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UAE 'retaliates' against jailed activist Ahmed Mansoor for exposing abuses

Mansoor has reportedly been denied medical care and transferred to a more isolated cell after he spoke about mistreatment in prison
Ahmed Mansoor speaking to Reuters in Dubai (Reuters)

United Arab Emirates (UAE) prison authorities retaliated against prominent activist Ahmed Mansoor after the publication of letters he wrote detailing his mistreatment in jail, two rights groups said on Friday.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) say Mansoor has been denied access to critical medical care since the letters were first released on 16 July by London-based news outlet Arabi21.

Mansoor has also been transferred to a smaller and more isolated cell and his reading glasses have been confiscated, according to the report.

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The human rights defender is serving a 10-year sentence on charges relating to his 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 prison letters, dated November 2020, paint a grim image of Mansoor's conditions in jail.

They reveal that he has been held in solitary confinement since his arrest in 2017, deprived of basic necessities and cut off from the outside world as well as fellow prisoners.

The activist's 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," one of the letters read.

"And they issued a directive that was hung in the police room to deprive me of 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.

International appeals

The prison letters appear to confirm the findings of a HRW report released in January 2021.

"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.

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HRW and GCHR have repeatedly called on UAE allies in the West, including the US and the UK, to put pressure on Abu Dhabi to release Mansoor.

“Allies have been helping to promote the UAE’s narrative of a tolerant and culturally open country while ignoring rampant abuses, including the legal railroading and ghastly mistreatment of one of its most respected citizens,” Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said. 

The UAE, which celebrated the "year of tolerance" in 2019, has been urged by other rights groups in the past to release a number of political prisoners who were jailed during the country's infamous "UAE 94" trial.

The 2013 mass trial involved 94 people who were accused of trying to overthrow the Emirati government, a charge the defendants vehemently denied.

It resulted in the conviction of 69 people - eight in absentia - who received sentences as long as 15 years.