In a joint letter addressed to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, 19 prominent human rights organizations have called upon the US government to publicly demand the instant and unconditional release of Emirati human rights advocate Ahmed Mansoor. The appeal comes as the 28th Conference of Parties on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) approaches, scheduled to happen in Dubai. The date for this event is November 30 to December 12, 2023.
Mansoor, a distinguished recipient of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2015, has been subjected to arbitrary imprisonment since a late-night raid on his residence by security forces on March 20, 2017. Despite his peaceful advocacy, he has faced relentless harassment, intimidation, and even death threats orchestrated by UAE authorities and their sympathizers. The UAE government went to the extent of deploying sophisticated spyware against him. Notably, Mansoor remained the sole openly active human rights defender in the UAE before his incarceration.
Joey Shea, the UAE and Saudi researcher at Human Rights Watch, expressed astonishment at the prolonged silence from the US concerning Mansoor’s unjust imprisonment. “Washington should seize this occasion, given the UAE’s international efforts to enhance its reputation before the climate conference, to publicly and privately exert pressure on Emirati authorities to seize the wrongful detention of a nonviolent human rights champion.”
As the host nation for the forthcoming climate conference, the UAE is responsible for
demonstrating its commitment to fostering an environment conducive to open dialogue during COP28. According to the collective voice of the human rights groups, an essential stride in this direction would be the immediate and unconditional release of Mansoor. This action would also ensure that observer organizations attending the conference can contribute meaningfully, safely, and without hindrance.
In an unsettling trajectory since 2011, the UAE has progressively stifled civic spaces within its borders, utilizing legislation to criminalize peaceful expressions, associations, and gatherings. The state news agency has cited “spreading false news” and attempting to “tarnish the state’s reputation” as grounds for Mansoor’s arrest. All allegations leading to his conviction were solely based on his unwavering commitment to human rights advocacy, which involved communication via email and WhatsApp with entities like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Following a protracted period of solitary confinement and an egregiously unfair trial, an Emirati state security court handed Mansoor a 10-year prison sentence in 2018, coupled with a fine of 1,000,000 Emirati Dirhams (approximately US$272,000). Reports from the past six years have exposed how the UAE authorities have subjected Mansoor to inhumane treatment, including solitary confinement devoid of reading materials, electronic devices, or even a proper sleeping arrangement. This treatment flagrantly violates international prohibitions against torture and cruel, degrading punishment. Though the UAE government vehemently denies such allegations, it simultaneously denies independent entities access to verify these claims.
In an alarming statistic, a minimum of 62 Emiratis currently languish in arbitrary detention, having faced unjust trials rooted in politically motivated charges. Shockingly, 58 of these detainees continue to be incarcerated beyond their stipulated sentences. Most of these convictions stem from the deeply flawed “UAE94” mass trial, which targeted government critics and showcased stark violations of human rights principles.
The release of Mansoor and his fellow human rights defenders would serve as a pivotal initial step in signaling the UAE’s commitment to fostering an environment where civil society can engage in open discourse, hold the government accountable, and advocate for marginalized communities during the upcoming climate conference.
As the preparations for COP28 gather momentum, human rights advocate Joey Shea underscores the imperative for consistent pressure on Emirati authorities. “The US should seize every available opportunity, both publicly and through diplomatic channels, to urge the Emirati government to end its persecution of rights defenders and liberate them. This call to action extends before, during, and beyond the conclusion of the discussions at COP28.”
In light of these mounting concerns, the spotlight now turns to the forthcoming COP28 conference in Dubai. While the UAE strives to position itself as a global host, the international community watches closely, hoping for meaningful steps towards justice, human rights, and a more inclusive world.