ICFUAE statement on the anniversary of Alia Abdulnoor’s death in UAE custody
On this day one year ago, Emirati prisoner of conscience Alia Abdulnoor, 42, passed away in UAE custody after years of deliberate medical negligence at the hands of the Emirati authorities.
Alia was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, shortly after her arrest for allegedly ‘financing terrorism’. Held at al-Wathba prison, she was denied urgent medical care to treat the cancer despite her health condition deteriorating rapidly. Family members have said that she was forced to sign a document stating that she refused chemotherapy.
In a case described by Human Rights Watch as ‘marred with due process violations’, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The prosecution’s evidence for her conviction was based on a forced confession in relation to small charitable donations Alia had made to Syrian families during the country’s civil war.
On top of this, Alia was subjected to torture and inhumane and degrading treatment. According to testimonies smuggled out of al-Wathba prison in 2018, prison warders hit, kicked and tied her up on multiple occasions.
In January 2018, she was transferred to Tawam hospital, where she was held in isolation, in a room without windows nor ventilation. On multiple occasions her family was not permitted to see her when coming to visit.
Her relatives appealed to the local authorities for her early release on medical grounds - something which is permitted under Emirati law. UN experts and European Parliamentarians echoed this demand and urged the UAE authorities to allow Alia to spend her final days at home, in dignity and in the care of her family. Instead, however, Alia passed away on 4 May 2019, chained to a hospital bed, under armed guard.
After her passing, a coalition of UK Parliamentarians called for an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding her death and for the parties responsible for her abuse and neglect to be held to account accordingly.
Alia’s story, while shocking, is not an isolated incident. In recent years, numerous cases that pertain to systematic human rights abuses have been documented in UAE prisons. Earlier this year, one of Alia’s fellow inmates at al-Wathba prison, Maryam Al Balushi, 22, attempted suicide after she was subjected to prolonged solitary confinement. Last year, in a letter from prison, Ms Al-Balushi complained of torture and degrading conditions of detention. The prisoner of conscience said that since her detention she had been threatened with rape and subjected to torture, which has included verbal and physical abuse.
She also spoke up about the appalling conditions that inmates at al-Wathba prison are forced to endure, where detainees are kept in overcrowded cells infested with vermin, denied clean drinking water, and served inadequate food resulting in ill-health.
On the anniversary of Alia’s death, first and foremost, our heart goes out to her family who fought bravely for her early release despite their own personal risk of persecution by the UAE authorities.
Medical negligence remains common practice in the Emirati prison system. The authorities must stop history repeating itself with other prisoners including Maryam al-Balushi and Amina al-Abdouli, who are consistently denied medical treatment while being subjected to abuse and degrading conditions at al-Wathba prison. UAE authorities must take urgent action to end the systematic practice of torture, improve detention conditions and provide adaquate medical care, as laid out by the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
With the coronavirus pandemic spreading across the globe, all prisoners of conscience, detained solely for their human rights advocacy, must be released. Keeping them in unsanitary, crowded conditions without access to medical care is paramount to a death sentence.
We demand justice for Alia and call for the immediate and unconditional release of all remaining political prisoners in the UAE.
- For more information or further statements, please contact the ICFUAE team on firstname.lastname@example.org
- For the UN statement, please see https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24570&LangID=E
- For the EU statement on Alia’s case, please see https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/61934/statement-spokesperson-passing-alia-abdulnour-uae_en
- For the UK Parliamentarians’ letter, please see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/28/call-for-inquiry-into-womans-death-in-uae-custody