Jordanian activist Ahmed al-Atoum’s mother dies while he serves his 10-year prison sentence in the UAE for Facebook posts

March 06, 2024

MENA Rights Group leads a coalition of human rights organisations in calling on UAE authorities to immediately release arbitrarily detained Jordanian activist Ahmed al-Atoum after his mother's sudden passing. While al-Atoum is serving a 10-year sentence for Facebook posts criticising Jordanian authorities, he did not get a chance to say goodbye to his mother, nor to grieve her death with his family.

The United Arab Emirates should immediately free and quash the sentence of the arbitrarily imprisoned Jordanian activist Ahmed al-Atoum, whose mother passed away on February 10, 2024 without saying her final goodbye to her son, MENA Rights Group, Emirates Detainees Advocacy Center (EDAC), Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today.

Since 2020, al-Atoum has been serving a 10-year sentence in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for his criticism of Jordanian authorities and state corruption. Jordanian authorities should publicly call on the UAE to release al-Atoum and allow him to return home and reunite with his family.

Al-Atoum, 49, is a Jordanian national who worked as a teacher in Abu Dhabi. Before his arrest, he had been living in the UAE for about five years. He frequently voiced political opinions on his Facebook profile, notably criticising the king of Jordan and denouncing allegations of corruption by Jordanian authorities.

He was arrested on May 14, 2020, by members of the UAE State Security Apparatus (SSA) in Abu Dhabi. He was detained incommunicado and placed in prolonged solitary confinement for at least four months. He is currently held in al-Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi.

On July 27, 2020, al-Atoum was referred to the Chamber of State Security of the Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal and charged under Article 166 of the UAE’s (pre-2022) Penal Code, which broadly criminalizes any act – including expression – that could “harm political relations” with another state or harm the Emirati state’s “interests.” Family members said the court only provided a lawyer after his first hearing, on August 12, 2020. Neither his family members nor his lawyer have been permitted to visit him.

On October 7, 2020, al-Atoum was sentenced by the State Security Chamber at the Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal to 10 years in prison. He was found guilty, in the words of the court’s judgement, of “taking action against a foreign country that would offend political relations through his Facebook account and through publishing news and information that include mockery and that insult the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” and “promoting ideas that could incite or stir discord and disturb public order and peace.”

Al-Atoum was sentenced to prison for exercising his right to freedom of expression, the human rights groups said. The court convicted him solely on the basis of his criticism of the Jordanian royal family and government, referring to Facebook posts in which he alluded to corruption at the monarchy’s level and hinted that Jordanian authorities arrest those who report corruption.

UAE authorities have long used broadly worded laws to restrict freedom of expression in violation of international standards. One of the provisions used to convict al-Atoum, article 166 of the (pre-2022) Penal Code, had notably also been used against Nasser bin Ghaith, an Emirati scholar who was sentenced to two years in prison for posting a series of tweets that directly or implicitly criticised Egyptian authorities.

In November 2021, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an Opinion stating that al-Atoum is being detained arbitrarily and calling on the authorities to immediately release him. The UN Working Group maintained that the authorities failed to establish a legal basis for detaining al-Atoum, and that the fair trial violations he faced were of such gravity as to make his detention arbitrary. It also said that al-Atoum was detained for exercising his right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Despite repeated calls for his release, he remains arbitrarily detained in al-Wathba prison. Tragically, his mother died 3 weeks ago, knowing her son is unjustly imprisoned and unable to bid him farewell.

Emirati authorities should immediately release al-Atoum and allow him to reunite with his loved ones, the groups said. Keeping him detained while his mother died only adds to the cruelty and injustice of his arbitrary detention.


Amnesty International

Emirates Detainees Advocacy Center (EDAC)

Human Rights Watch

MENA Rights Group

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