March 19 – On March 17 2020, United Nations (UN) human rights experts urged the United Arab Emirates to conduct an investigation into, and reform prisons where conditions of detention are said to amount to “torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

The UN experts are quoted saying: the “UAE has the responsibility to protect the rights of individuals deprived of their liberty, by ensuring that the conditions of detention respect their dignity and mental integrity”.

The UN’s statements follow recent allegations of Ms Maryam Suliman Al-Balushi’s attempted suicide in Al-Wathba Prison in Abu Dhabi.

Maryam Suliman Al-Balushi, a 21-year-old student at the College of Technology in the city of Kulba, was accused of “financing terrorism” after she donated money to a Syrian family. While being detained in a secret detention centre, Al-Balushi was repeatedly beaten and threatened with rape. Furthermore, Al-Balushi lived under constant surveillance; cameras were placed in her bathroom specifically to humiliate her. Regardless of the fact that her mother travelled extensively to see her, she was denied the visit. In response to the torture, Al-Balushi started multiple hunger strikes to demand an investigation, but her concerns were not addressed. Her conviction was coerced through torture in 2016, and she has been serving her sentence since.

  In an official communication to UAE authorities, UN human rights experts expressed their deep concern at the conditions and ill treatment of Ms Al-Balushi, and two other women – Ms Amina Ahmed Saeed Al-Aladouli and Ms Alia Abdulnour, all of whom experienced deterioration in health coupled with an inadequate provision  medical care.

According to the experts, Ms Al-Balushi has been further subjected to reprisals following an official communication sent by the UN to UAE authorities, which requested information about the current physical and mental health status of the three women, and inquired into why Ms Al-Balushi had not been released on health grounds, providing “the critical nature of her medical condition”. Moreover, it was found that during detention, Ms Al-Balushi has been subjected to “inhuman conditions including … being held in solitary confinement on multiple occasions for extended periods, most recently since mid-February”.

The experts recalled that the UN Committee against Torture and the UN Human Rights Committee have consistently found that conditions of detention can amount to inhuman and degrading treatment.

Read the OHCHR report here