Two Female Prisoners of Conscience due to be Released this Month After Years in Inhumane Abu Dhabi Prison
Prisoners of conscience Amina al-Abdouli and Maryam al-Balushi have been detained in the UAE since 2015, unjustly held under ‘state security’ charges. They are scheduled to be released this month following the end of their five year sentences. Due to the UAE’s poor track record of releasing prisoners on schedule, there are now significant concerns that Amina al-Abdouli and Maryam al-Balushi may be soon subjected to indefinite detention.
Amina al-Abdouli is a teacher and mother of five from Abu Dhabi who, after tweeting support for the Arab Spring in Syria, was detained by Emirati authorities in November 2015. Maryam al-Balushi, a student at the College of Technology, Kulba, was detained in February 2019 and later charged with ‘financing terrorism’ for donating to struggling families in war-torn Syria in 2014.
After their arrests, both were held incommunicado and subjected to brutal interrogations. Reports include the use of torture, threats of rape and prolonged periods of solitary confinement. More than two months of interrogation in these conditions forced both women into making self-incriminating confessions. Following this, they were formally charged and transferred to Al-Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi. Conditions inside the prison fail to meet international standards, as both women continue to be subjected to solitary confinement and torture.
A series of voice recordings leaked from Al-Wathba prison, containing testimonies from al-Abdouli and al-Balushi, detail the conditions in which the women are held. Recordings described the abuses they have been subjected to, including beatings at the hands of warders, unsanitary and overcrowded cells, surveillance cameras in bathrooms, abuse from other inmates without any after-care and solitary confinement.
The latest testimony, released in January, revealed that the authorities have levelled further charges against both women. Likely used as repudiation for their outspoken stance on their detainment conditions, the trumped-up charges include: spreading false information, harming the UAE’s reputation, and causing problems with nearby states.
The mistreatment has had a profound impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of both women. In March this year news came to light of Ms al-Balushi’s suicide attempt, a deeply worrying indicator of how damaging prison conditions in the UAE are.
While we can hope that the end of this month will see the release of Amina al-Abdouli and Maryam al-Balushi, the UAE government has a history of indefinitely detaining prisoners of conscience. Currently, twelve individuals remain imprisoned past the end of their sentences. It is feared that Ms al-Abdouli and Ms al-Balushi could join them.