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UAE political prisoner has been in solitary confinement for years: Report

Ahmed Mansoor's letters describe dire jail conditions, denied access to a mattress, human contact or hot water, Arabi21 reports
Ahmed Mansoor
In letters dated November 2020, Ahmed Mansoor says he is prohibited from talking to other detainees, even at the clinic or prison gym (AP)

Emirati political prisoner Ahmed Mansoor has been in solitary confinement since his arrest in 2017, cut off from the outside world as well as fellow prisoners, letters penned by the detainee and obtained by the Arabi21 news website have revealed.

Mansoor is serving a 10-year sentence on charges relating to his human rights activism, including "insulting the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols including its leaders" and "seeking to damage the relationship of the UAE with its neighbours by publishing false reports and information on social media".

The letters, dated November 2020 and published on Friday by Arabi21, paint a grim image of Mansoor's conditions in jail. 

His phone privileges and visitation rights are severely restricted. Prison guards have stripped his cell bare, confiscating his clothes, mattress, blankets and towels - leaving Mansoor with one shirt whose sleeves had been ripped off.

"What's worse, they cut off hot water from my cell during the extremely cold winter in the desert," the letter reads. 

"And they issued a directive that was hung in the police room to deprive me from any clothes with long sleeves as well [as] personal hygiene products and hot tea that gets served with some meals."

The cold, Mansoor wrote, led to various health issues, including hypertension and frequent fevers. 

Isolation

After he was sentenced in May 2018, guards hung a sign on his prison door saying he was not allowed to leave the cell or receive any calls or visits without the permission of senior security officials. 

The political prisoner went on two hunger strikes to demand improved conditions - from 17 March to 10 April 2019 and from 17 September to 2 November in the same year. 

His demands included a mattress, access to the library, an end to his solitary confinement, visits to the prison's gym and expanding his visitation and phone rights - restricted to his wife and children, and then only irregularly.

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He only was given the right to exercise and see sunlight times a week.

Beyond the dreadful material conditions, Mansoor describes a deliberate effort to keep him isolated.

"I am still officially prohibited from talking to other prisoners, although sometimes I scream through the walls to the people in the neighbouring cells when there is someone there," he wrote. 

"Even when I go to the clinic, it gets emptied from prisoners to ensure that I am alone, and when I go to the gym, no one else is allowed to be there except me."

The United Nations' Mandela Rules on imprisonment state that prolonged solitary confinement - beyond 15 consecutive days - amount to torture. Mansoor has been in jail for more than four years. 

In the letters, Mansoor outlines the legal proceedings he went through, detailing the charges against him, most related to activism, which he suspects stemmed from emails he sent to NGOs and conferences in which he participated. 

Mansoor had publicly criticised arbitrary arrests in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the UAE's chief ally.

HRW report

The letters appear to confirm the findings of a Human Rights Watch report released in January.

"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, a country which zealously strives to portray itself as tolerant and rights-respecting," the report said.

The rights group urged world powers, including the US, UK, Germany and France, to "publicly and privately call on UAE authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Ahmed Mansoor and anyone else detained in the UAE for exercising basic rights".

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The UAE, which celebrated the "year of tolerance" in 2019, enjoys strong relations with the West and normalised ties with Israel last year.

Abu Dhabi's embassy in Washington did not respond to MEE's request for comment by time of this article's publication.

Mansoor is one of many political activists and human rights defenders jailed for dissent in the UAE.

"Over two dozen prisoners of conscience, including well-known human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, continued to be detained in the United Arab Emirates," says an Amnesty International report on the state of human rights in the country last year.

"The state continued to restrict freedom of expression, taking measures to silence citizens and residents who expressed critical opinions on Covid-19 and other social and political issues.

"A number of detainees remained in prison past the completion of their sentences without legal justification."