An appeals court in the United Arab Emirates has sentenced a prominent human-rights activist to 10 years in prison for damaging the reputation of the country on social media, according to multiple local newspapers that had reporters in court.
Ahmed Mansoor was found guilty of using social media to publish “rumors and lies about the UAE” and “promote sectarian feelings and hatred,” one reporter cited prosecutors as saying.
The court also ordered the maximum fine of 1 million dirhams ($270,000), three years’ probation after his sentence is completed, the confiscation of all his communication devices “used in the crimes” and the closure of his social-media accounts and websites.
The details of the comments for which he was convicted were not immediately clear.
Mansoor was charged under the draconian 2012 cybercrime law, which criminalizes the publication of any information or rumors online “with intent to make sarcasm or damage the reputation, prestige or stature of the state” or any of its rulers, its institutions, its flag, or its anthem.
Rights groups were quick to condemn the conviction and demand his release.
“The UAE has exposed itself as a brutally repressive place more interested in sending rights defenders to rot in jail than in any real reform,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“So long as Mansoor remains in prison, no amount of money nor army of public relations firms will be able to wash away this stain on the UAE’s reputation,” she added.
“Ahmed Mansoor is one of the few openly critical voices in the UAE, and his persecution is another nail in the coffin for human-rights activism in the country,” Amnesty International’s Lynn Maalouf said in a statement Thursday.
Mansoor’s arrest in March 2017 was the second time the 48-year-old had fallen foul of the UAE laws on insulting the state.
In 2011, he was one of five activists – collectively known as the “UAE 5” – tried for “insulting the UAE’s leaders” in a high-profile case that garnered international attention.
They were sentenced to three years in prison but were pardoned the next day by the nation’s president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahayan.
The five men were among 133 Emiratis who – inspired by the Arab Spring – petitioned the president for direct elections and legislative reform.