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UK: protest plane flown over Man City ground to highlight case of jailed Emirati activist

A protest banner being flown over the Etihad Stadium this afternoon © Marie-Anne Ventoura/Amnesty International UK

Fans and players will have seen ‘UAE - Free Ahmed Mansoor’ message in giant red lettering

Prominent Emirati activist has been arbitrarily jailed for more than six years 

‘We’re calling on City fans to join us in this campaign to free Ahmed’ - Sacha Deshmukh

Amnesty International UK campaigners have flown a protest plane over Manchester City FC’s Etihad Stadium shortly after kick-off in their lunchtime home game against Liverpool FC today. 

The plane, which circled the pitch for 15 minutes shortly after kick-off, carried a large banner saying “UAE - Free Ahmed Mansoor” in giant red lettering.

Mansoor is a blogger, poet and leading Emirati human rights activist who has been in jail and kept in solitary confinement in the UAE since 2017 as a direct result of his campaigning activity.

In 2017, Mansoor was convicted on charges which included “insulting the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols”, “publishing false information to damage the UAE’s reputation abroad” and “portraying the UAE as a lawless land”. The following year, Mansoor was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment, with the sentencing court also ordering that he be placed under surveillance for three years after release. His conviction and sentence were upheld by the country’s supreme court on 31 December 2018.

Manchester City is majority-owned by the Abu Dhabi United Group, run by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of the Emirati royal family and the UAE’s vice-president and deputy prime minister. The club is part of a wider portfolio of sports companies owned and controlled by the UAE, which - along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar - is a major investor in global sporting ventures. 

Amnesty’s plane stunt took place days before the UN climate change conference (COP28) is due to begin in Dubai. In addition to urging all nations to support urgently-needed measures to tackle the global climate crisis, Amnesty is calling on the UAE authorities to release Mansoor as part of a range of important human rights reforms. 

Earlier this month, a letter from five human rights groups - ALQST for Human Rights, Bahrain Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, Emirates Detainees Advocacy Center, FairSquare and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights - wrote to Bev Craig, head of Manchester City Council, asking the council to “publicly call” on the UAE government to release Mansoor from prison. The letter said the council’s “deep and long-standing relationship” with the Emirati authorities meant it had “a special responsibility to show support and solidarity with victims of repression by that government”. (See attachment for the full text of the letter).

In the lead-up to today’s game, campaigners from Amnesty’s Manchester group have also been leaving written messages about Mansoor’s plight in various items of team merchandise in the Man City Store in the Manchester’s Arndale shopping centre calling on City fans to join the campaign to help free Mansoor. These campaigners also unfurled a hand-held banner - with a message echoing the plane banner - outside the Etihad Stadium shortly after kick-off today.

Ahmed Mansoor is currently held in an isolation cell, is required to sleep on the floor, has no access to books, TV, radio, pens or paper, and is allowed outside his cell only three times a week and only when there are no other prisoners in the exercise yard. Amnesty’s online campaign for his release is here.  

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s Chief Executive, said: 

“The UAE has been sportswashing its global reputation through Manchester City while at the same time jailing Ahmed Mansoor and others simply for their peaceful human rights activism.

“Man City’s amazing success under Pep Guardiola owes a great deal to Emirati funding, and we’re calling on City fans to join us in this campaign to free Ahmed. 

“Today’s plane stunt is a way of saying: ‘look up from the pitch and see the bigger picture - a huge injustice has occurred, and the owners of Man City are the ones who can right this wrong’.”  

An Amnesty Manchester group spokesperson said:

“The least we Mancunians can do for Ahmed is to shout his name loud and clear so Sheikh Mansour can hear.

“As well as today’s banner and plane protest, three of our group recently visited the Man City store in the city centre and spent half an hour browsing through merchandise and slipping notes into clothing pockets, drink bottles and the turn-ups on bobble hats. 

“We hope our ‘gifts’ are found by many fans over the coming weeks and that they take a few minutes to read the notes and find out more about the human rights situation in the UAE - information their team’s owners would rather they didn’t know.”

Mass round-ups

Before arbitrarily detaining Ahmed Mansoor in 2017, the UAE authorities had rounded up scores of people in a grossly unfair mass trial of 94 defendants (known as “the UAE-94”) that concluded in 2013. Sixty of these are still in prison today. At least 11 of these prisoners are being held incommunicado, denied all visits and calls with their family members. Local human rights sources and families of prisoners indicate this number could be higher. The UAE will host the 28th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28), starting on 30 November. However, with restrictions on civic space and an ongoing clampdown on the rights to freedom of expression and association, the conference will be without credible Emirati voices able to advocate for human rights reforms in the country

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Letter to Bev Craig