Last week the State Security Court in the United Arab Emirates upheld a 10-year jail sentence of human rights activist and poet Ahmed Mansoor for criticizing the government of the UAE on social media. The Emirates accuse Mansoor of publishing false information, promoting a sectarian and hate-incited agenda, and using social media to “harm national unity and social harmony and damage the country’s reputation” according to the Middle East Eye.
Four years ago Ahmed Mansoor was awarded the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders which is awarded by an international panel of human rights organizations for his bravery in exposing human rights violations in the UAE. The Emirates have been prancing around the international stage trying to raise their status and clout in the world because they want their proverbial seat at the table.
The Emirates want to prove that they are a stable nation in an unstable region of the world, but it doesn’t paint the picture of a stable government if the government is threatened by one of their own citizen’s social media post. This move spits in the face of international norms and is the exact opposite of the image the UAE is trying to portray.
Director of Middle East Research at Amnesty International, Lynn Maalouf echoed the sentiment of many other human rights organizations with this statement: “Today’s court decision to uphold Ahmed Mansoor’s conviction and 10-year prison sentence confirms there is no space for free expression in the United Arab Emirates. Ahmed Mansoor’s only ‘crime’ was to express his peaceful opinions on social media, and it is outrageous that he is being punished with such a heavy prison sentence.”
United Nations Human Rights Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani commented shortly after the news came out “We are concerned that Mansoor’s conviction and harsh sentencing relate to his exercise of the right to freedom of expression and opinion. We urge the government of the UAE to promptly and unconditionally release Mansoor and to ensure that individuals are not penalized for expressing views critical of the government or its allies.”
The United Arab Emirates are proving to be just like any other monarchy that imprisons activist and cracks down on any form of opposition with harsh consequences. A stable leader is able to absorb criticism and opposition in their country and lead without being oppressive. The UAE aspires to be an innovative technologically advanced country this will be a hard goal to achieve if citizens in the UAE cant think or share their thoughts without facing harsh prison sentences. MbZ needs to ask himself if silencing Ahmed Mansoor and others like him is worth ruining his image globally.