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Geneva, 26 June 2018

International standards on the treatment of prisoners have recommended the preservation of the detainees’ dignity and humanity and insisted on taking special measures in order to ensure that the dignity of female detainees is respected and that their particular needs are met. Most importantly, if female prisoners have any children or they are suffering from any diseases, prison officials must be more sensitive when dealing with them.

Principle 5 of the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (adopted by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 43/173 of 9 December 1988) affirmed that: "Measures applied under the law and designed solely to protect the rights and special status of women.”

Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the UAE has not yet acceded, also states that “All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.” Besides, the UAE authorities have declared that they do guarantee all the rights enshrined in the Emirati Constitution and Federal Law No. 43 of 1992 on regulating penal institutions for all the detainees and that their prisons work according to the theme of "prison reform and change" and contain all living facilities in addition to providing female detainees with special treatment.

However, this bears no relation to reality as Emirati prisons, such as Al-Razeen, Al-Sadr and Al-Wathba prisons, are notorious for undermining the dignity of detainees in violation of international standards of detainees’ rights even in women’s prisons.

The International Centre for Justice and Human Rights has obtained some voice recordings from detained women such as Amina Alabdouli and Maryam Sulaiman Al-Baluchi that were leaked from inside Al- Wathba prison.

In fact, they were subjected to enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention in secret detention centers, torture and ill-treatment which affected their personal safety and their dignity, in violation of the right not to be subjected to enforced disappearance and the right to preserve their physical and psychological integrity and dignity.

Torture and ill-treatment during the interrogation period

Amina al-Abduli, who was arrested on 19 November 2015, reported that her house was raided by agents of the state security apparatus and that she was subjected to arbitrary arrest along with her sister, Mozah Alabdouli and another detainee Maryam Al-Balushi. She was later taken to a secret prison and held in a narrow room without windows, guarded by Nepalese guards. Three of these guards were dressed in military uniform and eight others were wearing black sports suits. They were insulting and threatening to take away the custody of her children from her and arrest her relatives. She was then transferred to the interrogation sessions handcuffed, blindfolded and pushed strongly towards the interrogation rooms. In fact, an investigator called Om Hameed deliberately said that her children are homeless with no one to take care of them in order to abuse her morally.

They interrogated Amina Alabdouli in the mornings and evenings and she was forced to stand still for long hours, even tying her to a chair sometimes. Om Hameed would beat her on the face, head and all parts of the body until she lost consciousness and they even insulted her family and father. She was denied the necessary supplies for women and ordered to face the wall in order to humiliate her. They would enter her room at any time, even during prayer times, and give her food without a plate, in addition to depriving her from walking for more than six months.

In fact, torture and ill-treatment have caused her pain and damage in her left eye in addition to the constant refusal to give her medical treatment for her condition which has worsened the situation. She was also forced to sign a sheet of paper with her fingerprints without being able to read the content in the presence of the Nepalese guard and Om Hameed.

Amina al-Abduli's lawyer, Hamdan al-Zuwaidi, mentioned in his defense memorandum, that the confessions were extracted under torture and asked for a forensic doctor to prove this. However, Judge Falah al-Hajri denied any use of torture in the traditional version in breach of the provisions of article 13 of the Convention against Torture which states that “Each State Party shall ensure that any individual who alleges he has been subjected to torture in any territory under its jurisdiction has the right to complain to, and to have his case promptly and impartially examined by, its competent authorities. Steps shall be taken to ensure that the complainant and witnesses are protected against all ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of his complaint or any evidence given.”

On 29 March 2017, Amina Alabdouli was in the Medical Services Center of the prison and asked the ophthalmologist to document the torture that caused her pain in the eye and affected her vision. However, security agents, one in military uniform, another in civilian clothes and a woman wearing a mantle and sunglasses took the CT scan and rushed her to leave the center without the doctor's knowledge of the radiation results.

Faten Aman, a Canadian Egyptian, was tortured in the security prison where she stayed for a year and a half and was denied a bed for three months. She was tortured by the interrogators with a whip, a stick, sleep deprivation and cigarette stubs  on the body.

The same happened with Maryam Suleiman Al-Balushi, a 21-year-old student at the Faculty of Technology, from Kalbaa. She stayed in the State Security prison for 5 months and was interrogated for three months. She was tortured and beaten on the head and threatened with rape. She was also deprived from having any supplies for women in addition to the fact that there was a camera in the bathroom near to the door. Moreover, torture caused her an injury in her left eye and made her cross-eyed, also giving her a back pain.

Maryam has been on hunger strike more than once in protest against the ill-treatment and beatings by Nepalese guards as well as the continuous telephone disruptions for three weeks. Besides, her mother was also threatened with imprisonment and revocation of her nationality along with her brother after shouting at the security guards saying that they are as oppressors, accusing them of beating and torturing women and demanding the release of her daughter.

We recall that the UAE acceded to the International Convention against Torture in 2012. Thus, they have full responsibility in protecting any person and not subjecting him or her to any form of detention, imprisonment, torture or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. They must not justify torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under any condition.

Article 26 of the UAE Constitution also prohibits "any person from being subjected to torture or degrading treatment" in addition of Article 28 of the same Constitution which prevents "the physical and moral harm of the accused."

However, the authorities of the UAE have recruited perpetrators of torture from different nationalities, mainly Nepalese, who were assigned by the UAE officials to extract confessions from the detainees by using methods of torture and degrading treatment.

To date, the UAE authorities have refused to withdraw their reservations on the Convention against Torture and to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. They also refuse to respond to the request of UN Special Rapporteurs, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, to visit detention centers in the UAE.

Condition of detention and Ill-treatment inside women’s jail in Al-Wathba prison

Al-Wathba prison, which is located 40 kilometers from the east of Abu Dhabi city and where men and women are held in various wards, is known to be one of the worst prisons in the country in addition to Al-Razeen and Al-Sadr prisons, where numerous violations of the detainees’ dignity and basic rights occur.

Indeed, detainee, Maryam Sulaiman Al-Balushi, confessed that the head of the State Security Prosecution Ahmad Rashid al-Dhanhani does know the situation inside al-Wathba prison, he even said “We have a prison called Al-Wathba and it is so messed up God forbid, you are too young to stay there.”

This is a proof of the ineffectiveness of the Public Prosecutor’s role in the UAE as provided in Article 10 of the Federal Law No. 43 of 1992 on regulating penal institutions which entitles it to enter penal facilities at any time, monitor violations, track those responsible and investigate into the complaints received and take the necessary measures.

Furthermore, Maryam Sulaiman Al-Balushi was subjected to ill-treatment in Al-Wathba prison by a Moroccan police officer called Rouqia Abdel-Rahman, known for her hostility against human rights activists. Maryam reported that she was arbitrarily detained in solitary confinement and the detainees were barred from talking to her in addition to the fact that African detainees coming from Nigeria and Uganda were treated as slaves.

Major Matar Al-Balushi also treated her very harshly and denied her all the rights conferred to prisoners, including the right to contact the outside world, to have visits and to be able to make phone calls.

Maryam Sulaiman also reported seeing police officer Sundeya Al-Naqbi insulting the detainee Faten Aman, who suffers from temporary paralysis in her right leg when her blood pressure rises and asked her - despite her disability- to crawl to the bus, when she was going to a service center. They also tied her hands and feet and did not bring her a chair.

This was also the case of detainee Alia Abdulnour who was tied up by policewoman Sundeya Naqbi and when she protested against this deed and reminded her that she was sick with  cancer, however, the police officer further tortured her and ordered the bus driver to stand away so that Alia would walk long distance to reach it.  We recall that Alia Abdulnour was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on May 15, 2017 under the counter-terrorism law of 2014.

In fact, there is no justification for restricting the female detainees other than torturing and abusing them, especially since Article 58 of the Federal Law on regulating penal institutions stipulates that prisoners must be restricted from both hands and feet only in the case that they get aggressive, try to escape and create a nuisance. However, this is not the case of Alia Abdulnour, Maryam Al-Balushi, Amina Alabdouli and many others.

The Directorate of Al Wathba Prison also violated the provisions of Article 33 of Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which affirmed that “Instruments of restraint, such as handcuffs, chains, irons and strait-jackets, shall never be applied as a punishment.”

Maryam Al-Balushi also reported that female prisoners are deprived from their basic right to sleep in Al-Wathba prison because of the counting procedure to check the number of prisoners at late hours of the night and repeated counting more than twice and sometimes to dawn and constant disturbance at night.

Lack of safety and proper health conditions inside Al-Wathba prison

Articles 10, 11, 12 and 13 of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, adopted by the Economic and Social Council in May 1977, confirm that the prison administration shall provide all health requirements within the Chambers, in particular in terms of air volume, minimum space for each prisoner, lighting, heating and ventilation. The rooms shall have large windows and toilets must be clean and decent in addition to providing bathing facilities and showers.

However, Al-Wathba prison authorities insist on maintaining a miserable health situation in the prison as a form of abuse against women detained because of their political activities or views.

The detainees in women’s jail of Al-Wathba prison also mentioned the spread of diseases, dirt, odors and insects inside the prison such as ants and cockroaches in addition to the overcrowding inside the cells which even worsens the situation, as the room only fits  8 people, bute 80 detainees are held there. Maryam Al-Balushi said in her recording that prisoners in Al-Wathba prison lack healthy food, portable water, clean blankets and medical care, in addition to the extreme heat since the air conditioners are constantly shut down. Indeed, these poor conditions have led up to the spread of diabetes and blood pressure among the detainees, which pushed some of them to commit suicide and others to go into a hunger strike in protest against the degrading treatment.

Besides, the water in the prison is also cut off for 8 hours a day, in addition to the poor food and malnutrition and lack of fresh air since the AC’S are shut down and broken. The detainees’ blankets are also dirty, and the smell is deadly. There is no laundry service or even cleaning products or garbage bags. In addition to the fact that Police officer Ruqaya seized all the clothes, rugs and slippers provided by the Red Crescent for the detainees.

Health situation of female detainees and violation of their right to medical care

The authorities of Al-Wathba prison deliberately tend to prevent the detainees from having the appropriate medical care. Indeed, doctors fail to respect the medical code and ethics of a doctor, and do not devote the necessary effort for the medical briefing with the prisoners or monitor the health conditions inside the prison.

Amina Alabdouli reported that torture and ill-treatment have affected her left eye-sight and the prison’s authorities refused to give her appropriate treatment.

Moreover, detainee Maryam Sulaiman Al-Balushi, reported that her condition had deteriorated and she even puked blood because of malnutrition, lack of ventilation, racism and ill-treatment by the officers. She was taken to a specialized medical clinic only after a long struggle, protests and a hunger strike.

Maryam also reported that Ijlal Abdul Moneim, a 33-year-old Sudanese woman who was accused by the UAE authorities of conspiracy and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, was extremely sick and had a tumor in her neck and did not have proper medical care which aggravated her health situation.

Besides, Maryam Sulaiman Al-Balushi said that ever since the family of the detainee Alia Abdulnour, who is suffering from cancer, spoke of the situation of their daughter, “her suffering became even worse and they further increased the control over her." Whenever Maryam asks the policewomen about her situation, they always say that her condition is very bad, critical and close to death. Indeed, Maryam confessed in a voice recording that she had heard police officer Sundeya Al Naqbi and officer Shamsa order the bus driver to stay away from Alia Abdulnour, so she would walk a long distance to reach the bus, in order to abuse her.

It is known that the Federal Law No. 43 of 1992 on regulating penal institutions, affirmed in Chapter 3 that health care should be provided within the prison as well as medical care, doctors and gynecologists. In fact, the prison doctors should guarantee health care to all the prisoners and inspect the prison facility in order to verify the health situation, especially regarding hygiene and food.

Article 26 of the Basic Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners also states that “The medical officer shall regularly inspect and advise the director upon: ( a ) The quantity, quality, preparation and service of food; ( b ) The hygiene and cleanliness of the institution and the prisoners; ( c ) The sanitation, heating, lighting and ventilation of the institution; ( d ) The suitability and cleanliness of the prisoners' clothing and bedding; ( e ) The observance of the rules concerning physical education and sports.”

Humiliating and degrading inspection

Amina Alabdouli reported that the officers of Al-Wathba Prison, including Nepalese and Moroccan female guards, deliberately searched them in disgraceful and humiliating ways, touching them on their intimate body parts and forced them to be completely undressed without any justification, especially since they do not present a real danger that require such searches.

We recall that the Human Rights Council documents on the right to privacy, family, home, correspondence, protection of honor and reputation (Article 17, General Notice - 2001) include the inspection controls for prisoners and their visitors.

International standards on the treatment of detainees impose on staff working in detention centers to be more sensitive when searching women prisoners and avoid stripping them out of their clothes, which is known as strip-search, thus, humiliating them in flagrant violation of their privacy, respect for their dignity and fundamental rights of detainees.

Inappropriate and humiliating outfits

Article 17 of Federal Law No. 43 of 1992 on regulating penal institutions affirms that it is the right of female prisoners to wear their own clothes, but Amina al-Abdouli's statement confirms the opposite. Indeed, Al-Wathba prison administration deliberately made the detainees, who were in solitary confinement, wear light blue clothes and a light blue shirt with long sleeves. They did not allow them to wear their familiar civilian clothes brought to them by their families, which would make them more comfortable, as confirmed by the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Transfer from prison to court: GMC car and humiliating the prisoners’ dignity

Al-Wathba prison authorities have deliberately transferred the detainees to the court in a vehicle that does not have convenient transportation conditions and does not respect the humanity of the prisoners and protects their dignity. In fact, Amina Alabdouli reported that she and her brother Mosaab Alabdouli waited on 27 June 2016 in a GMC car and they deliberately closed the air conditioner for three hours pending the trial of another detainee Rabab Marouf Al-Nuaimi.

Amina Alabdouli also mentioned that when she was transferred from Al-Wathba prison on 30 June 2016, she heard the voice of one of the detainees in the GMC car who was screaming and crying because of suffocation, but the driver threatened to beat him if she didn’t keep quiet.

However, paragraph 2 of Article 45 of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, adopted by the Economic and Social Council in May 1977, states that: "The transport of prisoners in conveyances with inadequate ventilation or light, or in any way which would subject them to unnecessary physical hardship, shall be prohibited.”

Violation of the detainees’ right to visits and contact

The administration of Al-Razeen prison deliberately violates the detainees' right to contact their families and talk to them by phone. Amina Alabdouli was forced to go on hunger strike in protest against the fact that her children were denied from visiting her  more than once, despite the claim of Al-Wathba prison authorities to tighten the relation between the imprisoned mother and her children and to ensure the best interests for the children and their stability by granting them the right to both a direct visit with their mother and one through modern technologies.

Furthermore, detainee, Maryam Sulaiman Al-Balushi, reported that Major Mattar Al-Balushi forbid her mother from visiting her, even though she  came all the way from Kalba in addition to the fact that she has been prevented more than once from contacting her by phone. It is noteworthy that the UAE prison legislation gives her the right to call twice a month for 10 minutes each.

We recall that paragraph 37 of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners confirmed the right of a prisoner “to communicate with their family and reputable friends at regular intervals, both by correspondence and by receiving visits.”

As also reaffirmed by the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment and endorsed by the General Assembly No. 43/173 of 9 December 1988.

Recommendations

In view of the aforementioned violations against the rights of female detainees in Emirati prisons, including Al Wathba prison and their exposure to torture and ill-treatment in flagrant breach of their physical and psychological sanctity as well as the provisions of the UAE Constitution and international standards relating to human rights and detainees' rights in particular, the International Center for Justice and Human Rights in Geneva therefore calls upon the UAE authorities to:

  1. Immediately release all women detained in the UAE prisons because of their freedom of expression, whose rights and dignity have been violated, their confessions extracted under torture, and the denial of fair trial guarantees.

  2. To provide a special medical release of Alia Abdulnour and other sick detainees.

  3. Conduct a quick and serious investigation by an independent body into the allegations of torture and ill-treatment in women’s jail of Al-Wathba prison and other prisons in the United Arab Emirates that have affected the dignity and physical and psychological integrity of the detainees, and to hold accountable all those implicated and to enable of their right to redress and rehabilitation.

  4. Refrain from prohibiting lawyers and families of female detainees from visiting their daughters in Al-Wathba prison and other prisons in compliance with the Federal Law No. 43 of 1992 on regulating penal institutions, the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or the prison.

  5. Make the detention centers compatible with international standards regarding the safety and health conditions of the detainees and ensure their transfer in a respectable way and give them all their needs in a manner that preserves their dignity and prohibits humiliating and degrading searches.

  6. Set up a national human rights institution that works in accordance with the Principles on the Status of National Institutions (Paris Principles) in order to make independent visits to detention centers possible, monitor and investigate the violations of detainees’ rights and to bring those responsible before an independent and impartial judiciary.

  7. Allow the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, the Working Group on Enforced disappearances, the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, and International Human Rights Organizations to visit detention centers in the UAE including women’s jails in order to examine Emirati authorities’ respect to international standards and the dignity of detainees.

  8. Promptly ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, its two optional protocols, the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.