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Mayor of Greater Manchester
31 May 2018
Dear Mayor Burnham,
The undersigned organisations are writing to you to request your support for the release of the award-winning Emirati human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, sentenced this week to ten years in prison for his human rights activism. We believe that this will be facilitated by raising awareness of his case by naming a street after him in Manchester.
Ahmed Mansoor is a pro-democracy and human rights campaigner who has publicly expressed criticism of serious human rights violations in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Mansoor was sentenced to ten years in prison by the State Security Court in Abu Dhabi on 29 May 2018 for “insulting the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols”, including its leaders, as well as of “seeking to damage the relationship of the UAE with its neighbours by publishing false reports and information on social media.”
Mansoor is the 2015 Laureate of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, and a member of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) Advisory Board and Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Advisory Committee. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression, who should be immediately and unconditionally released. There are concerns that Mansoor has been tortured in pre-trial detention that lasted more than one year.
On 20 March 2017, about a dozen Emirati security officers arrested him at his home in
Ajman in the early hours of the morning. The UAE’s official news agency, WAM, claimed that Mansoor had been arrested on the orders of the Public Prosecution for Cybercrimes,
detained pending further investigation, and that he was accused of using social media websites to: “publish false information and rumours;” “promote [a] sectarian and hate-incited agenda;” and “publish false and misleading information that harms national unity and social harmony and damages the country’s reputation.”
Human rights groups are banned in the UAE and people in the UAE who speak out about human rights abuses are at serious risk of arbitrary detention, imprisonment, and torture and other ill-treatment. Many such people are serving long prison terms or have felt they have no choice but to leave the country.
Before his arrest, Mansoor was the last remaining human rights defender in the UAE who had been in a position to criticise the authorities’ human rights record publicly.
As you are aware, Manchester City Council has developed close commercial links with senior figures in the UAE government, via its stake in the Manchester Life Development Company (MLDC), a joint venture ultimately controlled by the Abu Dhabi United Group for Investment and Development (ADUG). ADUG is owned and controlled by the Abu Dhabi Executive Affairs Authority, whose chair is Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the de facto ruler of the UAE. In addition, Manchester City FC is owned by the deputy Prime Minister of the UAE, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
While Abu Dhabi’s investments may have brought financial benefits to Manchester, this should not preclude criticism of human rights violations in UAE – violations which are starkly at odds with the values and principles that Greater Manchester celebrates as part of its heritage. In recent years, Senior members of Manchester City Council have celebrated Manchester’s long history of standing up for a range of rights-related causes, including the anti-slavery movement, votes for women, and pro-democracy demonstrations in Manchester in 1819. But they have apparently shied away from criticising human rights violations by the UAE and Abu Dhabi authorities with whom their commercial partners are linked.
We support the local residents who are part of the “Ahmed Mansoor Street” campaign, who argued it would be “a fitting honour to bestow upon an individual who embodies so many of the qualities that the city and the wider region celebrates as a key part of its history.”
As the first directly-elected Mayor of Greater Manchester you are in a unique position to show leadership on this issue. In your manifesto for the Mayoralty you referred to Greater Manchester as “the home of radical forward thinking” and expressed your desire to make it “a beacon of social justice for the country.” Your public support for a street named after Ahmed Mansoor, and calling for his immediate and unconditional release, would demonstrate your commitment to this heritage and these ideals.
Note to supporters and media: The street-naming campaign event will take place on 01 June 2018 at 2pm on Thomas Street in the Northern Quarter.
Join us! Email your message or Tweet using the hashtag #FreeAhmed to the following:
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”96621″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]Governments have arsenals of weapons to censor information. The worst are well-known: detention, torture, extra-judicial (and sometimes court-sanctioned) killing, surveillance. Though governments also have access to less forceful but still insidious tools, such as website blocking and internet filtering, these aim to cut off the flow of information and advocacy at the source.
Another form of censorship gets limited attention, a kind of quiet repression: the travel ban. It’s the Trump travel ban in reverse, where governments exit rather than entry. They do so not merely to punish the banned but to deny the spread of information about the state of repression and corruption in their home countries.
In recent days I have heard from people around the world subject to such bans. Khadija Ismayilova, a journalist in Azerbaijan who has exposed high-level corruption, has suffered for years under fraudulent legal cases brought against her, including time in prison. The government now forbids her to travel. As she put it last year: “Corrupt officials of Azerbaijan, predators of the press and human rights are still allowed in high-level forums in democracies and able to speak about values, which they destroy in their own – our own country.”
Zunar, a well-known cartoonist who has long pilloried the leaders of Malaysia, has been subject to a travel ban since mid-2016, while also facing sedition charges for the content of his sharply dissenting art. While awaiting his preposterous trial, which could leave him with years in prison, he has missed exhibitions, public forums, high-profile talks. As he told me, the ban directly undermines his ability to network, share ideas, and build financial support.
Ismayilova and Zunar are not alone. India has imposed a travel ban against the coordinator of a civil society coalition in Kashmir because of “anti-India activities” which, the government alleges, are meant to cause youth to resort to violent protest. Turkey has aggressively confiscated passports to target journalists, academics, civil servants, and school teachers. China has barred a women’s human rights defender from travelling outside even her town in Tibet.
Bahrain confiscated the passport of one activist who, upon her return from a Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, was accused by officials of “false statements” about Bahrain. The United Arab Emirates has held Ahmed Mansoor, a leading human rights defender and blogger and familiar to those in the UN human rights system, incommunicado for nearly this entire year. The government banned him from travelling for years based on his advocacy for democratic reform.
Few governments, apart from Turkey perhaps, can compete with Egypt on this front. I asked Gamal Eid, subject to a travel ban by Egyptian authorities since February of 2016, how it affects his life and work? Eid, one of the leading human rights defenders in the Middle East and the founder of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), has seen his organisation’s website shut down, public libraries he founded (with human rights award money!) forcibly closed, and his bank accounts frozen.
While Eid is recognised internationally for his commitment to human rights, the government accuses him of raising philanthropic funds for ANHRI “to implement a foreign agenda aimed at inciting public opinion against State institutions and promoting allegations in international forums that freedoms are restricted by the country’s legislative system.” He has been separated from his wife and daughter, who fled Egypt in the face of government threats. The ban forced him to close legal offices in Morocco and Tunisia, where he provided defence to journalists, and he lost his green card to work in the United States. He recognises that his situation does not involve the kind of torture or detention that characterises Egypt’s approach to opposition, but the ban has ruined his ability to make a living and to support human rights not just in Egypt but across the Arab world.
Eid is not alone in his country. He estimates that Egypt has placed approximately 500 of its nationals under a travel ban, about sixteen of whom are human rights activists. One of them is the prominent researcher and activist, Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, who faces accusations similar to Eid’s.
Travel bans signal weakness, limited confidence in the power of a government’s arguments, perhaps even a public but quiet concession that, “yes indeed, we repress truth in our country”. While not nearly as painful as the physical weapons of censorship, they undermine global knowledge and debate. They exclude activists and journalists from the kind of training that makes their work more rigorous, accurate, and effective. They also interfere in a direct way with every person’s human right to “leave any country, including one’s own,” unless necessary for reasons such as national security or public order.
All governments that care about human rights should not allow the travel ban to continue to be the silent weapon of censorship – and not just for the sake of Khadija, Zunar, and Gamal, but for those who benefit from their critical voices and work. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Mapping Media Freedom” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_icon icon_fontawesome=”fa fa-times-circle” color=”black” background_style=”rounded” size=”xl” align=”right”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]
Since 24 May 2014, Mapping Media Freedom’s team of correspondents and partners have recorded and verified 3,597 violations against journalists and media outlets.
Index campaigns to protect journalists and media freedom. You can help us by submitting reports to Mapping Media Freedom.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_separator color=”black”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Don’t lose your voice. Stay informed.” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship is a nonprofit that campaigns for and defends free expression worldwide. We publish work by censored writers and artists, promote debate, and monitor threats to free speech. We believe that everyone should be free to express themselves without fear of harm or persecution – no matter what their views.
Join our mailing list (or follow us on Twitter or Facebook) and we’ll send you our weekly newsletter about our activities defending free speech. We won’t share your personal information with anyone outside Index.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″]
Vice-President and Prime Minister
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum
Prime Minister’s Office
PO Box: 212000
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Fax: +971 4 330 4044
27th June 2017
RE: Urgent Appeal
On the 100th day since the detention of Mr. Ahmed Mansoor, we, the undersigned, would like to express our deepest concern for his current detainment and appeal to the United Arab Emirates government for Mr. Mansoor’s immediate and unconditional release.
According to our information, Ahmed Mansoor was arrested in his home in Dubai in the early hours of 20 March 2017, as ordered by the Public Prosecution for Cybercrimes. He is being investigated on charges of “promoting false and shaded information through the Internet and serving agendas aimed at spreading hatred and sectarianism”. Mr Mansoor is an internationally respected human rights campaigner, the winner of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2015 and a member of both the advisory committee of Human Rights Watch and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. These charges relate solely to his peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and therefore we consider him a prisoner of conscience.
The official statement by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MOFAIC) of 29th March 2017 states that “he has the freedom to hire a lawyer and that his family has full access to the place of confinement and is allowed to visit him”. However, we have received news that Mr. Mansoor currently has no lawyer representing him and that his family have only been allowed one visit, on 3 April 2017. We are also concerned to hear allegations that he is being held in solitary confinement. These practices are not only in violation of international human rights law but also contravene the UAE Penal Code, including Federal Law No. 43 of 1992 on Regulating Penal Institutions.
In a joint statement published on 28 March 2017 by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, various bodies condemned the arbitrary arrest and detention of Mr. Mansoor. Signatories included the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, on Enforced Disappearances, and the Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders, Mr. Michel Forst; on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. David Kaye; and on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Mr. Maina Kiai. Furthermore, they called on the government “to respect the right of everyone to freedom of opinion and expression, including on social media and the internet.” The EU Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights followed with a statement by its chair, Pier Antonio Panzeri, who affirmed that “all charges against [Ahmed Mansoor] should be dropped, as they appear to be motivated only by his legitimate and peaceful human rights work. Equally, his and his family’s total security and integrity should be guaranteed by the authorities and all his confiscated possessions be returned.”
We therefore call on the UAE government, as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, to adhere to its obligations to uphold human rights at home, including respecting the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and to freedom of association and peaceful assembly.
We urge the UAE authorities to:
The continuing detention of such a high-profile and internationally respected human rights campaigner is extremely damaging to the UAE government’s reputation abroad. Therefore, we urge you to address this issue without delay.
Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR)
Detained in Dubai
Index on Censorship
International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE)
International Center for Justice and Human Rights (ICJHR)
Martin Ennals Awards Foundation
Tom Brake, MP for Carshalton and Wallington
Andrew Byles, Garden Court North Chambers
Rt Hon Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland
Noam Chomsky, Professor
Ron Deibert, Director of the Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto
Jonathan Emmett, Author
Andy Fitzpatrick, Barrister, Garden Court North Chambers, Manchester
Councillor David Haigh, Solicitor, UAE torture survivor, Former MD of Leeds United Football Club
Chris Haughton, Author and illustrator
Miles Kenyon, Communications Officer, Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto
Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion
Michael Mansfield, QC
Bill Marczak, Senior Researcher, Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto
Fadi Al Qadi, Human Rights, Civil Society, Advocacy and Media Expert
Chris Riddell, Author, Illustrator and Political Cartoonist at the Observer
Andy Slaughter, MP for Hammersmith
Dr. David Wearing, School of Oriental and African Studies
Pete Weatherby, QC Garden Court North Chambers, Manchester
Prominent UAE blogger Ahmed Mansoor says that he was beaten by an unidentified man on 17 September. Mansoor was attacked as he was approaching his car at Ajman University of Science and Technology, where he studies law. The attacker knocked Mansoor to the ground and began punching him, but ran away once people entered the parking lot. Once Mansoor was free, he tried to follow him, but was quickly blocked by another unidentified man, who drove off with the attacker. Mansoor says this is the second time that he has been beaten. The United Arab Emirates has been cracking down on political activists and groups, most recently arresting 13 activists tied to Islamist group al-Islah on 16 July. Mansoor was imprisoned and released last year for posting messages critical of political figures in the now-banned UAE Hewar forum. The blogger has been active in speaking out against the crackdown, which has also resulted in the arrest of prominent human rights activist and lawyer, Mohammed al-Roken.