Emirati human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor has endured an open-ended hunger strike since approximately mid-March 2019. His supporters say his health is rapidly deteriorating.
Security officials arrested Mansoor from his home on March 20, 2017 over comments he posted online. In May 2018, he was convicted under the 2012 Cybercrime Law of “insulting the status and prestige of the UAE” and “publishing false reports and information on social media to damage the UAE's relationship with its neighbouring countries.” A court sentenced him to ten years in jail and fined him 1,000,000 Emirati Dirhams (US $270,000).
Mansoor has been advocating for democratic reform and protection of human rights in his country and the region for more than a decade. He is the 2015 laureate of the Martin Ennals Foundation, which supports human rights defenders who are at risk. He is a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Advisory Committee.
This is not Mansoor's first time behind bars. In 2011, he and four other political activists were jailed in relation to their connections to UAEHewar.net, an online discussion forum run by Mansoor. He also used the forum to publish a petition calling for democratic reforms in the UAE. State officials used this as a basis for charging Mansoor with insulting UAE leaders. He was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison, but was released on presidential pardon after serving only seven months.
Prior to his 2017 arrest, he campaigned online on behalf of jailed activists in the UAE and elsewhere in the region. The day before his arrest, he tweeted his concern about the continuous and arbitrary detention of Emirati activist Osama al-Najjar, who remained in prison despite having completed his three-year jail sentence. According to Human Rights Watch, he also signed a joint letter with other activists in the region calling on leaders at the Arab League summit in Jordan in March 2017 to release political prisoners in their countries.
In December 2018, the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court, whose verdicts are final, confirmed his ten-year sentence.
According to the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), Mansoor began the strike to ”protest poor prison conditions and his unfair trial”:
Mansoor is believed to be currently held in Al-Sadr prison in Abu Dhabi, where he is kept in isolation. A source told GCHR that he is being held in “terrible conditions” in a cell with no bed, no water and no access to a shower. His health has deteriorated greatly and he is in bad shape.
Human rights groups expressed concerns about the activist's health, calling on the UAE authorities to set him free.
“Ahmed Mansoor is risking his health to call attention to his deeply unjust imprisonment simply because he advocated for the kind of tolerant, progressive society the UAE claims to be,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “UAE authorities should immediately and unconditionally release Mansoor so that he can continue to serve as a voice for justice in a region desperately in need of it,” she added.
The International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE called on the authorities to treat Mansoor in accordance with international human rights standards and to allow international rights groups to visit him in prison:
We reiterate our call for the immediate and unconditional release of Ahmed Mansoor. Pending this, we urge the Emirati authorities to treat him in line with the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which guarantees the provision of medical care and sanitary prison conditions. To ensure this, it is imperative that international NGOs be allowed access to al-Sadr prison to visit Mansoor.
Learn about the physiological effects of a hunger strike with the infographic below, created by our partners at Visualizing Impact.