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Emirati activist surviving six weeks of hunger strike

A man walks past the Dubai Courts, 1 November 2012
A man walks past the Dubai Courts, 1 November 2012

REUTERS/Jumana ElHeloueh

This statement was originally published on on 11 July 2017. It is republished here under Creative Commons license CC-BY 3.0.

By Afef Abrougui

Emirati human rights activist Imran Radwan is one of 94 activists who were prosecuted en masse in 2013 for calling for political reform in the Emirates, on charges related to "harming state security."

He is currently serving a seven-year jail sentence in Al-Razeen prison in Abu Dhabi, where political and human rights activists have been proven to encounter poor conditions and treatment.

Six weeks ago, Radwan decided to take matters into his own hands using one of the few tactics of resistance available to political prisoners: he began a hunger strike.

According to the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE), al-Radwan was strip-searched, along with other prisoners:

The inspection was completed in a humiliating manner with prisoners stripped naked with only small towels covering their genitals, which - in such a conservative community - is considered a form of sexual abuse that is extremely humiliating.

ICFUAE also cited concerns from the International Centre for Justice and Human Rights which highlighted "the violation of the right to privacy and physical and moral integrity and the violation of the regulations which govern prison inspections."

Maria Di Lenna, campaigns coordinator at the ICFUAE, told Global Voices that her organization last received updates on Radwan's hunger strike last week. Family members, who requested to remain anonymous, expressed concerns about his health. She said:

The only medical examination he's had shows that his kidney is suffering from the prolonged hunger strike. Although weak, he is determined to continue his strike. The last time they visited him, they couldn't even speak to him because the speakers/mics were not working.

Since his arrest in 2012 and sentencing in 2013, Radwan has been subjected to ill treatment. According to a report published in 2015 by the Gulf Center for Human Rights on torture in the UAE, Radwan was subjected to constant surveillance, prevented from seeing his lawyer, denied a bed to sleep on or a chair to sit on, prevented from using his eye glasses, and deprived of sunlight.

Radwan is not the only political prisoner who has staged a hunger strike in such conditions. In April, economist and academic Nasser Bin Ghaith began a hunger strike after a UAE court sentenced him to ten years in jail for publishing online posts that were deemed "offensive to the state" and publishing "false information" on Twitter.

Facing lengthy and unfair trials, solitary confinement, abuse and ill treatment, for prisoners like Radwan and Bin Ghaith, going on hunger strike is one of few remaining mechanisms for drawing attention to their mistreatment. But thus far, it has not deterred the UAE authorities from continuing and intensifying their repressive tactics.

"The UAE authorities have denied hunger strikers appropriate medical care and even threatened to force-feed them," Di Lenna from the ICFUAE told Global Voices. She added:

This not only shows their negligence towards prisoners' rights but also their active opposition to political dissidents specifically. Their practices of ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience are not only a form of deterrence but also a tool to repress any critical voices within the UAE.

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