Social media influencers, Hollywood movies, and famous international and Arab actors, all appear in Dubai posting videos that transport viewers to another planet where imagination and ambitious projects have no limits. The modern United Arab Emirate (UAE) is shown as if it is saving the planet, advancing human and Arab civilization, and traveling as far to Mars.
Describing the UAE, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says: “The authorities continue to invest in a “soft power” strategy that aims to portray the state as a progressive, tolerant and rights-respecting country,” while another reality of this progressive country is seen by Emiratis and prisoners. HRW adds: “Many activists and dissidents, some of whom have completed their prison sentences, are still detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and association.”
Ahmed Mansoor in the grip of the security forces
Last August, HRW released a distressed call for the release of Emirati human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor. Reports documented that he was tortured in the prison where he is held for more than three years. Mansoor is considered as one of the most prominent human rights activists in the UAE and the Gulf states in the last ten years. He was arbitrarily arrested several times in order to be silenced. He was previously arbitrarily arrested alongside others in 2011, when he was held for six months.
In March 2017, security forces stormed Ahmed Mansoor’s home and arrested him again. He was forcibly disappeared for more than a year without his family’s knowledge on his whereabouts or the conditions of his detention. He was deprived of his right to appoint a lawyer for his defence.
Media outlets close to the regime claimed that Mansoor’s arrest was for his publication of false news to damage the state’s reputation and standing. United Nations human rights experts stated in their 2019 report on the UAE that Mansoor’s detention conditions are unlawful: “According to the reports we have reviewed, Mr. Mansoor has, for as long as he has been deprived of his liberty, remained in solitary confinement, in conditions of detention that violate basic international standards for human rights, that are about to do irreparable harm to Mr. Mansoor’s health.”
According to the ruling of the Court of Appeal in May 2018, with ten years in prison, Mansoor suffers from bad treatment and is subjected to psychological and physical torture in his solitary cell. The judge’s directive to treat Mansoor like other prisoners, grant him the right to make calls, family visits, and release him from solitary confinement, did not receive any consideration from the State. Another similar directive from the Federal Court’s judge did not change his condition as well.
In a letter from him in late July, Mansoor reported that he was subjected to ill-treatment in solitary confinement, in which he has been serving his sentence for more than three years. He reported that he was subjected to physical and psychological torture, describing it as “wretched.” Many human rights organisations called for his release and for independent observers to check on his state, as his condition was described as “dangerous”.
On the 9th of August 2021, Calio Castro, a former detainee in the UAE who was held in the same prison as Mansoor, gave his testimony about the condition of the latter at an event of the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in London. Castro said: “Ahmed Mansoor is 51 years old, but his health condition makes him look like he is 70.”
Castro adds that Mansoor is subjected to bad and humiliating treatment and is subjected to many violations in prison. Mansoor is only allowed to leave his cell for twenty minutes and is prevented from mixing with other prisoners. He is also regularly denied visits.
From "Karma" to "Pegasus", spying on activists continues
The UAE continues to take advantage of spyware and modern technologies to monitor Emirati human rights activists at home and abroad. Ahmed Mansoor’s phone was hacked and spied on using the Karma programme in 2017. Recently, with the scandal of the Israeli spyware programme “Pegasus”, of which the UAE was one of the most important clients; reports showed the UAE’s use of Pegasus to spy on Emirati activists. This includes spying on the late Alaa Al-Siddiq, daughter of the Emirati political activist Mohammed Al-Siddiq, and the former executive director of ALQST human rights organization in London.
Reuters reported in 2019 that the authorities in UAE benefited from the experiences of former US intelligence officers who work for them in an electronic espionage unit, and uses them to spy on Emirati activists and Gulf officials.
International disregard for the human rights situation in the UAE
The UAE authorities refuse to allow international human rights organisations and United Nations experts to visit Emirati prisons, meet with detained activists and review prison conditions. Western countries continue to ignore the human rights situation inside the UAE, due to the flourishing of economic interests. Human Rights Watch reports that neither the United States nor any of the major powers have held any public discussions with Abu Dhabi regarding the human rights situation in the Emirates.
The French president previously spoke about the UAE’s violations against prisoners in its prisons in Yemen. However, he ignored to reference the violations committed by the UAE at home against human rights activists and opposition members in Emirati prisons, where many of them are still languishing despite the end of their sentences.