HH Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Prime Minister’s Office
PO Box: 212000
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Fax: +971 4 330 404
HE Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Minister of Interior
Zayed Sport City, Arab Gulf Street, Near to Shaikh Zayed Mosque
PO Box: 398, Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates
Fax: +971 2 402 2762 / +971 2 441 5780
HE Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Al Bateen, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Street
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Fax +971 02 444 7766
Your Highness, Your Excellencies,
We write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our grave concern at reports that the health of internationally-recognized human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor has deteriorated significantly. A member of the advisory board of the Gulf Center for Human Rights and the advisory committee of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division, Mr. Mansoor was awarded the prestigious 2015 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. Mr. Mansoor is serving a ten-year prison sentence after being convicted in May 2018 by the State Security Chamber of the Federal Appeals Court of “insulting” the UAE and its leaders on social media. We are deeply troubled by reports that Mr. Mansoor has been on hunger strike for four weeks in protest at the unfair proceedings against him and the conditions in which he is being held.
MESA was founded in 1966 to support scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has over 2500 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.
Mr. Mansoor has been one of the few advocates prepared to raise in public the escalating human rights crackdown in the UAE after 2011. As such, he, and other advocates such as Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith, about whom we have also written repeatedly to you (see our letters of 18 January 2019, 6 April 2018, and 29 March 2017 for Mr. Mansoor and 7 January 2019, 5 April 2017, 22 August 2016, and 21 August 2015 for Dr. bin Ghaith) have been targeted by your government in what appears to be a systematic campaign to silence independent thought and critical voices. Like Mr. Mansoor, Dr. bin Ghaith was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment (in March 2017) on the basis of public statements and tweets your government deemed “insulting.” On 7 January 2019, we wrote to you to express our profound concern for the health and well-being of Dr. bin Ghaith after he began a hunger strike in October 2018 in protest at his continuing detention, and we now do the same for Mr. Mansoor.
Ahmed Mansoor was detained by twelve members of state security on 20 March 2017 and held in secret detention in an undisclosed location without access to legal counsel for nearly a year. Mr. Mansoor was brought to trial in mid-March 2018 at the State Security Chamber of the Federal Appeals Court and accused of using social media “to publish false information and rumors” in posts that “harm national unity and social harmony and damage the country’s reputation.” In the run-up to his arrest in March 2017, Mr. Mansoor had called on Twitter for the release of Dr. bin Ghaith and of human rights advocate Osama al-Najjar, who remained in prison despite having completed a three-year prison sentence for tweeting to the Ministry of Interior expressing concern that his father was being mistreated in prison. On 31 December 2018, the State Security Court of the Federal Supreme Court upheld the 10-year prison sentence and fine of 1 million Dirhams, about $270,000, imposed on Mr. Mansoor.
Media reports indicate that Mr. Mansoor has been on hunger strike since mid-March 2019 in protest at his unjust trial, during which he was not allowed a lawyer, and imprisonment, as well as the “terrible” conditions in which he is being held in solitary confinement in Abu Dhabi. According to the Gulf Center for Human Rights, Mr. Mansoor is in an isolation ward at the Al-Sadr prison in Abu Dhabi, in a cell that lacks a bed, water, and access to a shower, and his health has deteriorated significantly. It is our understanding that Mr. Mansoor has been held in solitary confinement for most, if not all, of the two years since his arrest on 20 March 2017. The conditions in which Mr. Mansoor, and others, are reportedly being held would appear to leave the UAE in violation of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, also known as the Mandela Rules.
Your Highness, Your Excellencies, we are dismayed at the stream of reports about the way UAE authorities have targeted, arrested, and treated people whose only “crime” has been to express an opinion about local and/or regional events. We observe that the response of your government has been to hold detainees in secret locations, which has left them vulnerable to mistreatment and torture, and to prosecute them in settings that suggest that the exercise of free speech is a matter for, and violation of, State Security. The pattern of such arrests and convictions led the MESA Board of Directors to issue a statement on Deteriorating Security Conditions for Researchers in the UAE at our annual meeting in November 2018. At a time when your government has declared 2019 to be the “Year of Tolerance” and invested heavily in forging partnerships with universities worldwide as part of the promotion of the UAE as a hub for knowledge and innovation, we find it necessary to once again call on the UAE to end its suppression of free speech and independent thought and release Mr. Mansoor, Dr. bin Ghaith, and all others in prison merely for holding an opinion contrary to your own.
We look forward to your response.
Judith E. Tucker
Professor, Georgetown University
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor, University of Southern California
cc: HE Yousef Al Otaiba, Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States [Fax: 202 243 2432, email@example.com]