UAE authorities refuse to release prisoners of conscience despite the outbreak of COVID-19 inside the prisons.


The UAE has recorded new cases of Coronavirus amidst the second wave of the pandemic, exceeding one thousand case, many of which are inside the prisons and detention centers.

In fact, families of detained activists, political opponents and prisoners of conscience have testified that their sons have shown symptoms of COVID-19. 

The detainees affirmed having fever, fatigue, dyspnea, pain in the joints and bones, and inability to sleep or eat.

Family of Lebanese detainee Ahmed Sobh, who was sentenced to ten years imprisonment, confirmed that he had contracted Coronavirus in Al-Wathba Prison. They further affirmed that other Lebanese inmates, including Hussein Barda, Abdul Rahman Shoman, Ali Al-Mabdar, Abdullah Hani Abdullah and Ahmed Makkawi have showed early symptoms of the epidemic including fever, weakness and fatigue.

Omani detainee Abdullah Awad Salem Al Shamsi, has tested positive for Covid-19 inside Al-Wathba Prison.  He was arrested by the UAE State Security Service together on August 18, 2018 at 11 a.m, for spying for the benefit of the State of Qatar. The UAE authorities forced Al Shamsi to film a video on January 7, 2020 wearing an Omani outfit, confirming his relations with the State of Qatar.

Several cases were recorded in Ward No. 9, Ward No. 4, and Ward No. 6 of Al Wathba Prison.

The ICJHR believes that the virus has spread in all wards of Al Wathba jail due to the overcrowding and lack of basic hygiene. Amid a worldwide pandemic, such conditions are treacherous. 

Indeed, Emirati Prison Authorities refuse to disclose the true number of infected inmates and lack transparency in dealing with this pandemic. Suspected cases and new detainees were not isolated and quarantined before being placed in the wards with the rest of the inmates.

Tests for the coronavirus were not conducted and the prison health system has been ruled unconstitutionally inadequate especially with presence of unsanitary conditions and lack of cleaning materials and face masks.

Social distancing is nearly impossible inside the rooms and wards in addition to the health negligence and denial of adequate medical care for those suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes, blood pressure, heart and respiratory diseases which caused the death of Alia Abdel Nour on May 4, 2019 and led some detainees to go on hunger strikes.

The Center recalls that the third chapter of the Federal Law No. 43 of 1992 on Regulating Penal Institutions, emphasizes the importance of health care, in addition to international standards regarding the treatment of detainees which affirmed the duty of prison administration to provide medical care and doctors for the inmates.

Several family members said they hadn’t been able to communicate with their imprisoned relatives for weeks without due reason, which happened with human rights activists Ahmed Mansoor and Hassan Munif Al-Jabri. The UAE government is therefore violating the Federal Law No. 43 of 1992 on Regulating Penal Institutions, the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, and the set of principles relating to the protection of all persons subjected to any Some form of detention or imprisonment, which guarantee the right to have family visits.

The ICJHR has criticized in its previous releases the UAE’s failure to adhere to international human rights demands calling for the release of prisoners of conscience and the reduce of overcrowding inside the prisons, in order to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, as confirmed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Michelle Bachelet.

However, the UAE officials are still refusing to release political prisoners, human rights defenders and bloggers, including the elderly and the sick, even after finishing their sentences and being imprisoned for more than eight years, such as the case of the UAE94 group.

Indeed, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had already confirmed in its opinion, under No. 60/2013, the arbitrary arrest of sixty-one defendants in the well-known case of “UAE94” and asked the UAE government to immediately release and provide them with appropriate compensation.

Despite the outbreak of Coronavirus inside the prisons, the UAE authorities haven’t release activists unlawfully detained Al Razeen counseling Center despite the completion of their sentences, without a time limit or the right to appeal against the decision, claiming that they represent a terrorist threat. Among them are acctivists Mahmoud Al Hosani, the two brothers, Abdullah and Fahad Al-Hajri, Ahmed Muhammad Al-Mulla, Abdullah Al-Hilu, Saeed Al-Buraimi, and many others.

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare several unsettling truths about UAE’s prison system. Emirati authorities are therefore bound to immediately release human rights activists, bloggers, and political opponents and conduct an impartial investigation into their abuses. They shall also bring to justice all the responsible and give the victims the right to remedy, redress and reparation.

They are also called to allow families of the inmates to visit and communicate remotely with their sons through phone or internet and be transparent and publicly announce the rates of coronavirus sufferers in UAE jails and provide them with the appropriate medical care.

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