Human Rights Watch calls for the release of activist Ahmed Mansoor
Authorities in the UAE should immediately release leading human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor, Human Rights Watch said today. He was arrested in the early morning hours of March 20, 2017, and accused of alleged crimes that appear to violate freedom of expression.
The UAE authorities have not revealed where they are holding Mansoor or allowed him access to his family or a lawyer. Mansoor is the 2015 Laureate for the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders and a member of the Middle East and North Africa advisory committee at Human Rights Watch.
“The charges against Ahmed Mansoor clearly violate his right to free expression, and if the UAE has any concern about its reputation it will release him immediately,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Arresting a prominent rights defender on these charges is yet another demonstration of the UAE’s complete intolerance for peaceful dissent.”
A March 20 statement by WAM, the UAE’s official news agency, stated that authorities detained Mansoor on suspicion of using social media sites to publish “flawed information” and “false news” to “incite sectarian strife and hatred” and “harm the reputation of the state.”
A source close to the situation told Human Rights Watch that at about 12 a.m. on March 20, a group of 10 uniformed police officers came to Mansoor’s home in the city of Ajman and conducted an extensive search for electronic devices. At about 3 a.m., the officers took Mansoor away, along with all the family’s mobile phones and laptops, even those belonging to Mansoor’s children, the source said.
It was unclear whether officials had a warrant to search Mansoor’s home or detain him, or which social media activity led to the accusations against him. On March 20, Gulf News cited official statements and reported that Mansoor had used social media “to publish false information, rumors and lies about the UAE and promoted sectarian feelings and hatred that would damage the UAE’s social harmony and unity…published false information to damage UAE’s reputation abroad and encouraged his followers on social media not to follow the UAE laws and portrayed the UAE as a lawless land.”
The report classified these as “cybercrimes,” indicating that the charges against him will be based on alleged violations of the UAE’s 2012 cybercrime decree, which provides for long prison sentences and severe financial penalties for individuals who criticize the country’s rulers.
In the days leading up to his detention, Mansoor had posted numerous links covering a range of topics to his Twitter feed. These included articles criticizing the UAE’s failure to release Osama al-Najjer, an Emirati who has served a three-year sentence on charges that included “communicating with external organizations to provide misleading information,” articles critical of the Saudi-led coalition’s use of force in Yemen and its impact on the Yemeni population, and an article that derided the Egyptian government.
UAE authorities should immediately reveal Mansoor’s whereabouts and allow him access to family members and a lawyer, Human Rights Watch said.