United Arab Emirates: Ahmed Mansoor and other prominent human rights defenders should be released


The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) remains concerned about the fate of human rights defenders and other activists imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Since the release of common-law prisoners as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, starting in March 2020, there has been no news on whether the virus has spread within all prisons. The country is not accessible to human rights NGOs seeking information, and prisoners of conscience remain in prison long past their release date.

Some reliable reports received by GCHR confirm that prominent human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, GCHR’s Advisory Board member, is suffering from poor health conditions. Keeping him in solitary confinement since his arrest on 20 March 2017, which is regarded as a form of torture itself, has contributed to the deterioration of his mental health.

 GCHR confirms that cases of Covid-19 have been detected in Al-Wathba prison, which puts other prisoners in this prison and neighbouring Al-Sadr, where Mansoor is kept, at imminent risk. Covid-19 is a highly-contagious virus and the fact that both Al-Wathba and Al-Sadr prisons are located next to each other on Trucks Road, a desert road close to Abu Dhabi city, increases the risk of the inmates contracting Covid-19 from other prisoners, or from staff who routinely go between prisons.

In addition, prisoners are required to clean their own cells but do not have guaranteed access to running water, nor do they have cleaning supplies, let alone protective equipment or masks.

Mansoor, like all other prisoners, has had his infrequent family visits replaced by infrequent phone calls, thereby isolating him further. There is no solid news about his medical conditions, notably on any lasting effects of his second hunger strike, which ended in January 2020. Mansoor’s birthday is coming up on 22 October 2020, and the authorities should allow him access to his family this month, and provide him with a bed and hygienic conditions.

It is striking that the UAE government claims leadership in the field of e-government while it prohibits video calls between prisoners of conscience and their families. Instead they are allowed only irregular short telephone calls.

Visits by families of prisoners have been banned since March 2020 due to Covid-19, and after seven months this has effectively put psychological pressure on detained human rights defenders, including Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith, Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken, Dr. Mohammed Al-Mansoori and members of the group of activists known as the UAE94, who are held in the notorious Al-Razeen prison, located in the desert about 120 km from Abu Dhabi.

Detained human rights defenders continue to face ill-treatment by the authorities, including being held in solitary confinement and deprived of medicine and health care. One example of that is a report that GCHR received recently that Dr. Bin Ghaith is still not allowed to have his medications. He also suffers from various health conditions, including the effects of carrying out several hunger strikes since his arrest in August 2015.

Meanwhile, as reported by GCHR in May 2020, 11 activists and prisoners of conscience remain in prison despite having completed their sentences and passing the actual date of their release, some as long ago as 2017. The UAE authorities refuse to release them, claiming that they pose a threat to national security and are in need of rehabilitation and therefore have been transferred to the counseling section of the prison. This is not only inconsistent with international human rights law, but also contradicts the UAE penal code itself. Usually, convicted prisoners are released after serving two-thirds of their sentence.

Among the activists who have completed their sentences but remain in prison are: Ahmed Mohammed Al-Mulla, Faisal Ali Al-Shehhi, Abdullah Ibrahim Al-Helou, Saeed Abdullah Al-BuraimiAbdulwahid Hassan Al-Shehhi, Khalifa RabiaaAbdullah Abdulkadir Al-Hajri, Omran Ali Al-HarthiFahd Abdulkadir Al-HajriMahmoud Hassan Al-Hosani and Mansour Hassan Al-Ahmadi.

GCHR urges international mechanisms including those of the United Nations and the European Union, in addition to governments that have influence in the UAE such as the United States and the United Kingdom, to use their influence to request the UAE authorities to:

  1. Allow regular calls, including by video, between detained human rights defenders and their families until such time as family visits can resume;
  2. End ill-treatment of detained human rights defenders and other prisoners and provide them with proper medical care, including any needed medications, as well as cleaning supplies and protective equipment such as masks;
  3. Provide information on the conditions of detention of all human rights defenders, and allow them to have beds, mattresses and clean bedding, reading materials and access to fresh air and sunshine;
  4. Allow independent monitors to visit detained human rights defenders as soon as it becomes possible when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted; and
  5. Immediately free all prisoners detained in violation of their rights to freedom of expression, including Ahmed Mansoor, Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith, Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken, Dr. Mohammed Al-Mansoori, members of the group of activists known as the UAE94, and all those whose release date has passed, along with all prisoners who do not pose a risk to society but who are themselves at risk of Covid-19 infection while in prison.