Ahmed Mansoor on blogging his way into a UAE prison

One of the United Arab Emirate’s most prominent human rights activists, Ahmed Mansoor was imprisoned in 2011 for criticising the country’s leadership. Here he discusses the death threats, defamation campaigns and physical attacks he continues to face for speaking his mind.

Ahmed Mansoor is one of five prominent human rights activists in the United Arab Emirates who were detained in April 2011 and charged that June with opposing the Emirati government, inciting demonstrations and insulting the country’s leadership. These charges stemmed from a website Mansoor managed called uaehewar.net where bloggers criticised government officials.

Mansoor was sentenced to three years in prison but released after just seven months when the president pardoned him and the other four activists. He says media reports on their imprisonment “enlightened people about the reality of the case, because inside the UAE the campaign was really [a] smear [campaign]” (3mins 36secs). He also believes media attention around the 16-day hunger strike he and others undertook in prison might have expedited their pardon.

While in prison and since his release, Mansoor has been the target of online death threats, defamation campaigns and physical attacks. He says the government has done little to address these assaults.

Mansoor says his laptop was attacked by “a very sophisticated version of malware apparently that the authorities in the region have been using against individuals, which allows authorities to gain illegal access to someone’s emails and computer” (8mins 2 secs). Personal emails and phone records were used as evidence in the trial against him. His passport has also been confiscated by the government since his arrest, and he has been unable to leave the UAE.

In response to our sixth draft principle and whether violent intimidation has caused him to self-censor criticism of the government, Mansoor says: “The only limits that I put to myself are the ethical limits…I believe free speech is the prerequisite for any development to happen in any place and any country, and I’m driven totally by my passion and my love to this country” (15mins 32secs).

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Free Speech Debate is a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College in the University of Oxford. www.freespeechdebate.ox.ac.uk

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