Human Rights Watch and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) warned on Wednesday that the Emirati human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor’s health is at grave risk following more than three years in solitary confinement without basic necessities. He is on the advisory boards of both organizations.
Between December 2017 and March 2018, authorities took away his mattress and denied him adequate warm clothing and access to hot water, leaving him unprotected from the winter cold in his cell. Mansoor, 51, was diagnosed with hypertension later in 2018 and has not been given medication to treat it, putting him at increased risk for heart disease and stroke.
“Mansoor is suffering through his fourth winter in a small, dirty isolation cell because he dared to speak up for human rights in a country hell-bent on silencing anyone that doesn’t toe the official line,” said Adam Coogle, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The years-long isolation and dire conditions have no doubt taken a toll on his mental and physical health.”
Sources with direct knowledge of Mansoor’s detention conditions told Human Rights Watch and GCHR that the authorities are forcing Mansoor to sleep on the floor without a bed or mattress in a small isolation cell. In 2019, Mansoor embarked on two hunger strikes to demand basic prisoner rights, including an end to solitary confinement and access to necessities. His second hunger strike, which lasted for around 45 days and during which Mansoor lost 11 kilograms, raised fears for his health and prompted global calls for his immediate and unconditional release.
UAE security forces arrested Mansoor on March 20, 2017. For more than a year, he had no access to a lawyer and only very limited visits with family. Following a closed trial, Mansoor was sentenced to 10 years in prison in May 2018 for insulting the “status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols,” including its leaders, based on his peaceful calls for reform. On December 31, 2018, the Federal Supreme Court, the country’s court of last resort in state security cases, upheld his sentence, quashing his final chance at early release.
The UAE authorities have held Mansoor in an isolation cell in al-Sadr prison since his arrest and have systematically denied him any meaningful contact with other prisoners, apparently to punish him, in conditions that may amount to torture. The severity of solitary confinement and its potentially devastating effects on the health and well-being of those subjected to it are recognized under international law.
The UN Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners (the “Mandela Rules”) state that “Solitary confinement shall be used only in exceptional cases as a last resort, for as short a time as possible and subject to independent review, and only pursuant to the authorization by a competent authority.” The UN special rapporteur on torture has said that indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement in excess of 15 days should also be subject to an absolute prohibition, citing scientific studies that have established that even a few days of social isolation cause irreparable harm, including lasting psychological damage.
The Emirati authorities should release Mansoor immediately and unconditionally, and barring that, end his solitary confinement and provide him with the needed medication, warm clothing and blankets, and a mattress and bed, Human Rights Watch and GCHR said.
“Authorities in the UAE should celebrate the hard work of Ahmed Mansoor to defend the civil and human rights of his fellow citizens in the UAE instead of putting him in prison,” said Khalid Ibrahim, executive director of GCHR. “His ill-treatment or torture will never make him give up his rights. We have known him for many years as a courageous defender. The more he is targeted, the more he has shown his determination to achieve his desired goal – which is basic human rights for all.”