UAE: Amina al-Abdouli and Maryam al-Balushi must be released this November as completion of 5-year sentences nears
Amina al-Abdouli and Maryam al-Balushi are scheduled to be released from al-Wathba prison, Abu Dhabi, this month following the completion of their five-year sentences. Held under ‘state security’ charges, both have been unjustly detained since 2015. Considering the UAE’s track record of detaining political prisoners beyond their release dates, 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 February 2015. Six months later, Maryam al-Balushi, a student at the College of Technology, Kulba, was also detained by the UAE government, 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 inside Al-Wathba prison detail the conditions in which the women are held. Testimonies describe 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 degrading living conditions and the systematic abuse at the hands of warders has had a profound impact on the physical and psychological well being 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 al-Wathba prison are.
Ms al-Aboudli who suffers from kidney failure and severe liver damage has been deprived of medical care over the years. Despite this, she launched a hunger strike in February to protest the inhumane conditions in which she and her fellow inmates are held.
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.
ICFUAE calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Amina al-Abdouli and Maryam al-Balushi. Both women have bravely served their sentences and are owed their freedom. We also call for an urgent and independent investigation into the claims of torture and for the perpetrators to be held to account.
Pending their release, Ms Al-Balushi and Ms Al-Abdouli must be granted safe and humane prison conditions, regular family and counsellor visits, as well as adequate medical care and assurances must be given that they will not be held beyond the duration of their original sentences.
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