Middle EastHuman Rights

UAE political prisoner complains of dire jail conditions in leaked letters

Emirati political prisoner Ahmed Mansoor has penned letters describing the inhumane conditions he is being subjected to in solitary confinement.

The letters, dated November 2020 and published on Friday by Arabi21 news website, explained how Mansoor was cut off from the outside world and how fellow prisoners and his phone privileges and visitation rights were severely restricted.

The Emirati engineer, poet, and father of four was arrested in 2017 and sentenced to 10 years in prison the following year on charges relating to his human rights activism, including “insulting the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols including its leaders” and “seeking to damage the relationship of the UAE with its neighbors by publishing false reports and information on social media.”

In his letters, Mansoor said he suspects the charges against him stemmed from emails he sent to NGOs and conferences in which he participated. 

He had publicly criticized arbitrary arrests in neighboring Saudi Arabia.

After the rights activist was sentenced in May 2018, guards hung a sign on his prison door saying he was not allowed to leave the cell or receive any calls or visits without the permission of senior security officials. 

In the same year, he went on two hunger strikes to demand a mattress, access to the library, an end to his solitary confinement, visits to the prison’s gym and an expansion of his visitation and phone rights.

Mansoor, however, was only given the right to exercise and see sunlight times a week.

“I am still officially prohibited from talking to other prisoners, although sometimes I scream through the walls to the people in the neighboring cells when there is someone there,” he wrote. 

“Even when I go to the clinic, it gets emptied from prisoners to ensure that I am alone, and when I go to the gym, no one else is allowed to be there except me.”

Prison guards also stripped Mansoor’s cell bare and confiscated his clothes, mattress, blankets and towels, leaving him with one shirt whose sleeves had been ripped off, according to the letters.

“What’s worse, they cut off hot water from my cell during the extremely cold winter in the desert,” the letters added. 

“And they issued a directive that was hung in the police room to deprive me from any clothes with long sleeves as well [as] personal hygiene products and hot tea that gets served with some meals.”

Mansoor further wrote that the cold led to various health issues, including hypertension and frequent fevers. 

A group of UN human rights experts in 2019 condemned the Emirati activist’s prolonged imprisonment, warning his dire conditions may amount to torture. 

“According to reports at our disposal, throughout his deprivation of liberty, Mr Mansoor has been kept in solitary confinement, and in conditions of detention that violate basic international human rights standards and which risk taking an irrevocable toll on Mr Mansoor’s health,” the experts said. “We implore the authorities of the United Arab Emirates to immediately grant him access to vital and consented medical care and to ensure that his conditions of detention conform to the United Nations’ Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.”

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