More than a year after he disappeared into the custody of United Arab Emirates security services, with almost no news of his whereabouts or wellbeing, the prominent UAE activist Ahmed Mansoor suddenly reappeared last week.
Not, as his family might have hoped, to walk free after more than 365 days of arbitrary imprisonment. Instead it was to appear in an Abu Dhabi court to face charges of publishing “false information” on social media.
Until he was snatched from his family home in the UAE at dawn on March 20 last year, Mansoor was one of the country’s last outspoken critics. Despite being harassed for years by the Emirati state, he fought peacefully for the rights of others, including political prisoners, and won a prestigious award for his activism. His arrest and disappearance have effectively silenced him, but others are determined that Mansoor and his work should not be forgotten.
Some 4,000 miles away in Manchester, a group of residents have launched a campaign to name a street after the jailed activist in a bid to highlight his plight and broader human rights abuses in the UAE.
Because the UAE, through its deputy leader Sheikh Mansour, has invested billions of pounds into both the city and its eponymous football club that he owns, Manchester City.
The UAE, and the many public relations firms it employs, likes to paint the Emirates as a modern, reform-oriented country – and Sheikh Mansour’s investments in Manchester and English football only reinforces this. But this is nothing more than a rosy fiction so long as the UAE continues to lock up activists, journalists, and critics.
So it’s right and welcome that Manchester citizens are starting to ask why their city is being used to launder the UAE’s reputation.
And it’s a question that Ahmed Mansoor may well be asking himself as he enters his 14th month of illegal detention.