Geneva, on July 29, 2019
Yesterday July 28 marked the anniversary of Alya Abdulnoor’s arrest by the State Security forces in the United Arab Emirates. Four years ago, a nightmare started for Alya and her family, that none of them could have predicted.
Alya Abdulnoor was a social worker in her forties from a middle-class family working. Those who knew her described a very generous person who never missed an opportunity to help others.
In a show of solidarity after the beginning of the Syrian crisis, many Emirati citizens have provided help to Syrian refugees in the UAE and war-affected families in Syria. Many of them have also expressed their support to the Syrian revolution and strongly criticised the Syrian regime. If the UAE authorities first welcomed many Syrian refugees, they later expelled many of them, especially those who explicitly opposed the regime of Bashar Al-Assad. Criticism of the Syrian regime and other allies was also severely repressed. Alya and many other Emiratis were arrested for providing financial support to needy families in Syria.
State Security forces raided Abdulnoor’s house on July 28, 2015, and violently arrested her without a warrant. They searched the house and threatened her family before taking her to an undisclosed location where she was held for months in appalling conditions. For four months, she was denied contact with the outside world and was not granted the right to see a lawyer. She was kept in a dark narrow cell and interrogated under continuous torture and psychological pressure. She was eventually forced to sign written confessions after her interrogators threatened to kill her parents and rape her sister.
Diagnosed with a cancer relapse roughly a month after her arrest, Alya was denied adequate medical treatment and kept in secret detention under torture until her first appearance before the Public Prosecutor three months later. She was later sentenced to 10 years in jail on the basis of the confessions she was forced to sign under torture.
Despite her health condition, she remained at Al-Wathba prison without proper medical care until her transfer, a year later, to Mafraq hospital, after her state of health had significantly deteriorated. Even at the hospital, the victim was not provided with adequate medical care, and the tumour continued to spread throughout her body for years until it reached her vital organs.
In November 2018, the doctors announced that Alya was living her final days. The family demanded that Alya be allowed to leave the hospital and die in dignity at home. Instead of releasing her, the authorities transferred Abdulnoor to Tawam hospital in January 2019. When her family visited her at Tawam hospital, she was chained to her bed in a windowless room heavily guarded and without ventilation.
In February, UN experts sent an urgent appeal to the UAE and issued a public statement calling upon the Emirati government to immediately release Alya Abdulnoor on medical ground and allow her to “live her last days of life in dignity and with her family at home.” The authorities ignored the UN experts’ demands and did not take any step to improve Alya’s situation.
On Saturday, May 4, 2019, Alya Abdulnoor, still shackled to her bed, eventually died in the hospital. As promised by her guards who told her mother once that “the chains will not be removed before her death”, Alya was finally freed from her chains and her dead body was handed over to her family for burial.
During these four past years, the family of Alya has suffered constant pressure and intimidation. Months after their daughter’s death, Abdulnoor’s family were again threatened and intimidated to stop speaking out about their late daughter’s case. Weeks ago, the State Security forces raided the family’s house and searched it without a warrant. They ordered the mother to stop talking about her daughter’s case and threatened to physically harm Alya’s siblings.
The story of Alya Abdulnoor is an example of the suffering that many have experienced and are still experiencing in Emirati jails. The practice of torture and systematic offences against human dignity in the United Arab Emirates have made countless victims. Human rights organisations have made public many of those cases. Yet, several other cases remain unknown and many victims prefer to remain silent for fear of reprisals.