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UN Human Rights Experts urge UAE authorities to urgently investigate prison conditions after Maryam Al-Balushi attempts suicide

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UN Human Rights Experts urge UAE authorities to urgently investigate prison conditions after Maryam Al-Balushi attempts suicide

United Nations human rights experts have urged the Emirati authorities to investigate and reform detention conditions that amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Yesterday’s statement came after recent allegations that Ms Maryam Suliman Al-Balushi had attempted suicide due to degrading conditions in the Al-Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi by cutting a vain in her hand. Ms Al-Balushi, who was accused of "financing terrorism" because of her donation to a Syrian family, was tried and convicted using evidence obtained under torture in 2016 and has since been serving her five-year sentence.

"The UAE has the responsibility to protect the rights of individuals deprived of their liberty, by ensuring that conditions of detention respect their dignity and mental integrity," said the experts.

In an official communication to the UAE authorities, the UN Special Rapporteurs expressed deep concern at the alleged torture and ill treatment of Ms Al-Balushi, as well as Ms Amina Al-Alabdouli and Ms Alia Abdulnour, resulting in their health deteriorating due to the conditions of detention and lack of appropriate medical treatment. Alia Abdulnour died last year in UAE custody after years of medical negligence and mistreatment by prison authorities.  

"Ms Al-Balushi has also been subjected to reprisals following the official communication we sent to the UAE authorities requesting information about the current physical and mental health status of the three women, and inquiring why she had not been released on health grounds, based on the critical nature of her medical condition," they said.

The public prosecution office threatened her with new charges of “spreading false information” and “damaging the reputation of the state” after she recorded an audio message in which she described the detention conditions and the torture she and other women face in al-Wathba prison. Without a new sentence Ms Al-Balushi is due for release in November. 

"While in detention, Ms Al-Balushi has been subject to inhuman conditions including having surveillance cameras inside her bathroom and being held in solitary confinement on multiple occasions for extended periods, most recently since mid-February."

"Prolonged incommunicado detention can facilitate the perpetration of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and can in itself constitute a form of such treatment," they warned.

"The UAE authorities have failed to take the necessary safeguards concerning the life, security and dignity of persons deprived of their liberty," the experts said. "Despite Ms Al-Balushi protests through hunger-strikes of her condition of detention, her most recent attempt on her life is a demonstration to her pain and suffering.

"Improvements in conditions of detention should not be dependent on an individual being driven to attempt to take their own life," the experts stressed.

The UN human rights experts called on the Emirati government to "urgently undertake a prompt and impartial investigation in response to the alleged acts of torture and ill-treatment of Ms Al-Alabdouli, Al-Balushi and Ms Abdulnour".

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