Posts Tagged ‘Ahmed Mansoor’

Massive call in support of Ahmed Mansoor at his 50th birthday – How can Emirates remain deaf?

November 5, 2019

Screenshot from Youtube video on Ahmed Mansoor, a Martin Ennals Award Laureate 2015, Youtube/Martin Ennals Foundation

Screenshot from Youtube video on Ahmed Mansoor, a Martin Ennals Award Laureate 2015, Youtube/Martin Ennals Foundation

142 civil society organisations have called upon the UAE government to unconditionally release human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, whose life they believe may be at risk following beatings and hunger strikes to protest his inhumane prison conditions. This statement was originally published on gc4hr.org on 16 October 2019.

Your Excellency, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan,

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has recently announced multiple projects promoting pluralism and tolerance both at home and abroad. 2019 has been declared the ‘Year of Tolerance’ and in 2020, Dubai will host the World Expo trade fair, under the theme ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.’ Upon Dubai’s selection for this exhibition in 2013, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said: “[w]e renew our promise to astonish the world in 2020.” We welcome these public commitments to tolerance and open-mindedness.

It is in this same spirit that we, the undersigned, call upon the UAE government to immediately and unconditionally release human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, whose life we believe may be at risk following beatings and hunger strikes to protest deplorable and inhumane prison conditions. The Authorities have convicted and imprisoned him solely for his human rights work and for exercising his right to freedom of expression, which is also protected under the UAE’s Constitution. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience.

Before his imprisonment, Mansoor was known as ‘the last human rights defender left in the UAE’ on account of his fearless work to document human rights violations in the country. His willingness to speak out publicly in defence of human rights on his blog, via social media and in interviews with international media was an example to us all. He is also an engineer, a poet, and a father of four. He is on the advisory boards of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and Human Rights Watch and was awarded the 2015 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

UAE authorities arrested Mansoor on 20 March 2017 at his home and subjected him to enforced and involuntary disappearance for over six months, with no access to a lawyer and sparse contact with his family, who did not know his exact whereabouts. The authorities held him in solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time.

Shortly after his arrest, a group of United Nations human rights experts said that the UAE should release him immediately, describing his arrest as “a direct attack on the legitimate work of human rights defenders in the UAE.” They expressed fear that his arrest “may constitute an act of reprisal for his engagement with UN human rights mechanisms, for the views he expressed on social media, including Twitter.”

A year later, on 29 May 2018, Mansoor was sentenced under vague charges of “insulting the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols, including its leaders”, “publishing false information to damage the UAE’s reputation abroad” and “portraying the UAE as a lawless land.” He received a sentence of 10 years in prison, a fine of 1,000,000 UAE Dirhams (US$272,000), three years of probation after completion of his sentence, and confiscation of his electronic devices. On 31 December 2018, the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court upheld his conviction and sentence.

The UAE’s Government actions against Mansoor have been widely criticised. For instance, on 4 October 2018, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning Mansoor’s “harassment, persecution and detention, and calling for his release.” In May 2019, after he ended a month-long hunger strike to protest his unjust conviction and his detention conditions in Al-Sadr prison, a group of UN Special Rapporteurs stated that his conditions of detention “violate[d] basic international human rights standards and risk[ed] taking an irrevocable toll on Mr Mansoor’s health.” In September 2019, Mansoor was severely beaten for continuing his protests and he undertook yet another hunger strike. Nevertheless, he continues to be held in an isolation cell with no running water or bed and is not permitted to leave his cell except for family visits.

In September 2019, the annual report of the UN Secretary General about reprisals against those who cooperate with the UN mechanisms cited Mansoor’s case. This was the fourth time that the Secretary General had denounced reprisals against him, having previously raised concerns in 2014, 2017 and 2018.

It is a tragedy and a disgrace for the UAE that this Tuesday, on 22 October of the UAE’s ‘Year of Tolerance’, Ahmed Mansoor will turn 50, alone in a prison cell in such deplorable conditions, simply for exercising his fundamental right to free speech and for speaking out against human rights violations.

Mansoor’s imprisonment is part of a larger and growing pattern of repression in the UAE. Since 2011, the authorities have embarked on an unprecedented campaign of repression on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association in the country, shrinking the space for peaceful dissent to near-obliteration. Authorities have used privately manufactured technologies, such as those made by NSO Group, for the unlawful targeted surveillance of human rights defenders, including Mansoor, in order to monitor and clamp down on dissent. The authorities have arrested, detained, and prosecuted activists, human rights defenders and other critics of the government, including prominent lawyers, judges and academics, on broad and sweeping national security-related or cybercrime charges and in proceedings that fail to meet international fair trial standards.

The UAE has publicly declared itself a champion of tolerance in the Middle East and the world. Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it has an obligation to protect the rights of its citizens and residents. For this reason, we call upon the UAE government to uphold these principles, and to release Ahmed Mansoor without further delay.

Yours sincerely,

https://ifex.org/open-letter-to-the-emirati-authorities-to-free-human-rights-defender-ahmed-mansoor-on-his-50th-birthday/

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/10/uae-global-call-for-release-of-prominent-human-rights-defender-ahmed-mansoor/

Celebrity endorsements and the Dubai Expo: on the one hand and the other

October 26, 2019

Why will.i.am and Mariah Carey should say 'no' to Dubai Expo 

Serial sinner, Mariah Carey [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/10/nicki-minaj-did-the-right-thing-and-cancelled-her-performance-in-saudi-arabia/] performed this week at the one-year countdown to Dubai Expo 2020.  Lyndon Peters argues that celebrities, businesses and governments still have time to take a stand against UAE’s human rights record, and pull their support from Dubai Expo 2020.

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan proclaimed 2019 as the ‘Year of Tolerance’, but for many it has been the Year of Intolerance. So far this year, the situation for human rights defenders and political prisoners in the UAE has deteriorated. Over 135 human rights organisations issued a joint call last week for the release of human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor in solitary confinement at Al-Sadr prison, Abu Dhabi [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/01/ahmed-mansoor-goes-on-second-hunger-strike-after-severe-prison-beating/ ].

Nevertheless it seems “The World’s Greatest Show” will go on and with the help of Mariah Carey, will.i.am and Lionel Messi; Dubai Expo 2020 is not short of celebrity endorsements!

That the issue of celebrity endorsements is not an easy is clear [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/11/star-power-and-human-rights-food-for-thought-by-kate-allen/] is clear considering that:
The rapper will.i.am provides the voiceover on an Expo 2020 promotional video in which he reels off a series of great accomplishments in the history of human civilisation. On the other hand, in 2007 ‘will.i.am’, as part of the Black Eyed Peas, recorded a song for a charity album called Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur. Darfuris suffered massacres at the hands of Janjaweed militias. Rebranded as the RSF, former Janjaweed militias, are now a key ally of the UAE within Sudan itself, and have fought as mercenaries for the UAE and Saudi Arabia in Yemen and Libya.

– Meanwhile Lionel Messi is “Proud to be an Expo 2020 Dubai ambassador” and he features in a promotional video for the event. Still, in 2016 he donated $72,000 to the NGO Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF). MSF have provided medical services in various parts of Yemen during the ongoing conflict, and their hospitals have been hit by the airstrikes of the Saudi coalition of which the UAE is a member.That Lionel Messi and will.i.am would promote an event on behalf of the UAE government is unfathomable, especially considering their previous support for Medecins Sans Frontieres and Amnesty International respectively, states Peters.

….

With one year until Dubai Expo 2020, there is still time for trade delegations to reconsider their attendance and for businesses to consider their human rights policies. There is also time for the UAE to stop violating the rights of their own citizens, enforce protections for migrant workers and cease the harmful interventions in Yemen, Libya and Sudan.

https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/comment/2019/10/24/will-i-am-mariah-carey-should-say-no-to-dubai-expo

Ahmed Mansoor goes on second hunger strike after severe prison beating

October 1, 2019

Due to the closed conditions in the UAE and the lack of human rights organisations, it is not possible for GCHR to verify whether he remains on hunger strike. He was reported to be in very bad physical and mental shape earlier this month. It appears that Mansoor was badly beaten as a result of his protests about the poor conditions in which he has been held, and his ongoing detention, which violates international standards. He was beaten badly enough to leave a visible mark on his face, indicating he may have been tortured. He remains in solitary confinement in the isolation ward of Al-Sadr Prison in Abu Dhabi, where he is being held in a small cell with no bed or running water, which he is never allowed to leave. GCHR issued a special report on his medieval prison conditions.

On 7 May 2019, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and six other UN human rights experts condemned Mansoor’s conditions of detention, noting that “the poor conditions of his detention in the United Arab Emirates, including prolonged solitary confinement, may constitute torture.

Mansoor, who is also on the Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division, is the 2015 winner of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. He is serving a 10-year sentence handed down on 29 May 2018 for the “crime” of speaking out about grave human rights violations in the UAE. For more info, click here.

GCHR and partners worldwide are planning a week of action to help free Mansoor surrounding his 50thbirthday on 22 October 2019. More information will be published soon at https://www.facebook.com/FriendsofAhmedMansoor/ and on GCHR’s platforms.

GCHR is concerned that Ahmed Mansoor’s life is at risk and calls on:

  1. The UN mechanisms to act quickly to help protect and free Ahmed Mansoor;
  2. The UAE authorities to release Ahmed Mansoor immediately and unconditionally, put a stop to torture and reprisals against him; and allow international observers to visit him in prison and check on the conditions; and
  3. All supporters to tweet at UAE’s Vice President and Prime Minister @HHShkMohd to #FreeAhmed.

I have earlier pointed to the cynical way in which the Emirates state tries to present a humanitarian face while continuing its severe repression of human rights defenders, see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/14/uae-whitewashing-specialists-get-help-from-the-uk/

https://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/2215

Ahmed Mansoor goes on second hunger strike after severe prison beating

UAE: whitewashing specialists get help from the UK

September 14, 2019

Aimed at students aged between 16 and 18, guidelines for entrants urge them to consider “What can the world learn from the UAE’s model for tolerance?” and “How does the Year of Tolerance reflect the already established values of diversity within the UAE?”

UAE launches ‘pledge of tolerance’ despite continued crackdown on dissent

But the guidelines also tell entrants that they must abide by media laws in the UAE, which forbid criticism of the Emirati government and ruling families, its monarchical system, political decisions or “defaming public officials”. Earlier this year, the UAE upheld a 10-year jail sentence for Ahmed Mansoor, an Emirati blogger, for “insulting the UAE’s leaders online.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/13/political-prisoners-in-the-emirats-are-detained-indefinitely-even-after-release-date/]

Hiba Zayadin, a Gulf Rights expert for Human Rights Watch, criticised the British government for its participation in this initiative and said it was “helping whitewash” the UAE government. “It is not just ironic to host such an initiative in one of the world’s most repressive countries, but downright irresponsible,” Zayadin told Middle East Eye. “The UAE is a country where the red lines are constantly shifting, and where journalists, academics and critics have been targeted, harassed, threatened, and jailed simply for expressing their opinions.” She added: “By launching such an initiative, the British embassy is not supporting the growth of journalism around the world so much as it is helping to whitewash a repressive regime’s near-obliteration of the space for free speech.”

Press freedom in the UAE has been a constant source of criticism for the Emirates. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked the UAE at 133rd in its 2019 Press Freedom Index and described the country as the “masters of the online surveillance of journalists”.

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/uk-under-fire-launching-uae-press-scheme

UAE finally free Osama al-Najjar after detaining more than five years.

August 9, 2019

Osama Al-Najjar remained in detention, despite completing his jail sentence. Photo Credit: activist’s Twitter account

On 9 August 2019 Global Voices reports that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have freed activist and political prisoner Osama al-Najjar after detaining him for more than five years. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/13/political-prisoners-in-the-emirats-are-detained-indefinitely-even-after-release-date/]

”Two other detainees, Badr al-Bahri and Othman al-Shehi, whose initial sentences expired in April 2017 and July 2018 respectively, have also been freed”, the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE) said in a statement. Al-Bahri and al-Shehi were arrested over their links to al-Islah, which was a legally registered Islamist political movement in the UAE before it was banned by authorities in 2014.

Many political prisoners remain in detention in the UAE, despite repeated calls from human rights groups for their release. Prominent human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor is currently serving a ten-year jail sentence over comments he posted online. Prior to his arrest in March 2017, he campaigned online on behalf of jailed activists in the UAE, including Osama al-Najjar. Academic Nasser Bin Ghaith is also serving a ten-year jail sentence over tweets critical of the UAE authorities. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/ahmed-mansoor/]

UAE frees activist Osama al-Najjar after 5 years in detention

Political prisoners in the Emirats are detained indefinitely even after release date

June 13, 2019

The London-based International Campaign for Freedom in the United Arab Emirates (ICFUAE) said the prisoners were being held in a so-called ‘counselling section’ inside al Razeen prison, a desert facility around 120 kilometres from the capital, Abu Dhabi. ICFUAE said prisoners including Osama al Najjar, Badr al Bahri, Ahmed Almolla, Faysal, Othman and Abdelwaheed Elshoh, Abdullah Elhelw, Said Elbrimy and Kalifa Rabiaa, had finished their sentences but were still being held indefinitely. The UAE claims that the purpose of the ‘counselling’ facilities is to rehabilitate convicts.

“These prisoners’ continued detention exposes the UAE’s Year of Tolerance as little more than a cynical PR stunt,” ICFUAE said in a statement. Joe Odell of ICFUAE told TRT World there was no real justification for the UAE to continue to hold the men. “These men have served their time, any further imprisonment plainly violates their most basic human rights,” he said. “Instead of being returned to their families, they’re languishing in the UAE’s most notoriously repressive prison, with no end in sight,” he added.

[In May, UN Human Rights experts spoke out against the continued detention of activist Ahmed Mansoor, who was jailed for tweets raising awareness of another activist’s detention. The experts said that the conditions of Mansoor’s imprisonment, which included solitary confinement, could constitute torture. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/10/mea-laureate-ahmed-mansoor-on-hunger-strike-in-emirates/]

Source: TRT World

Beyond WhatsApp and NSO – how human rights defenders are targeted by cyberattacks

May 14, 2019

Several reports have shown Israeli technology being used by Gulf states against their own citizens (AFP/File photo)

NSO Group has been under increased scrutiny after a series of reports about the ways in which its spyware programme has been used against prominent human rights activists. Last year, a report by CitizenLab, a group at the University of Toronto, showed that human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain were targeted with the software.

In October, US whistleblower Edward Snowden said Pegasus had been used by the Saudi authorities to surveil journalist Jamal Khashoggi before his death. “They are the worst of the worst,” Snowden said of the firm. Amnesty International said in August that a staffer’s phone was infected with the Pegasus software via a WhatsApp message.

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Friedhelm Weinberg‘s piece of 1 May is almost prescient and contains good, broader advice:

When activists open their inboxes, they find more than the standard spam messages telling them they’ve finally won the lottery. Instead, they receive highly sophisticated emails that look like they are real, purport to be from friends and invite them to meetings that are actually happening. The catch is: at one point the emails will attempt to trick them.

1. Phishing for accounts, not compliments

In 2017, the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, documented what they called the “Nile Phish” campaign, a set of emails luring activists into giving access to their most sensitive accounts – email and file-sharing tools in the cloud. The Seoul-based Transitional Justice Working Group recently warned on its Facebook page about a very similar campaign. As attacks like these have mounted in recent years, civil society activists have come together to defend themselves, support each other and document what is happening. The Rarenet is a global group of individuals and organizations that provides emergency support for activists – but together it also works to educate civil society actors to dodge attacks before damage is done. The Internet Freedom Festival is a gathering dedicated to supporting people at risk online, bringing together more than 1,000 people from across the globe. The emails from campaigns like Nile Phish may be cunning and carefully crafted to target individual activists.. – they are not cutting-edge technology. Protection is stunningly simple: do nothing. Simply don’t click the link and enter information – as hard as it is when you are promised something in return.

Often digital security is about being calm and controlled as much as it is about being savvy in the digital sphere. And that is precisely what makes it difficult for passionate and stressed activists!

2. The million-dollar virus

Unfortunately, calm is not always enough. Activists have also been targeted with sophisticated spyware that is incredibly expensive to procure and difficult to spot. Ahmed Mansoor, a human-rights defender from the United Arab Emirates, received messages with malware (commonly known as computer viruses) that cost one million dollars on the grey market, where unethical hackers and spyware firms meet. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/08/29/apple-tackles-iphone-one-tap-spyware-flaws-after-mea-laureate-discovers-hacking-attempt/]

Rights defender Ahmed Mansoor in Dubai in 2011, a day after he was pardoned following a conviction for insulting UAE leaders. He is now in prison once more.

Rights defender Ahmed Mansoor in Dubai in 2011. Image: Reuters/Nikhil Monteiro

3. Shutting down real news with fake readers

Both phishing and malware are attacks directed against the messengers, but there are also attacks against the message itself. This is typically achieved by directing hordes of fake readers to the real news – that is, by sending so many requests through bot visitors to websites that the servers break down under the load. Commonly referred to as “denial of service” attacks, these bot armies have also earned their own response from civil society. Specialised packages from Virtual Road or Deflect sort fake visitors from real ones to make sure the message stays up.

 

A chart showing how distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks have grown over time.

How distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks have grown. Image: Kinsta.com; data from EasyDNS

Recently, these companies also started investigating who is behind these attacks– a notoriously difficult task, because it is so easy to hide traces online. Interestingly, whenever Virtual Road were so confident in their findings that they publicly named attackers, the attacks stopped. Immediately. Online, as offline, one of the most effective ways to ensure that attacks end is to name the offenders, whether they are cocky kids or governments seeking to stiffle dissent. But more important than shaming attackers is supporting civil society’s resilience and capacity to weather the storms. For this, digital leadership, trusted networks and creative collaborations between technologists and governments will pave the way to an internet where the vulnerable are protected and spaces for activism are thriving.

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The Emirates trying to do good with one hand but what horror with the other!

May 8, 2019

The two faces of the UAE on human rights:

While major NGOs are involved in a campaign to save the life of human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, Sharjah – the third largest and third most populous city in the United Arab Emirates – launches an international award for refugee work.

Update 6 May 2019:  Ahmed Mansoor remains in isolation in Al-Sadr prison in Abu Dhabi with no bed or water, despite an unconfirmed report that he may have ended his hunger strike recently. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/10/mea-laureate-ahmed-mansoor-on-hunger-strike-in-emirates/

Mansoor is being kept in an isolation ward in Al-Sadr prison in Abu Dhabi, where 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 significantly, and he is in bad shape, moving slowly when he is allowed out of his cell. He is not allowed to have regular family visits, another reason he started his hunger strike in mid-March. The NGOs – Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), ARTICLE 19, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), CIVICUS, English PEN, FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Front Line Defenders (FLD), the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), IFEX, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Martin Ennals Foundation, PEN International and Reporters Without Borders (RSF)- call on the UAE to immediately and unconditionally release Ahmed Mansoor, and other unlawfully detained human rights defenders.

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MEA laureate Ahmed Mansoor on hunger strike in Emirates

April 10, 2019

Award-winning rights human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, jailed in the UAE for “publishing false information”, has launched a in protest against prison conditions, International said Tuesday. Mansoor, whom says is a prisoner of conscience, has been on for over three weeks to protest detention conditions and his unfair trial in the UAE. the London-based group noted. For more on Mansoor see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/02/happy-new-year-but-not-for-ahmed-mansoor-and-nabeel-rajab-in-the-gulf-monarchies/

https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/jailed-uae-activist-mansoor-on-hunger-strike-amnesty-119040901441_1.html

The ISHR launched a campaign in support: https://us1.campaign-archive.com/?u=97549cf8cb507607389fe76eb&id=229155ca04&e=d1945ebb90

The Pope’s visit does not make the UAE a tolerant state

February 5, 2019

Pope Francis is on a visit to the United Arab Emirates. Although the country is considered relatively religiously tolerant for the region, Human Rights Watch’s Wenzel Michalski says it harshly cracks down on dissent. (Deutsche Welle interview)

Papst Franziskus in Abu Dhabi (Reuters/A. Jadallah)

DW: Pope Francis is on a trip to a country that has earned the reputation as a relatively tolerant state, especially in regard to religion. The claims are that different religions get along well with each other and that the coexistence of ethnic groups is peaceful. One could think that all sounds progressive.

Wenzel Michalski: Yes, that is the reputation they have acquired. But is not true, and that they enjoy such a reputation is completely unjustified. The UAE is not a tolerant state. There are massive violations of human rights, especially when it comes to free speech and freedom of assembly. Those who exercise their rights risk landing in jail. Recently two prominent human rights defenders were sentenced to 10 years in prison: One for criticizing Egypt and the other for speaking out against the general human rights situation in the country. The state is taking severe and brutal action against opponents and critics. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/02/happy-new-year-but-not-for-ahmed-mansoor-and-nabeel-rajab-in-the-gulf-monarchies/]

Human Rights Watch is also critical of a law passed in 2014 that gives the state legal grounds to take action against critics and dissidents.

Wenzel Michalski of Human Rights Watch (DW/H. Kiesel)

Wenzel Michalski is the director of Human Rights Watch in Germany

Yes, the state’s fear of criticism must be extreme so that anyone who dares to criticize the political situation or human rights in the country can be now defamed as a “terrorist” and therefore can face correspondingly harsh punishments.

It seems more and more that countries in the region have deliberately blurred laws on the basis of which dissidents can be defamed as “terrorists.”

Unfortunately, this is a trend in many countries in the Middle East, but also increasingly in Southeast Asia, Russia and, of course, China, where nearly identical laws and regulations are used to nip any criticism in the bud.…..

https://www.dw.com/en/human-rights-watch-the-uae-is-not-a-tolerant-state/a-47359439