and Saudi Arabia), using "emergency powers" to green light more military aircraft and bombs for war and repression.
But there are more and more voices calling for his release, even now from inside US political circles. His case is now one of those adopted by the Defending Freedoms Project, run by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the US Congress.
Mansoor was convicted and sentenced a year ago, on 29 May, to a 10-year sentence for his rights activism. He remains in solitary confinement in an isolation ward in Abu Dhabi's Al-Sadr prison. His small cell has no bed or running water, and he has no access to a shower or to the prison canteen. In the more than two years since he was arrested, he has been allowed outside to the prison sports yard only once.
A recent hunger strike has damaged his health, with reports from inside the prison saying he appeared alarmingly weak in April after not eating for three weeks.
It's hard to think of him enduring those awful conditions, confined and isolated when the UAE and its neighbours desperately need right advocates like Mansoor to help build a new politics of democracy and justice in the region.
I remember him telling me how, in a previous spell in prison in 2011, he used his legal knowledge to educate fellow inmates on the UAE criminal justice system, and helped them write material for their defence. He showed prisoners who had been tortured how to document what happened, and gave them contacts at international human rights organisations so they could make the abuse public.
He and I are on the advisory board of GCHR. In Dubai he told me about his life, his education at the University of Colorado, and his activism. He educated me on the UAE's repression, and his fight against it. He explained how the feared State Security apparatus works in the UAE, and the misery it caused him and countless others. But he still recognised the comedy in State Security stealing his car from outside a police station while he was inside raising a complaint.
"Sometimes it's like moving a mountain stone by stone," he said of his struggle for human rights in the UAE. "Many people privately say they agree with me - I say 'Come and join us, courage is contagious.'"
But he was eventually the last activist left standing in the UAE when they came for him. The others had already been forced into exile, intimidated into silence, or already jailed.
And this is what makes international solidarity with him so important. The UAE government can condemn him to an isolation ward, but we can show them he's not alone, and far from forgotten. As we mark anniversary of his conviction and sentencing, talk about Ahmed Mansoor, share articles about him on social media, and tell the UAE government you want him out of prison, back with his wife and four young sons, where he belongs.
For more info on his case, read GCHR’s Fact Sheet.
Brian Dooley is a member of the GCHR Advisory Board. He wrote this tribute to Ahmed Mansoor on the one-year anniversary of his sentencing on 29 May 2019. Follow him at @dooley_dooley
Photo credit: Ahmed Mansoor graduating from the University of Colorado Boulder in 1999, by April Alderdice.