Assaults Follow Online Death Threats and Smear Campaign
(Beirut) – United Arab Emirates authorities should immediately open an investigation into the recent physical assaults on a leading human rights activist.
Ahmed Mansoor, a prominent critic of the UAE government and a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Advisory Committee, was assaulted twice on the street in recent weeks. The attacks appeared to be premeditated by people with knowledge of his movements. Mansoor spent seven months in jail in 2011 before his conviction in November for insulting the country’s top officials. The UAE president commuted his sentence days after, but since then he believes he has been under surveillance and there has been unauthorized access of this email account.
“The government spares no effort to jail political opponents on spurious security charges, but sits on its hands while an Emirati citizen is threatened, beaten and attacked in broad daylight, despite dozens of complaints to the police,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s hard to dissociate the verbal and physical attacks against Mansoor from the government’s widespread campaign of intimidation, fear and arrests against all of the country’s reform activists.”
Mansoor has been the most publicly outspoken Emirati critic of the arbitrary detention and inhuman treatment of 61 peaceful dissidents with ties to a UAE-based Islamist group al-Islah. The context to the attacks is a series of threats and intimidating messages directed at Mansoor on social networking sites, and an increasingly well-organized campaign to spread false and potentially inflammatory accusations about him online. These have included public statements by a group with links to state Security implying Mansoor has ties to Iran, with which the UAE has an openly hostile relationship. Police in the Emirate of Ajman have opened case files on both assaults, but there is no indication that they intend to investigate the threats on his life.
Mansoor told Human Rights Watch, that on September 11, 2012, a man approached him insideAjman University, where he is a law student. After establishing Mansoor’s identity, the man spat in his face and pushed him to the ground. Mansoor was able to fend off his assailant and pursue him to a parked car, where another man was waiting to drive him away. The assailant removed the rear number plate before getting into the car. On September 17, a taller, stronger man approached Mansoor on the campus, and without saying a word grabbed Mansoor by the neck and punched him several times on the head. Mansoor resisted, and his attacker ran off when other people approached. The attacker ran to a car parked near where the car had been parked during the previous assault, and another man drove the car away. A third man obstructed Mansoor’s attempts to see the license plate. The assailants wore traditional Emirati dish-dashas.
On September 26, a group called Lawyers, Belonging and Loyalty, which has close ties to UAE State Security, held a conference entitled ‘The Role of International Organizations in the Arab Spring’ at the Dubai Hyatt Hotel in which they claimed that Mansoor had participated in person in an Iranian-funded conference in Geneva, attended by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In fact, Mansoor participated by video conference in a side-event at the 21st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. He is unable to leave the country as the authorities retain his passport and have arbitrarily barred him from traveling. The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies organized the meeting, which addressed attacks on human rights defenders in the Gulf region. It was open to state delegations, but no representatives from Iran attended.
In September, in recognition of the persecution he has suffered in drawing attention to the repression of free expression in the United Arab Emirates, Mansoor received a Hellman-Hammet grant. An independent committee appointed by Human Rights Watch grants the awards to writers who express views that their governments oppose or criticize government officials or actions.
“While the authorities jail and assault activists critical of the government, fires them from their jobs, deports them, or bars them from traveling, they seem to do nothing faced with physical assaults on a reformer,” Whitson said. “If the government wants to refute the sense that these criminal bullies are doing the government’s bidding, it should aggressively investigate and prosecute them.”
Mansoor’s persecution has been highly visible on social media websites for over a year. On April 5 2011, a public death threat was sent to Mansoor through Facebook, which 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.”
In November, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch, assembled evidence showing that the authorities were failing to investigate a campaign of death threats, slander and intimidation against Mansoor and four other jailed Emirati activists. The report documented death threats by government sympathizers and the atmosphere of impunity in which they were made.
The families of the five men and one of their lawyers filed more than a dozen specific complaints, each supported with documentary evidence, in some cases including names of those making the threats. The public prosecutor and police authorities ignored the complaints despite their duty to investigate and prosecute suspected criminal offenses.
A similar pattern has re-emerged in the recent attacks. On September 17, in the hours following his assault, one of a sequence of abusive public messages posted on twitter said that, “Ahmed Mansoor should be hanged from a street pole.” Mansoor has filed separate complaints with Ajman police for each of the assaults. On September 30 he filed a complaint with the state prosecutor against a named individual who recently threatened him online, and a separate complaint with Ajman police in relation to the false accusations and defamation of his character made by the group ‘Lawyers, Belonging and Loyalty’. The assaults and threats violate Emirati law, and the state’s inaction breaches international human rights standards. Article 351 of the UAE Penal Code provides for the imprisonment of persons found to have threatened to commit a crime against the life or property of another person. The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders provides that countries should “take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of everyone against any violence, threats, retaliation, adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action” as a result of their participation in human rights activity.
The UAE authorities should take steps to ensure that the investigation into the two assaults on Ahmed Mansoor is thorough and impartial, and open a separate investigation into the threats to his life and physical security, Human Rights Watch said. They should furthermore enable him to rebuild his reputation by expunging his conviction, which violated his right to free expression, from their records, and return his passport to restore his right to freedom of movement. Article 27 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights states that, “No one shall be arbitrarily or unlawfully prevented from leaving any country, including his own.”
“It is becoming clear that anyone who exercises their right to free speech and criticizes the status quo faces an uncertain future in the UAE,” Whitson said. “The UAE needs not only to prosecute Ahmed Mansoor’s attackers, but to take steps to ensure his well-being and that of his young family.”