(Beirut) - United Arab Emirates authorities should immediately disclose the whereabouts of leading rights activist Ahmed Mansoor, the reason for his detention, and any charges against him, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch is concerned that the detention on April 8, 2011, of Mansoor, a prominent blogger and vocal human rights advocate who recently called for political freedoms and an elected parliament in the UAE, is politically motivated.
At 4:30 p.m. on April 8, eight to ten members of UAE security forces, including two police officers in uniform, took Mansoor away after they carried out a three-hour search of his apartment in Dubai. The security forces also confiscated laptops, books, and some documents belonging to Mansoor. The security forces did not give a reason for Mansoor's detention and did not produce an arrest warrant, his wife told Human Rights Watch.
"We believe the detention of Ahmed Mansoor is aimed at scaring and intimidating others in the UAE who may wish to make public their demands for democratic reforms," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "While other governments in the region are discussing democratic reforms, the UAE government is digging in its heels and sticking to outmoded repressive ploys."
Mansoor has been a leading and vocal proponent of a petition submitted last month to UAE authorities demanding democratic reforms and has given numerous television and other media interviews on the issue. Mansoor is also a member of the Middle East and North Africa advisory committee at Human Rights Watch, and Human Rights Watch honored and recognized his efforts to promote human rights in the Emirates at a news conference in Dubai on January 26.
Mansoor's wife, who was guarded by a female officer during the search of the house, told Human Rights Watch on April 9 that she has yet to hear from her husband or the authorities about his whereabouts. UAE authorities did not respond to repeated phone calls and emails from Human Rights Watch seeking information on Mansoor's detention.
Hours before his detention on April 8, three men identifying themselves as police came to Mansoor's apartment, at about 2:50 a.m., ostensibly to ask him some questions about his car. The men left after Mansoor refused to leave his apartment because he was afraid they would kidnap him. He also feared that the government would seek to confiscate his car and plant weapons or other illegal items there as a guise for later prosecution. Later that day, the second group of security officers came and took him away.
"The UAE has a lot of explaining to do, not only about why it has detained Mansoor, but why it sent police at 3 a.m. to question him about his car," said Whitson. "Such predawn arrest maneuvers are a heavy-handed effort by the UAE security forces to instill terror into the hearts of its citizens."
Mansoor's detention follows a campaign of harassment against him after he and dozens of other UAE nationals signed a petition published on March 9 that demanded constitutional and parliamentary changes in the Emirates, and free elections for all citizens. "The [petition] group calls for comprehensive reform of the Federal National Council (FNC), or parliament, including demands for free elections by all citizens in the method of universal suffrage," a statement from the petitioners said.
"Does the UAE government's plan for progress include prosecuting and jailing citizens who seek democracy and freedom?" said Whitson. "No gilded towers, no world-class museums or universities, can mask the fact that UAE authorities refuse to grant basic rights to citizens."
Before his detention, Mansoor told Human Rights Watch that since the beginning of April, he had received six death threats and has been subject to an online smear campaign on social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter. One of the death threats sent to Mansoor through Facebook on April 5 read: "Ahmed Mansoor, you are dead. I swear that I will search for you in every house. I swear to God that I will cut you in pieces ... if I don't slaughter you, my cousins will cut your head, you dog."
Human Rights Watch said the government has a duty to investigate the death threats against Mansoor and take appropriate measures to ensure his security.
In the days leading up to his detention, Mansoor said that his employer, a telecommunications company, had pressured him to transfer to a position in Pakistan, a move he also thought was motivated by his political activities.