'Let us know when she's dead': Cancer patient tortured in UAE prison

'Let us know when she's dead': Cancer patient tortured in UAE prison
Cancer patient Alia Abdulnoor has been left to die in isolation, chained to a hospital bed, after being subjected to extreme forms of torture inside a UAE prison.
6 min read
31 May, 2018
The UAE has been condemned for its abysmal human rights record [Getty]
Alia Abdulnoor is a cancer patient imprisoned in the UAE, currently handcuffed in isolation and left to die. She has been held for the past three years, as has her sister, and has been subjected to so much abuse by prison guards that other inmates deemed the pair "dangerous to talk to".

Alia was fully dependent on her sister when they were both arrested in November 2015. She was eventually charged with financing international terrorist groups, though the only evidence presented was a record of websites she had visited. She has never been politically active, other than to collect donations for women and children affected by the war in Syria.

The beatings and psychological torture she endured while battling cancer crammed into an eight-person prison cell with between 20 and 40 others at any given time caused her to develop severe depression as her physical health deteriorated.

After several months, allegedly under threat of her sister being killed, she was forced to sign what she believes to be a confession and sentenced to ten years in jail.
Giving testimony on Wednesday at an event hosted by the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK (AOHR UK), a former prisoner and friend of Alia described the ordeal that she was forced to endure.

The witness, whose name The New Arab has agreed to omit from this report for her personal safety, described the ongoing abuse Alia faces at the hands of the "merciless" officers. Alia has now been placed in isolation and denied medical care.

The witness was one of the sisters' cellmates, with the bunk immediately above the pair, and carries the trauma of witnessing her friend slowly dying due to the UAE's unjust prison system, as well as the memory of her own experiences.

Basic antiseptic or cleaning products were not provided, let alone medical attention

"I have seen with my own eyes many situations that have happened with Asma and her sister, each one worse than another," Alia's friend said. Her voice was shaking as she forced herself to recount the memories, unable to speak about her own ordeal.

"She was treated worse than other prisoners and her living area was unhygienic for a cancer patient - basic antiseptic or cleaning products were not provided, let alone medical attention."

Alia was forced to eat food that was inedible even for healthy prisoners, including expired food and cockroach-contaminated rice. Some of the food and water supplied even contained sedatives to drug inmates.

'Let us know when she's dead'

Asma used to beg prison officers for medical attention for her sister, and they would laugh at her, telling her to let them know when Alia died. At times, prison officers would lie and say a medic was coming, leaving them waiting as none ever arrived.

The times she did receive medical attention, a nurse would give Alia strong and addictive painkillers that often did little to relieve her pain because of how severe her condition had become.

"Even with heavy sedatives, she is unable to eat, communicate, stand up or pray," the witness said.

A year and a half ago, the prison warden at al-Wathba prison - dubbed "the Guantanamo Bay of the UAE" - ordered Alia to be sent to isolation at a hospital so that her fellow inmates "do not watch her die".

Authorities are awaiting her death at al-Mafraq Hospital, where Alia is being treated "like a drug addict in rehab". Her hospital room has no windows and she is cuffed by her arms and legs to the hospital bed with up to three officers watching over her at all times.

She has been living like this for a year and five months since her transfer, the witness said.

Another detainee at Al-Wathba prison was allowed a brief phone call, the recording of which
was published by The International Center for Justice and Human Rights.
The New Arab has not been able to independently verify the recording

Alia's family members are not allowed direct contact with her, and her condition has deteriorated to such an extent that hospital staff are refusing to update them on her health situation.

Systematic torture of women

The UAE, known for its abysmal human rights record, leaves no perceived threat to the state untouched. The lack of judicial oversight leaves officers to limitlessly subject prisoners to physical, psychological and sexual abuse.

Hannah Phillips, a researcher for AOHR UK, said people kept captive - many of them political activists - have no access to lawyers, leaving them open to abuse.

I don't care, I can say this: police [are] animal, [they] aren't normal

Up to 80 women are sometimes placed in a space designed for eight inmates and hygeine standards are so low that prisoners are given filthy blankets to sleep in bug-infested cells, she alleged.

Watch: Testimonies and discussion from the AOHR UK conference

Prisoners, including women, are forced to sign documents that they are not allowed to read. If they ask to read the document or refuse to give a confession, they are beaten.

Another former captive, who also withheld her identity but disclosed she was in the UAE on a tourist visa, said neither English nor Arabic was her first language - yet she was forced to sign a document that she did not understand and she was beaten with a stick on her hand each time she refused to sign.

"I don't care, I can say this: police [are] animal, [they] aren't normal," she testified to the conference via video call - as she too opened up about the lack of healthcare and the appalling conditions in which she was held.

She alleged mercenary prison guards were being hired from Nepal to abuse inmates. Imran al-Radwan began a hunger strike last year after alleging he had been sexually abused by Nepalese guards in a UAE prison.

In addition to the stark abuses, "the tourist" added that inmates are institutionally set up against each other, based on their class and race. Women who do not have money to bribe prison guards are often treated as sub-human.

Suicide is rampant in prisons, she said. She witnessed two in her six-month imprisonment.

Ongoing violations

Alia's case is not isolated, it comes in the context of a regime which has in its institutional fabric cracked down on anyone who is perceived to be a threat, including average civilians happen to tweet the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Rodney Dixon, a lawyer who has worked on human rights violations in the Gulf states, including in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, stressed the systematic torture of women in UAE prisons was something that "highlights very much what the government there is all about".

Despite decades of global campaigns against the abuses of the Abu Dhabi government, the state only appears to be deepening its totalitarian nature.

Follow Diana Alghoul on Twitter: @SuperKnafeh