United Arab Emirates: Ahmed Mansoor remains at imminent risk following repeated hunger strikes in isolation cell

16.12.19

On 15 December 2019, prominent human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, a member of the Advisory Board of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), marked 1000 days since his arrest on 20 March 2017. Hundreds of groups and individuals took action for Mansoor in October calling on the authorities to free him from prison in the United Arab Emirates, where he is serving a ten-year sentence for his peaceful online human rights activities. GCHR calls for his immediate release and for the authorities to provide information on his health following news we just received that his hunger strike in September lasted for at least 44 days.

On 10 December, International Human Rights Day, as GCHR again appealed to the authorities to free Mansoor and other detained human rights defenders across the Middle East, GCHR received another message from a local source (who wants to remain anonymous) who said that Mansoor’s health was “very bad.”  Mansoor remains confined in an isolation cell in Al-Sadr prison in Abu Dhabi with no mattress, no sunshine, and no books.

The local source reached out to GCHR to pass on a message from Mansoor that he had been on hunger strike for at least 44 continuous days up until 28 October, the last time he was able to communicate with Mansoor. GCHR has no other news about Mansoor since October, so it is impossible to know how long the hunger strike lasted, or what condition he is in. The local source said Mansoor had been taking liquids only (juice and mineral water). He reported that Mansoor seemed confused and was gaunt from not eating, but was able to stand to look through the door, on which he wrote messages. 

Mansoor first went on hunger strike for four weeks on 17 March 2019, but after the authorities permitted him to phone his sick mother and to go outside in the sun for the first time since his imprisonment, he ended his hunger strike. He was also promised a bed and improved conditions. According to another source who contacted GCHR in September, Mansoor began his second hunger strike on 07 September after a severe beating, and broken promises to improve his conditions. That source told GCHR in October that he was very unwell, physically and psychologically. 

According to the source who contacted GCHR on 10 December, after Mansoor began his hunger strike in September, he was forced to eat every few days by the guards, but they stopped force-feeding him and he was on continuous hunger strike for at least 44 days from 14 September to 28 October.

Mansoor has asked for his prison conditions to be improved, including being provided with a mattress, access to the library or television, and to be permitted to go outside in the sunshine to take exercise. The one improvement was that there was now running water in the isolation ward, at least in October. Another former prisoner, Artur Ligęska, who called GCHR in March while he was still in prison to alert us of Mansoor’s poor conditions during his first hunger strike, called the prison conditions “medieval”. He has written a best-selling book in his home country of Poland describing the harrowing and sadistic conditions in Al-Sadr’s isolation wing, where prisoners were held without running water for many months in very unhygienic conditions, and some were subject to torture, abuse and sexual assault.

To mark Mansoor’s 50th birthday on 22 October, GCHR worked with partners worldwide, including Amnesty International, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), CIVICUS, Access Now, IFEX, English PEN, PEN International, PEN America, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights (ADHRB), International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE, International Centre for Justice and Human Rights, and many others to organise protest actions in London, Geneva, Oslo, Berlin, Toronto, New York, Washington, Brussels, Paris, Melbourne, Madrid, Luxembourg, Lisbon, Amsterdam, and Buenos Aires. At the protests, many of which were staged outside Emirates Embassies, protesters delivered a joint letter signed by over 140 NGOs, took photos for the social media campaign and signed a card to send to Mansoor in prison. Amnesty also organised an event in London on 19 October to highlight Mansoor’s case, featuring UK academic Matthew Hedges, a former prisoner in the UAE.

In Geneva, GCHR and ISHR requested a meeting with the Ambassador at the UAE’s UN Mission, where representatives of the two groups delivered a large cardboard cake. A written response from the UAE’s Mission said the Ambassador was unavailable to meet on 22 October. The attached note said Mansoor “has been able to communicate with his family and children who visited him in prison numerous times (the last visit [was on] 07 September 2019), and he is also subject to periodic medical examinations and is in good health, the last medical examination having been performed [on]15 September 2019.” 

This letter does not accord with information GCHR has received about Mansoor’s health, and UAE authorities have refused to allow independent experts or monitors to visit him in prison to confirm the conditions in which he is being held. GCHR requests an immediate update on Mansoor’s health, and a reply to the request to meet with the UAE’s UN Ambassador in Geneva.

Furthermore, GCHR reiterates calls for the authorities to release Mansoor immediately, and while he remains in prison, to allow United Nations experts or diplomats to visit him in prison, to ensure he receives any medical care needed, and to provide him with the basic necessities, such as a bed with a mattress, exercise and sunshine, as well as reading materials. Keeping him in prolonged isolation amounts to torture, and violates the UN Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners, also known as the "Mandela Rules".

On 13 December, 14 United States Senators and Members of Congress wrote an appeal to UAE’s leader Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan asking him to “release Mr. Mansoor and drop any charges against him,” by offering him a humanitarian pardon.

You can find more news about Mansoor and the human rights situation in the UAE at the Friends of Ahmed Mansoor Facebook page or Twitter, which was created after his first hunger strike in March by friends and supporters, including from GCHR.