United Arab Emirates: Ahmed Mansoor denied contact with his family, remains in prison in unsanitary conditions

06.06.20

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) again calls on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities to release human rights defenders, particularly amid reports of COVID-19 infection in UAE prisons. We are particularly concerned about Ahmed Mansoor, a member of the advisory board of GCHR, who has been denied access to his family since April 2020.

The last visit in person to Mansoor, who is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence in violation of his right to free expression, was in January 2020. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, family visits at Al-Sadr Prison were cancelled and replaced by phone calls. However, the last call from Mansoor to his family was in April 2020, and there has been no news since then.

Mansoor is being held in solitary confinement in an isolation ward in Al-Sadr prison, Abu Dhabi, in dire conditions with no bed or access to books, and no access to a shower or cleaning products. While he has a toilet and sink, running water has occasionally not worked properly in the prison. Since his arrest three years ago on 20 March 2017, Mansoor has only been permitted to leave his small cell for a limited number of family visits and only once has he been allowed outside for fresh air in the prison’s exercise yard. In protest, he went on two separate hunger strikes in 2019 which have damaged his health, leaving him unable to walk during the visit with his family in January 2020. In a subsequent phone call, he told his family that he was okay, leading to the presumption that he had ended a lengthy hunger strike which he began in September 2019 and which lasted for at least five months.

GCHR is concerned about the health of other imprisoned human rights defenders and activists, and all those being held in unsanitary conditions, in UAE prisons. GCHR calls for the release of human rights lawyers Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken and Dr. Mohammed Al-Mansoori and academic Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith, who are being held in Al-Razeen Prison. Dr. bin Ghaith, like Ahmed Mansoor, is held in solitary confinement, and remains in prison during the pandemic despite the deterioration of his health following hunger strikes.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which poses a high level of risk in crowded places of confinement such as prisons, has put their health at heightened risk. GCHR is alarmed by reports this month that detained Omani citizen Abdullah Awad Salim Al Shamsi, has tested positive for COVID-19 inside Al-Wathba Prison.  He was convicted of spying on 06 May 2020 by the Federal Appeal Court in Abu Dhabi and sentenced to 25 years in prison, after having been reportedly tortured to extract a confession. It is unknown how rampant the disease is within prisons in the UAE and whether guards or staff travel between different prisons, which could facilitate the spread of the virus.

By holding prisoners in unsanitary conditions and in prolonged isolation, the UAE authorities are in violation of their obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT) and Principle 6 of the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, as well as Article 2, paragraph 3 of the UAE’s Code of Criminal Procedure.

In February 2020, during the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi, over 60 civil society organisations and individuals appealed to UAE authorities to free detained human rights defenders. The joint letter was signed by Nobel laureates Wole Soyinka and Ahmed Galai, intellectual Noam Chomsky, writers Ahdaf Soueif and Stephen Fry, among others. Signatories hoped that the UAE would take this opportunity to show tolerance and allow free expression to thrive. This would be a strong signal to those planning to participate in the Dubai Expo (since postponed to 2021) that they can freely visit the country without fear of arbitrary detention or harassment.

Amid the spread of COVID-19 in the country, which led to the ban on family visits, prisoners do not have access to regular telephone calls with their families, leaving them further isolated. GCHR does not understand why the authorities have refused to release peaceful activists and human rights defenders, at a time when governments worldwide are releasing prisoners who do not pose a risk of harm to society.

Recommendations:

  1. GCHR calls on the UAE authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders and activists, including Ahmed Mansoor, Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken, Dr. Mohammed Al-Mansoori and Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith, and to ensure that, pending their release, they are detained in conditions that comply with international standards, and not subjected to torture or other ill-treatment.
  2. They must be provided with immediate and regular access to their families and proper health care. In addition, Ahmed Mansoor must be provided with a bed, mattress, clean bedding, books and reading materials and have regular access to fresh air.
  3. Pending their release, we call on the UAE authorities to allow access by independent monitors from the United Nations, the European Union and the International Committee of the Red Cross to the prisons to visit Ahmed Mansoor, Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken, Dr. Mohammed Al-Mansoori and Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith. Observers, prison staff and all prisoners must be provided personal protective equipment in order to ensure the safety of the observers and those they visit.

Contacts:

UN Special Procedures, @UN_SPExperts

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE’s Vice President and Prime Minister, @HHShkMohd