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Ahmed Mansoor speaks to Reuters in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, November 30, 2011. © 2011 Reuters

The United Arab Emirates Federal Supreme Court, the country’s court of last resort in state security cases, on December 31, 2018, upheld a 10-year sentence for Ahmed Mansoor, an award-winning human rights activist, Human Rights Watch said today.

In May, an Abu Dhabi court sentenced Mansoor to 10 years in prison for “defaming” the UAE on social media. The date of the appeals hearing, scheduled for New Year’s Eve, raises concerns that the authorities intended to uphold Mansoor’s conviction at a moment when it would attract minimal media scrutiny. Mansoor won the prestigious Martin Ennals award in 2015 and is a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East Advisory Committee.

“The repeated legal persecution of Ahmed Mansoor simply for advocating basic rights exposes the UAE’s extreme intolerance of any criticism of its rulers and its policies,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “This devastating decision marks another nail in the coffin of any hope for justice in the UAE.”

Authorities arrested Mansoor on March 20, 2017. He was held in an unknown location for more than a year with no access to a lawyer and only very limited family visits and was sentenced on May 29, 2018.

On May 30, the UAE-based newspaper The National reported that a court had sentenced Mansoor to 10 years in prison, a fine of 1,000,000 UAE Dirhams (US$272,000), three years of probation after completion of his sentence, and confiscation of his electronic devices. The court convicted Mansoor of insulting the “status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols,” including its leaders, and seeking to damage the UAE’s relationship with its neighbors by publishing false reports and information on social media, the paper reported.

In the weeks leading up to his arrest, Mansoor had criticized the UAE’s prosecution of activists for speech-related offenses. Mansoor had also used his Twitter account to draw attention to human rights violations across the region, including in Egypt and Yemen. He also signed a joint letter with other activists in the region calling on leaders at the Arab League summit in Jordan in March 2017 to release political prisoners in their countries.

In April 2011, UAE authorities detained Mansoor over his peaceful calls for reform and in November, after an unfair trial, the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi sentenced him to three years in prison for insulting the country’s top officials. Although the UAE president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, pardoned Mansoor, authorities never returned his passport, subjecting him to a de facto travel ban. He has also faced physical assaults, death threats, government surveillance, and a sophisticated spyware attack.

Mansoor’s convictions and current sentence, resulting from his exercise of his right to free speech, his political, opinions, and his status as a human rights defender, represent an act of brutal state repression that violates Mansoor’s rights under international human rights law, Human Rights Watch said.

In August 2016, the Toronto-based research group Citizen Lab reported that Mansoor received suspicious text messages on his iPhone promising information about detainees tortured in UAE jails and urging him to click on a link. Citizen Lab discovered that clicking on the link would have installed sophisticated spyware on his iPhone that allows an outside operator to control the targeted iPhone’s telephone and camera, monitor chat applications, and track the user’s movements. Similar methods for breaking into iPhones have been valued at US$1 million, leading Citizen Lab to call Mansoor “the million-dollar dissident.”

Al Nahyan has declared 2019 as the Year of Tolerance, to shine a spotlight on the UAE as a global capital for tolerance, instilling the values of co-existence and peace in local, regional, and international communities, the state news agency WAM reported.

“For the UAE to declare 2019 as the year of tolerance while ending this year with such a ruthless act of injustice reveals a deeply hypocritical stance on human rights,” Page said.

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