Cairo & Beirut – 10 March 2017 – The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Maharat Foundation, and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), in cooperation with IFEX, nominated prominent human rights defender and Blogger Ahmed Mansoor from the United Arab Emirates as the Defender of Human Rights & Freedom of Expression for the month of March 2017 as part of the campaign entitled “Supporting Human Rights Defenders and Freedom of Expression.”
Ahmed Mansoor is an Emirati blogger and prominent human rights defender. He is one of the very few independent voices to whom international NGOs can turn for an independent assessment of human rights developments in the UAE. His safety, well-being, and fair treatment by the authorities is of paramount importance for the international human rights movement. He is a member of the Advisory Board of GCHR and the Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division.
Mansoor is the laureate of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2015. He spent much of 2011 jailed for online dissent in a case collectively known as the UAE5, and was pardoned in November 2011. Since his release he has not remained silent, despite the huge price he has had to pay – no passport, no freedom of movement, no job, and constant fear of re-arrest.
Mansoor has led advocacy initiatives since 2006 on freedom of expression, civil and political rights. He’s a leading voice for freedom, despite great personal risk. Without avenues for legal protest, Mansoor was one of the initiators of the 03 March 2011 petition on online discussion forum, UAE Hewar, calling for democratic reform of UAE’s Parliament. He and four others were subsequently jailed for publicly insulting the UAE leadership in the UAE5 case that is mentioned above.
Mansoor was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in November 2011 but all five men received a presidential pardon and were released, although their convictions remain on their records.
There is little attention for the massive crackdown on free expression and assembly in the UAE, and Mansoor is a defender of public freedoms and a prominent blogger who refuses to be silenced. He uses SMS, blackberry messenger, Facebook, Twitter to spread human rights news, besides conducting many foreign TV and newspaper interviews.
Mansoor has been continuously targeted for his digital activism. He’s also been threatened with death. His car and a significant amount of money have been stolen from him. He’s under constant threat and attack from the authorities and their supporters. Mansoor’s passport has been confiscated and he has been placed on a travel ban. Even if he were permitted to travel, he would not leave the country permanently, preferring to remain in the UAE and report on human rights violations.
On 10 and 11 August 2016, Mansoor received text messages from an unknown sender promising information on tortured detainees if he clicked an attached link. He forwarded the message to the technology rights group Citizen Lab, where it was quickly recognized as a Pegasus spyware product from the Israeli software company NSO. Clicking the link would have potentially allowed the Emirati government to activate the phone’s microphone and camera at any time, record calls and messages from any applications, and track Mansoor’s location.
Previously, his twitter account and email were hacked in October 2014, effectively silencing him as online forums are blocked or banned in the UAE and there is no free media. He couldn’t access his twitter account for two weeks. Reliable sources believe the hackers may be linked with Emirati state security
In September 2012, he was twice physically assaulted by men at Ajman University, where he was studying law. Before and after these attacks, threatening messages against him were posted on Twitter. One stated that “Ahmed Mansoor should be hanged from a street pole.” He filed at least three complaints with the police, but, to date, has received no information about any investigations into the assaults or threats to his life. See: http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/10/03/uae-investigate-attacks-rights-defender
It could be said that all acts of intimidation or harassment are believed to be linked to his work as a human rights activist, including fraudulent withdrawal of money from his bank account, the theft of his car, the authorities’ failure to return his passport to him or to allow him to apply for a new one, the imposition of a travel ban, and the failure to provide him with a “certificate of good conduct.” UAE authorities have been using a variety of legal avenues to limit Mansoor’s freedom of movement.
Mansoor was also targeted in July 2012 by the UAE government by way of computer spyware, software invisibly installed on his laptop which provided full access to his own data. See: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-10-10/spyware-leaves-trail-to-beaten-activist-through-microsoft-flaw.html
In September 2012, in recognition of the persecution he suffered in drawing attention to free expression repression, Mansoor received a Hellman-Hammet grant. Mansoor has worked closely with the UN, including meeting with former UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay and all UN Special Rapporteurs who visited the country and was the only Emirati human rights defender to attend the first UAE Universal Periodic Review (UPR). He has also carried out advocacy for other Gulf countries, including a trial observation mission to Bahrain in 2010.
ANHRI, GCHR and Maharat note that prominent woman human rights defender and brave Tunisian journalist Naziha Rjiba (also known as “Om Zied”) was the first person featured within the 2017 campaign supporting human rights defenders and freedom of expression. She has been nominated as the defender of human rights and freedom of expression for the month February 2017.
For more information on how to take part of this campaign please visit the websites of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) http://www.anhri.net, Maharat News www.maharat-news.com, and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) www.gc4hr.org