United Arab Emirates: Rights groups pay tribute to Emirati rights defenders and call for them to be freed during Dubai Expo


At the Alternative Human Rights Expo, held online on 14 October 2021, over 25 human rights groups paid tribute to human rights defenders from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and called for their release during the Dubai Expo. The event, hosted by Iyad El-Baghdadi and Weaam Youssef, featured human rights defenders, poets, artists, musicians, writers and filmmakers from a dozen countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and beyond. 

The goal of the event was to highlight the work of creators from the region, as well as that of imprisoned activists, whose work was read during the event. They are Ahmed Mansoor from the UAE, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja in Bahrain,Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee in Iran, and Alaa Abd El-Fattah and Sanaa Seif in Egypt.

“Creating a better world isn’t possible without the help and contributions of human rights defenders to make a real change, sustaining peace and ensuring rights for everyone. In the UAE every single human rights defender has been exiled or imprisoned in violation of their right to freedom of expression,” said Youssef, GCHR’s WHRDs Programme Manager. “Not one of them has been invited to the Dubai Expo,” she added.

El-Baghdadi, a Palestinian writer and activist who grew up in the UAE, said, “We start our programme from the UAE, where two speakers will be highlighting three human rights stories from the UAE that will never be mentioned at the Dubai Expo.”

During the event, a video was played of a poetry reading by Alaa Al-Siddiq, the Executive Director of ALQST for Human Rights and a Senior Researcher at Wejha Centre for Studies, who died tragically in a car accident in the United Kingdom in June 2021. She was also a poet and artist who advocated strongly for the release of her father, Mohammad Al-Siddiq, a member of the UAE94 currently serving 10 years in prison for his activism. You can find the video in Arabic with English sub-titles online here.

Khalid Ibrahim, Executive Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), paid tribute to Alaa Al-Siddiq and to imprisoned Board member Ahmed Mansoor, who turns 52 today. Ibrahim also read some of Mansoor’s poetry, in which he describes seven successive days about a world that he dreams to have. He said, “Without exaggerating his sense or losing his consciousness, Ahmed translates the suffering of the stranger, the non-belonging, and the lack of identity, that human being besieged by all kinds of betrayal, oppression and irrational to the point of superstition.” This video is in Arabic with English sub-titles.

At the event, documentary filmmaker Manu Luksch introduced a clip from her film “Sing and Cry, Cry and Sing,” which is an interview with Artur Ligęska, a Polish fitness expert who was sentenced to life in prison in isolation in Al-Sadr prison, where he met Mansoor. In the clip Ligęska talks about singing through the walls with Mansoor, whom he advocated for strongly after his release in 2019. He passed away tragically in May 2021 in Amsterdam. Luksch’s film about Ahmed Mansoor, the “Billion Dollar Dissident”, will be shown in spring 2022.

During the Dubai Expo, which runs from October 2021 to March 2022, human rights groups are campaigning for the freedom of Emirati human rights defenders, and for justice for women who have been abused in prison, or at the hands of Emirati authorities. Over 80 human rights NGOs signed a letter calling on the UAE to free human rights defenders, including Mansoor, Al-Siddiq and other members of the UAE94 such as Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken and Dr. Mohammed Al-Mansoori, as well as Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith

Today, this joint NGO letter was being delivered to the UAE mission to the United Nations in Geneva by GCHR and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR). It is being delivered to the Emirates Embassy in London, UK by Amnesty International, the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE), GCHR, ALQST and Caitlin May McNamara

McNamara was assaulted by Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the commissioner-general of the Dubai Expo, when she went to talk to him about helping Mansoor, or deliver some books to him during the Hay Festival, which she helped organise. The Women’s Pavilion at the Dubai Expo is designed to “reaffirm Expo’s commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment,” and NGO partners aim to highlight the hypocrisy of the UAE authorities during this campaign.

Take Action!

1. Please sign a petition to help free Emirati human rights defenders, initiated by ICFUAE.

2. Tweet at @HHShkMohd @MohamedBinZayed @AnwarGargash and join 81 NGOs calling for the immediate & unconditional release of @Ahmed_Mansoor & all detained #humanrights activists during #Expo2020. #FreeEmiratiActivists #FreeAhmed #FreeNasser #FreeAlRoken #BirthdayWishes4Ahmed

3. Follow @GulfCentre4HR @ISHRglobal @ICFUAE @AmnestyWB @ALQST_ORG @ECDHRbxl for news of protests and the campaign #FreeEmiratiactivists #altexpohumanrights #BirthdayWishes4Ahmed

4. Check out the videos and materials from the Alternative Human Rights Expo in English and Arabic at the website created by GCHR and Innovation for Change at https://www.alternativehrexpo.org/