UAE: Persecution of Rights Defender Ahmed Mansoor



For Mansoor, Unfair Court Proceedings, Inhumane Detention Conditions


“We regard Mr. Mansoor’s arrest and detention as a direct attack on the legitimate work of human rights defenders in the UAE.”

–UN Human Rights Experts on March 28, 2017 regarding Ahmed Mansoor’s arrest

“According to reports at our disposal, throughout his deprivation of liberty, Mr. Mansoor has been kept in solitary confinement, and in conditions of detention that violate basic international human rights standards and which risk taking an irrevocable toll on Mr. Mansoor’s health.”

–UN Human Rights Experts on May 07, 2019 regarding Mansoor’s detention conditions

He sleeps on the floor, denied a mattress or pillow, between the four walls of a tiny solitary cell in a desert prison in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a country which zealously strives to portray itself as tolerant and rights-respecting.

He is Ahmed Mansoor, a 51-year-old Emirati engineer, poet, and father of four. He is also the UAE’s most celebrated human rights activist. Prior to his arrest almost three years ago, Mansoor had dedicated over a decade of his life to advocating for human rights in his country and the wider Middle East and North Africa region, undeterred by multiple earlier government attempts to silence him. UAE authorities detained Mansoor and four others for six months in 2011, placed him on a travel ban since, and orchestrated several attempts over the years to hack into his devices using sophisticated spyware.

In a late-night raid minutes before midnight on March 20, 2017, UAE security forces stormed Mansoor’s home and arrested him again. For more than a year following his arrest, Mansoor’s family, friends, and colleagues did not know where authorities were detaining him. He had no access to a lawyer and was granted only two half-hour family visits, six months apart, in a location different to his place of detention.  In the early days following his arrest, local UAE news sources claimed authorities had detained Mansoor on suspicion of using social media sites to publish “flawed information” and “false news” to “incite sectarian strife and hatred” and “harm the reputation of the state.”

In May 2018, the Abu Dhabi Court of Appeals sentenced Mansoor to 10 years in prison on charges stemming solely from his peaceful criticism of government policies and his modest calls for human rights reform. On December 31, 2018, the UAE’s Federal Supreme Court, the court of last resort, upheld his sentence, quashing his final chance at early release. Both trials were closed and the authorities have refused all requests to make public the charge sheet and court rulings. Since his arrest, and for almost four years now, Mansoor has been confined to an isolation cell, deprived of basic necessities and denied his rights as prisoner under international human rights law, to which the UAE purports to adhere.

The information presented in this report is the first public account of Mansoor’s trial proceedings. It is based on statements from a source with direct knowledge of Mansoor’s case and it demonstrates the gross unfairness of both Mansoor’s trial and his appeal hearing– and how little the rule of law matters in the UAE when the country’s powerful state security agency is involved.  

Mansoor’s trial at the Abu Dhabi Court of Appeals, where all state security-related cases are heard, began in March 2018, just about a year after his arrest. At each of the five hearings, Mansoor stated to the court that he was being held in solitary confinement and denied other basic prisoner rights, including access to phone calls and visits with his family. At three of those hearings, the judge ruled that authorities should grant Mansoor the rights afforded to prisoners on remand, but the judge’s orders, addressed to the Federal State Security Prosecution, went unmet.

At his third hearing, the judge read out six charges against Mansoor, all entirely based on his human rights activism and advocacy. The court later convicted him of five of those charges, all based on simple acts of human rights advocacy, including tweeting about injustices, participating in international human rights conferences online, and (since deleted) email exchanges and WhatsApp conversations with representatives of human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR). The court acquitted him of the sixth charge, “cooperating with a terrorist organization.”

The court based its verdict, announced during the fifth and final hearing, on the penal code and the 2012 cybercrimes law, both of which make the peaceful expression of critical views of the authorities, senior officials, the judiciary, and even public policy a criminal offense and provide a legal basis to prosecute and jail people who argue for political reform or organize unlicensed demonstrations.

In October 2018, five months after his sentencing, Mansoor appealed his conviction at the Federal Supreme Court. There, too, he explained to the judge that despite the previous court’s orders, he was still held in solitary confinement and deprived of basic prisoner rights. This judge’s demands that the previous court’s decisions be respected also went unheeded. So did his request that the court launch an investigation into why those orders were not respected to begin with.

After his trial and appeal, Mansoor continued to suffer alone in a tiny cell, without basic necessities or adequate protection during the harsh desert winter nights. Authorities continued to deprive him of meaningful contact with others and deny him access to reading materials, a radio, and television.

In 2019, after he had exhausted all the means available to him to claim his rights as a prisoner, Mansoor embarked on two hunger strikes, six months apart. Among his demands were an end to solitary confinement and access to necessities, including blankets and personal hygiene products. During his second hunger strike, which he began in early September 2019 and lasted for 49 days, Mansoor lost 11 kilograms, raising fears for his health and prompting global calls for his immediate and unconditional release. While the hunger strikes did prompt the authorities to allow him to call his wife and mother briefly twice a month and access to sunlight and exercise three times a week, the authorities did not grant him reprieve from the indefinite and brutal solitary confinement they have subjected him to since his arrest in March 2017.

From the moment he was arrested and until the present day, one state agency has been directly and entirely responsible for everything related to Mansoor’s imprisonment: the UAE’s notorious State Security Agency.

Since 2011, when UAE authorities began a sustained assault on freedom of expression and association, Human Rights Watch and GCHR have regularly documented serious allegations of abuse at the hands of state security forces against dissidents and activists who have spoken up about human rights issues.[1] The most egregious abuses are arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, and torture. The UAE has arrested and prosecuted hundreds of lawyers, judges, teachers, and activists since then, and shut down key civil society associations and the offices of foreign organizations, effectively crushing any space for dissent.

Despite appeals by United Nations experts, United States members of Congress and European parliamentarians, as well as numerous regional and international rights groups and well-known figures, governments and world leaders have failed to raise publicly with UAE rulers the inexcusable treatment of Mansoor and others imprisoned in the UAE in violation of their right to freedom of expression. Instead, they continue to cultivate their profitable trade relationships unencumbered by the UAE’s human rights violations both at home and abroad.  The US, Britain, France and Germany, for example, continue to sell arms to the UAE despite its failure to curtail unlawful airstrikes in Yemen and Libya, halt support and weapons transfers to abusive local forces, and credibly investigate previous alleged violations in both countries.

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[1] United Arab Emirates, Country Page, Human Rights Watch,; Gulf Centre for Human Rights, “Torture and Abuse in Prisons in the United Arab Emirates,” March 12, 2015,

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The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is an independent, non-profit NGO that provides support and protection to human rights defenders (HRDs) in order to promote human rights, including but not limited to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

GCHR is based in Lebanon and documents the environment for HRDs in the Gulf region and neighbouring countries, specifically Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. GCHR was founded in 2011.

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