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Emirati activist Ahmed Mansoor taken to court; economist Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith denied visits

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Asia. Middle East. United Arab Emirates. Abu Dhabi. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, in Abu Dhabi, UAE, 4 December 2012
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Asia. Middle East. United Arab Emirates. Abu Dhabi. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, in Abu Dhabi, UAE, 4 December 2012

Lanzellotto Antonello/AGF/UIG via Getty Images

This statement was originally published on gc4hr.org on 12 April 2018.

Prominent human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor has been brought to trial in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), after more than a year in detention without charge. Mansoor, who was arrested on 20 March 2017, has been languishing in an unknown place of detention.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) has finally received information about Mansoor, including the surprising news that his trial had already started in March. There had been no news about him since September 2017. The second hearing took place on 11 April 2018, and as Mansoor still has no lawyer to defend him, no details about the exact charges are available.

In 2017, the UAE authorities said in their public statements that Mansoor has been accused of using social media websites to "publish false information that harms national unity." The UAE's official news agency, WAM, said on the day of his arrest that he is also accused of using social media websites to "promote [a] sectarian and hate-incited agenda;" and "publish false and misleading information that … damages the country's reputation."

The statement classified these as "cybercrimes," indicating that the charges against him may be based on alleged violations of the UAE's repressive 2012 cybercrime law, which authorities have used to imprison numerous activists and which provides for long prison sentences and severe financial penalties.

Mansoor, a member of GCHR's Advisory Board and the winner of the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2015, is one of the most prominent human rights defenders in the UAE who has suffered constant harassment, including imprisonment and cyberattacks.

On the anniversary of his arrest, GCHR and over two dozen human rights NGOs appealed for information on his whereabouts.

It is very difficult to get news from the UAE, where human rights defenders are unable to work freely. GCHR still has no information as to which prison Mansoor is being held in. Two Dublin-based lawyers who undertook a mission to the UAE in February 2018 on behalf of GCHR and its partners were unable to discover Mansoor's whereabouts. They visited Al-Wathba Prison in Abu Dhabi following statements made by the authorities after Mansoor's arrest, which suggested that he was held being held there. However, the prison authorities told the lawyers there was nobody matching Mansoor's description in the prison. GCHR has concluded that he must be being held in one of the State Security Apparatus' prisons where visits are not allowed, and is presumed to be held in solitary confinement.

In the weeks leading up to his arrest, Mansoor had used Twitter to call for the release of human rights activist Osama Al-Najjar, who remains in prison despite having completed a three-year prison sentence in March 2017 for his peaceful activities on Twitter; as well as prominent academic and economist Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith.

Dr. Bin Ghaith, who was jailed in a previous case with Mansoor in 2011, was also held incommunicado for nine months after his subsequent arrest in August 2015. He continued to be held in solitary confinement after court proceedings began, remaining in solitary for 19 months. On 29 March 2017, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for critical comments he had made online about human rights violations in the UAE and Egypt. On 02 April 2017, Dr. Bin Ghaith began a hunger strike to protest his sentence, which violated his rights to freedom of expression and fair trial.

On 25 February 2018, Dr. Bin Ghaith began another hunger strike to protest poor conditions in Abu Dhabi's notorious Al-Razeen prison. Al-Razeen is a maximum security prison in the desert used to hold activists, government critics, and human rights defenders. On 02 April 2018, GCHR learned that Dr. Bin Ghaith had been forced to end his recent hunger strike earlier due to threats made by the authorities to restrict visits after news of his protest became known.

GCHR is concerned about Ahmed Mansoor, Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith and other detained human rights defenders who have faced poor treatment, including being held in arbitrary detention and solitary confinement for long periods of time before being brought to trial, contrary to international human rights law.

GCHR calls on the UAE authorities to:

- Immediately and unconditionally release Ahmed Mansoor and Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith, as they were arrested and detained solely for their peaceful human rights activities;
- Immediately disclose Ahmed Mansoor's whereabouts and ensure that he is being held in an official place of detention;
- Disclose the charges against Ahmed Mansoor and allow him to choose a lawyer to represent him;
- Pending their release, ensure that Ahmed Mansoor and Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith are protected from torture and other ill-treatment, including prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement which can amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
- Pending their release, ensure that Ahmed Mansoor and Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith are treated in line with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, including by giving them regular access to their families, and to provide Ahmed Mansoor access to a lawyer of his choosing; as well as to any medical care they may require; and
- Allow UN experts or international NGOs access to visit Ahmed Mansoor and Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith, as well as other human rights defenders, who are detained in Emirati prisons.

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