Rights groups at UN Human Rights Council demand release of cancer-stricken female detainee in UAE
At the Human Rights Council in Geneva today, rights groups urged the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to release Alia Abdel Nour, who has terminal breast cancer, and is currently detained in Tawan hospital, reportedly subjected to ill-treatment and abuse.
Today’s event, organised by the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE), the International Centre for Justice and Human Rights (ICJHR) and Cojep International, began with the screening of Alison, a short film produced by ICFUAE on the case of Alia Abdel Nour. Alia was arrested without a warrant in 2015 and held in secret detention for four months, and forced to sign a false confession under torture, ICJHR’s Imene Ben Younes said today.
She was later convicted of ‘financing terrorism’ and sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2017. Alia’s family members have said that her sentence relates to small donations she made to Syrian families in 2011 at the advent of the country’s revolution.
Ben Younes stated today that Alia is currently being held in a windowless room without ventilation and chained to a hospital bed under armed guard. She added that since her arrest, the terminally ill detainee has been severely mistreated and frequently denied access to adequate medical care to treat her cancer.
The UAE authorities are refusing to grant the prisoner early medical release.
In a statement read out by Ben Younes, Alia’s mother pleaded for her daughter’s release:
“I am begging them to let her come home to spend her last days among us. But they keep telling me, “she will die in custody”. All of that because she helped needy Syrian refugees.
Now, she is dying, unable to move or talk, and can't breathe without a ventilator… but she is still chained to her bed. I am not even allowed to stay with her at the hospital or come and visit her freely to bring her some support. I have been many times to the hospital to visit her, but the guards refuse to let me enter her room. I just stand there in front of her door, I can hear her crying and moaning in pain, and I can’t do anything to help her.”
Today’s call for Alia’s release follows similar demands made earlier this week by Human Rights Watch and UN rights experts, who urged the UAE authorities to allow the detainee ‘to her to live her last days of life in dignity and with her family at home.’
Speaking on a broader level, ICFUAE’s Sofia Kaltenbrunner said that torture and ill-treatment in Emirati prisons had become rife in recent years – raising the cases of prisoners of conscience, Nasser bin Ghaith, Osama al-Najjar and Imran Radwan. All of whom, she said, had been mistreated in Abu Dhabi’s al-Razeen prison - often referred to as ‘the Guantanamo bay of the UAE’ for its notoriously repressive conditions; last year, the prominent UAE economist Nasser bin Ghaith went on hunger strike for over 75 days after being routinely abused by prison warders.
Kaltenbrunner subsequently urged the Emirati authorities to allow international organisations to monitor and investigate cases of torture in the country, and to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which outlaws such practices.
Identifying a distinct pattern of behaviour in the country, Julia Legner, from the MENA Rights Group, went on to explain how peaceful dissidents in the UAE were being ‘systematically targeted by means of a repressive legal arsenal, which criminalises freedom of expression in multiple ways.’
Calling for an amendment of the UAE’s repressive cybercrime and anti-terror laws, Legner urged the Emirati authorities to ‘abstain from cracking down on human rights defenders, political dissidents and anyone critical of the government for exercising their fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression and release all prisoners of conscious.’