Report: UAE activist sentenced to 10 years for online posts

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Leading Emirati rights activist Ahmed Mansoor has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined 1 million dirhams, or about $272,000, for criticizing the government in social media posts, local news reports said Wednesday.

The National, an Abu Dhabi-based newspaper, reported that Mansoor was found guilty of insulting the “status and prestige of the UAE” and its leaders. It said Mansoor can appeal the State Security Court ruling through the Federal Supreme Court.

Another UAE outlet, the Dubai-based Gulf News said the defendant, identified only as “AMS” by his initials, will be under surveillance for three years after prison. It said the defendant, who had a court-appointed lawyer, was convicted on Tuesday of defaming the United Arab Emirates on Twitter and Facebook.

He was acquitted on other charges of cooperating with a “terrorist organization” outside the country, news reports said.

Human Rights Watch condemned Mansoor’s sentencing, saying it exposes the UAE’s inability “to tolerate the mildest of criticisms from a genuine reformer.”

“A 10-year sentence for ‘defaming’ the UAE is all you need to know about the brutality and repression beneath the Emirates’ gilded facade,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Mideast director at HRW.

Mansoor was the recipient of the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2015. He was also a member of Human Rights Watch’s advisory committee on the Mideast and North Africa and a member of the Gulf Center for Human Rights’ advisory board.

He was arrested in March 2017 when security forces raided his home in the emirate of Ajman, confiscating computers and phones.

Amnesty International said his iPhone had been targeted using elite spyware in an attempt to turn it into a tracking device and find out who his contacts were. The incident led to Apple issuing a security update to the iPhone in August 2016, according to Amnesty.

In the weeks leading up to his arrest, Mansoor had criticized the imprisonment of other activists in the UAE, including Nasser bin-Ghaith, an academic and economist who was sentenced to 10 years after his criticism of Emirati and Egyptian authorities.

Human Rights Watch previously reported that Mansoor had also used Twitter to draw attention to rights violations committed by the Saudi-led coalition at war in Yemen, of which the UAE is an active member.

The charges Mansoor was found guilty of apparently fall under the country’s 2012 cybercrimes law, which HRW says authorities in the UAE have used to imprison numerous activists.

Mansoor had previously been detained in 2011 and sentenced to three years in prison for insulting top officials. He was pardoned later that year by the country’s president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, but was banned from traveling abroad.