Emirates Detainees Advocacy Center

Al-Wathba Prison: This is How Detainees Live in “The Country of Tolerance & Prosperity”

3 Nov 2021
متوفر باللغة

The detainees of conscience in the UAE prisons Alia Abdel Nour did not know that the simple pain that accompanied her inside the prison would lead to her death, as a result of deliberate medical negligence and the delay of the prison administration in treating her from cancer.

At first, Alia was transferred to Al-Mafraq Governmental Hospital, although it was not suitable to treat her due to her health condition, and there she was given analgesics throughout her detention, which worsened her health condition.

Alia fainted periodically, and repeatedly fell while she was in the bathroom, and this was only discovered after a long period of her absence in the bathroom, after the guards inspected her lateness.

In the end, Alia died in Tawam Hospital in Al Ain, while her hands and feet were bound in intensive care unit, despite her difficult health condition.

This is one of the most famous cases documented by Emirates Detainees Advocacy Centre (EDAC) of how is the situation in Al Wathba Prison, one of the largest and most notorious prisons in the UAE, which located 40 km east of the Abu Dhabi desert, south of the country.

The prison was officially opened in 1982, and it was established as a centre for rehabilitation to house prisoners with criminal backgrounds, such as drug dealers and thieves, but as a result of prisons overcrowding, Al Wathba has become housing all types of prisoners, whether they are detainees of conscience or even detainees for simple reasons such as traffic violations.

According to the Emirati newspaper, Al-Ittihad, the capacity of the Al-Wathba prison in the men’s section reaches 2,400 prisoners, but the actual number of prisoners exceeds 4000, while the capacity of the women’s section is 200, but the actual number of female inmates reaches 500, which turned the prison into a health hazardous place, even animals cannot live inside it.

The newspaper claimed in its report which was published in 2008 that within two years a new prison will be built next to the current prison, with a capacity of 5,000 prisoners and 500 female prisoners, in order to solve all problems, but despite the passage of more than 12 years since the publication of the report, this plan has not been implemented.

According to exclusive photos obtained by EDAC, the prison consists of 4 buildings, 3 of which are designated for holding men, and a separate building for women, in addition to independent buildings such as the clinic and the library.

Prison Management

In democratic countries that respect human rights and separate authorities, the administration of prisons is under the management of a civilian body affiliated with the government. In some countries, such as India, Brazil, and Germany, there is a (civilian) ministry specialized in managing prisons that supervises them. In other countries, prison administration is usually placed under the authority of the Ministry of Justice so that there is a clear organizational separation between the police and the prisons administrations.

Some countries such as the United States and Canada combine the two systems, with some prisons under the administration of an independent prison administration authority (a civilian body) under the government, and others under the administration of the Ministry of Justice.

In non-democratic countries, the prison administration is under a (military) authority or the Ministry of the Interior, and these prisons are administered by police and military officers of different ranks.

In the UAE, the prison administration falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior, and is managed by police officers under the supervision of the Public Prosecution, in accordance with the provisions of Article 4 of the Law on the Organization of Punitive Institutions, under the formal supervision of the Public Prosecution, which does not do almost anything except the verification of the number of prisoners. According to what some detainees told EDAC, when they tried to talk to the prosecutor in order to file a complaint about the food, he (the prosecutor) was replying: "I am not here to listen to your problems, I came to check the number of prisoners only."

The actual director of Al-Wathba prison is Major Ibrahim Al-Hammadi, the director of security in the prison. many detainees mentioned to his name to EDAC in the context of talking about cruel treatment and inhumane violations.

Procedures Of Admission to The Prison

After taking the eye-scan from the prisoner, and when the detainees are transferred inside, the prisoner is completely stripped, as a Nepalese worker searches them in a humiliating manner, including sensitive areas, and many cases have been documented in which the prisoner was searched in a humiliating manner contrary to the respect for the human body.

If any prisoner objects to being stripped and refuses to do so, the guards will handcuff him and strip him against his will, and then he is transferred to the solitary punitive cells.

After the prisoner subjected to inspection, he is placed in a temporary reception room called (Transit). It is a 4x8 meters room in which the prisoner spends his first day, pending his placement in the designated ward.

If the prison entered this room on a weekend, or another day off, he would remain inside it until the next working day.

According to what EDAC documented, the number of prisoners inside the mentioned room may sometimes reach 140 people, and there is only one toilet with one washbasin, and the bathroom is never cleaned, full of faeces, without flooding water, and because when the prisoner enters, all his belongings are taken from him, he would be obliged to enters this room barefooted. Also, there is no ventilation in the room, such as a fan or air conditioner.

While the prisoner is inside the room, his hair is completely shaved, and a blood sample is taken from him, and then they will move him to a ward according to his case.

Prison Wards

The prison has 6 wards dedicated to drug criminals, symbolized by the letter (D), and it accommodates about 650 inmates, but the actual number of prisoners exceeds 800. There are also 10 wards for other cases, such as homicides, financial crimes, fraud and scam crimes, symbolized by the letter (B), with a capacity of about 1,500 prisoners, but the actual number is up to 2,000, and there are 8 wards dedicated to solitary confinement distributed among the various buildings of the prison.

The prison administration places detainees for political reasons, such as detainees of conscience, in the wards designated for solitary confinement, and isolates them from the rest of the detainees in two wards: B9 and B6.

According to the detainees’ testimonies, all the wards are overcrowded in an inhumane way, for example, according to what some detainees told EDAC, prisoners in the drug wards sleep in the corridors, due to the lack of beds, and in a ward no.1, inmates sometimes sleep in the ward’s prayer room, because the cells are full, to the extent of no place to put feet, and this happened more than once in ward 9, which remains permanently overcrowded because many inmates are not covered by any pardon decrees issued by the authorities, and their sentences are usually more than 5 years.

The Situation Inside the Wards

EDAC has documented, through many former detainees, the situation of the prison’s wards, as they reported that most of the rooms in the lower wards contain 4 beds, accommodating 12 prisoners, but as a result of prison overcrowding, the room actually includes more than 20 people, and the majority of prisoners are forced to sleep on floor between the beds, and as an alternative to the beds, the prisoner is given a pillow which is dirty and thin, and sometimes this pillow is difficult to obtain, and sheets are dirty, and there is no way to wash them except in the shower area, as for the upper wards, its rooms consist of only 8 beds.

In one of the rare government confessions about this situation, the sate-run newspaper Al-Ittihad quoted a Lebanese prisoner, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for using heroin, as saying that “the treatment is bad inside the wards”, and he slept for 3 consecutive days without a pillow, adding that he “could not tolerate to stay in the room," referring to the bad situation in the wards.

The toilets inside the dormitory are dirty and the walls as well, and full of insects. most of the time, toilets are without lights, and it takes 3 months to repair it.

According to some detainees: more than 20 people use the same toilet, and most of the time, especially on Fridays, there is no water, which makes the smell unpleasant, and there are no detergents in the rooms, which forces the prisoners to use their own soap for cleaning.

In addition, there is no kitchen in the wards, but “common areas” for every 300 prisoners, used for eating, and there are only two garbage containers, which makes the place very dirty.

In the same area there is only one television set, and quarrels often occur between prisoners because of this.

Guards’ Treatment

Many detainees complained about the treatment of prison guards, with some stating that prison guards collectively punish prisoners for any wrongdoing.

One of the detainees stated to EDAC that Al Hammadi prevented prisoners in one of the wards from using phones, the library, and the canteen for an entire week because he saw water on the ground.

According to what the detainees say, most prison officials are uneducated and only speak Arabic, and they treat prisoners badly, and when prisoners complain about the bad food, and the insects, they reply that “these are the advantages of food.”

Prison officials refuse to listen to any complaint, and when the prisoner wants to make a request or complaint he must write a letter to the prison administration, where the letters are collected in a large box, often thrown in the garbage without a response.

In one of the incidents documented by EDAC, in October 2020, prisoners in security ward No. 9 set a fire inside it to inform the prison administration about a prisoner who had committed suicide, because guards refused to listen to them. His body remained inside the cell for a long time.

EDAC refrains from mentioning the name of the prisoner who committed suicide, out of respect for the privacy of the deceased and his family, while emphasizing that EDAC possesses all documents related to this incident.

Health Care in Prison

The clinic is located outside the prison building, and access to it is by walking, although some prisoners are unable to do so due to their health conditions.

Inside the clinic, there are 3 nurses and a general practitioner, but they only attend during official working hours, and there is a dentist and dermatologist, but they only attend one day a week.

According to what many detainees mentioned to EDAC, the health care inside the prison is very poor, and going to the clinic is difficult and rare, and the doctor is not available in most cases. Among the security cases prisoners, they can only go in the morning, and often no one is summoned from the security prisoners’ ward.

All the cases contacted by EDAC, indicated that there was deliberate medical negligence, whereby the doctor and nurses were only giving painkillers such as Paracetamol to the detainees without following up on their cases.

As a result of the unhygienic situation inside the prison, and the lack of clean water, many diseases spread among prisoners, most notably, according to what EDAC has learned: skin allergies, kidney stones, and tooth decay.

Some detainees mentioned to EDAC strange symptoms and diseases without verifying what are these diseases. They also indicated that the dentist is removing the decay instead of treating it.

The detainees told EDAC that the prison administration was deliberately delaying to call the nurse, in the event that a prisoner was in pain, and that the nurse often did not come.

One of the female prisoners whose case EDAC documented was screaming in pain, and when she called the doctor, the guards started laughing instead of bringing the nurse.

EDAC has documented a large number of cases of medical negligence that led to the death of the prisoner, or the exacerbation of his disease as a result of the lack of health care.

One of these cases, M.B., an Egyptian, was suffering from severe pain, and in June 2019 he requested to go to the clinic due to the intensification of his pain, but the prison administration refused, and then transferred him to the clinic after he fainted.

The nurse on duty in the clinic gave him an analgesic (Paracetamol) due to the absence of the doctor, and a few moments after he was returned to prison, he had a stroke and died instantly.

EDAC has also documented several cases of medical negligence of cancer patients inside the prison, the most famous of which is Alia Abdel Nour.

Prison Facilities

EDAC has documented the nature of prison facilities, where inside the wards there is a small and crowded space for open-air and exposure to the sun, and there is no actual place for workout, as the sports area is originally a place for praying.

There is also a library inside the prison, but the detainees informed EDAC that it was difficult to go there, and mentioned the bad treatment of its supervisors, as they do not encourage any activities at all, and most of the time the detainees of conscience are prevented from visiting it and even from borrowing books.

Non-Muslims are not allowed to obtain a copy of the Holy Qur'an, and non-Arabs are not allowed to attend Islamic lessons inside the prison. Security cases detainees are prevented from all of this. Non-Arab security cases inmates are prevented from obtaining a translated copy of the Quran.

There is a canteen inside the prison to buy food and some supplies, but according to what many detainees have told us, the canteen is in bad situation, and most of the items are not available. And if they are available, they are expired with low quality. Prisoners sometimes have to give up hygiene materials to get food and sometimes vice versa. As for food, it is very bad and not varied.

Drugs And Bribery in Prison

Many detainees mentioned that corruption is rampant inside Al-Wathba prison. While a prisoner cannot obtain a book, he can get drugs and phones for a good price.

As for the phones, officers brought a phone for the prisoner M.H. in exchange for 20,000 AED ($5,600).

As for drugs, they are sold by senior prisoners and those convicted of serious crimes such as homicide and rape.

Many detainees have stated that the entry of drugs is carried out by the guards, and that some narcotic pills are even brought from the clinic.

According to EDAC's knowledge, various types of drugs are sold inside Al-Wathba, where marijuana cigarettes, Captagon and Tramadol pills are available.

Some of the narcotic pills, such as Seroquel, are brought from the clinic, and the payment process is by transferring money to a bank account from outside the prison.

EDAC has documented many cases of drug-related deaths in prison. For example, in 2018, a Nigerian prisoner died of an overdose. Despite this, the prison administration did not open an investigation into the cause of death.

In 2019, an Emirati prisoner who was taking drugs with two others died, and the prison administration has only transferred them to Al-Razeen prison and then returned them later.

Women's Prison

The violations inside the women's prison in Al-Wathba is another story. The violations do not depend on the water cuts or the malfunctioning air conditioners, but rather include beatings and harassment.

The horrific conditions of detention inside the women's prison in Al Wathba have prompted many female detainees to go on hunger strikes and sometimes even attempt suicide.

In 2018, an audio recording of Amina al-Abdouli, a female detainee of conscience, was leaked, in which she spoke of being beaten by Moroccan and Nepalese female guards.

In the recording, Amina said that she was forced to stand with her hands and feet tied and her eyes blindfolded for long hours.

The severe torture and the failure to provide the necessary treatment to her, led to the damage of one of her eyes, as she lost her sight almost completely in the damaged eye.

In the women's prison, there is no open-air space, no place for workout, and sunlight barely enters rooms.

As in the men's prison, the water and air conditioning are constantly cut off, and there is no potable water available.

There is no free phone calls to the families of female prisoners, as each inmate must purchase a calling card to talk to her family, and in the event that she does not have money and tried to seek help from another inmate, the prison administration punishes the one who helped her, by cutting off phone calls from her for a long time, and the situation is similar in the men’s section.

Even visits in prison, which take place behind a glass partition, are non-free of charge.

Female prisoners are only allowed to go to the library once a week, and the canteen is only open twice a month.

Al-Wathba prison witnessed several suicide attempts as a result of its terrible humanitarian situation, and there were two attempts in 2017, one of which was for a female detainee of an Arab nationality who threw herself from the upper floor but sustained fractures, while a Chinese female prisoner, weeks later, specifically on May 15, 2017, hanged herself in front of a monitoring camera.

Female prison guards of foreign nationalities seize the clothes and shoes provided by the Red Crescent to female prisoners.

In many cases, prison guards punished female detainees by shackles in their hands and feet, and verbally insulted them by saying:” you are shackled like animals.”

Punitive Solitary Confinement Cells

Solitary confinement is one of the worst places in Al-Wathba prison, where the detainee is punished by transfer to those cells, if he fought with another detainee, or opposed being naked while inspecting, or if he asked to return some of his legal confiscated items, and other things that do not deserve punishment.

The location of these cells is at the “rehabilitation building”, which are located in two floors, each floor has 9 cells, without any source of light with a dirty bathroom, in which the prisoner is placed for a period ranging from one week to six months, depending on the reason for which he was punished for. The cell is small and hardly accommodates one prisoner. However, sometimes 3 or 4 prisoners are placed there, despite the absence of any ventilation, there is a verified case in 2020, despite the pandemic in all prisons at that time.

The prison guards beat the prisoners if they object to an order of stripping, or if a prisoner pushed an officer’s hand trying to resist, the guards beat the detainee severely, insulting him by stripping him and tampering with sticks with his sensitive organs.

In June 2016, the guards hanged the prisoner A.E. In the ceiling, and they started beating him, insulting him in a way that he refused to talk about it, he says only: “They insulted me severely.” This was done by the officer Fahd Al Shamsi, along with 3 other guards.

Punitive Solitary Wards

It was originally 7 wards, then one ward was added in 2020, where the prisoner is transferred as punishment for sometimes teaching Qur’an, and some for objecting to violations committed by prison guards such as cutting off phones and banning from the canteen or visiting.

The difference between these wards and the solitary cells, is that they are exactly like the regular wards, except that the rooms can accommodate only 3 inmates, and each ward has 8 rooms, except that the lower wards were originally a restaurant, then it was turned into punitive wards known as (The Hole) because prisoners inside it no one can hear them, even if an inmate needs something or if he was sick.

These wards gather the worst types of detainees, including rapists, murderers and drug addicts. The guards, especially Major Ibrahim Al-Hammadi transfer -intentionally- security detainees to these wards, and even incite criminal detainees against the security inmates.

Many incidents of rape occurred in these wards, and prison officers, specifically Al Hammadi know about these incidents, and no action is taken. In fact, in the second month of 2018, he transferred the detainee A.A. who is a Tunisian national, from the drug ward to Ward no. 12, and the criminal inmates raped him for consecutive nights until he was able to escape from them and escaped away, when food was brought into the ward. Al Hammadi did not open an investigation into the matter, but rather mocked the prisoner by telling him: “Where did your manhood go in this place? " The detainee had to drop his case after other prisoners threatened him.


Al-Wathba prison is characterized by severe overcrowding and poor ventilation, and prisoners are exposed to psychological and physical abuse, and this situation has prompted many detainees to go on hunger strike, or even commit suicide.

The extent of torture to which an individual is subjected in prison depends on how much money he has and in cases where inmates do not have money or influence, detainees are subjected to psychological and physical torture.

The inhumane situation inside Al Wathba includes everything, starting with the cells, where 20 people are placed in an inhumane manner in a room that does not accommodate more than 10, and depriving them of their most basic rights such as water and basic food items.


In light of the very poor conditions inside Al-Wathba prison, EDAC recommends the following:

1- The necessity of allowing independent international monitors to enter the country and visit prisons to examine the inhumane situation there, knowing that on March 17, the UAE authorities refused a request from the UN Committee against Torture and the UN Human Rights Committee to conduct such a visit.

2- Providing adequate health care for detainees in accordance with the standards of the World Health Organization, and in line with the minimum rules for the treatment of detainees, with emphasis on the necessity of sending a special medical committee of the World Health Organization to supervise such a case.

3- the need to reduce the number of detainees to the extent that allows them to provide their most basic rights, through the immediate release of detainees of conscience, and the pardon decrees for detainees of minor cases such as traffic violations or those who have completed more than half the term in misdemeanour cases.

4- Putting the prison administration under the authority of the Ministry of Justice instead of the Ministry of Interior, and assigning a civilian administration to run the prison, as facts have proven that most of the violations are carried out by police or military officers.