UAE refuses to release political prisoners in time for Ramadan
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has ordered for 1,511 prisoners serving various sentences, to be released while dozens of political prisoners, detained solely for their outspokenness about human rights and fundamental freedoms, remain behind bars in the country.
The President’s annual pardon is a humanitarian gesture granted to prisoners ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, to provide them with the opportunity to start afresh and reintegrate into society. The inmates chosen for release have displayed good behaviour and are no longer considered to be a threat to the public.
However, dozens of political prisoners, imprisoned for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, have been excluded from the pardon and remain behind bars. Emirati human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, sentenced to 10 years in prison in May 2018 for “defaming the UAE through social media channels”, remains highly vulnerable in the COVID-19 outbreak. His health has significantly deteriorated as a result of his hunger strikes to protest his prison conditions and he is no longer able to walk unassisted.
Emirati prisons are notorious for their atrocious living conditions including overcrowding, poor sanitation and inadequate, or non-existent, medical care. In a statement issued last month, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that “physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically impossible” and called for immediate measures to be taken in order to protect detainees and prison staff.
The United Nations have repeatedly called on countries to reduce the number of people in detention facilities amid the pandemic. Ms Bachelet, said last month: “Now more than ever, governments should release every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views”.