UAE sentences 43 Emiratis to life for ‘terror’ links in mass trial

Most of the defendants have already been in prison for more than a decade since the "UAE 94" trial 11 years ago

Published - July 10, 2024 10:33 pm IST - Dubai

A mass trial in the United Arab Emirates of dissidents that has faced widespread criticism abroad ended with dozens of people sentenced to life in prison, activists said. File

A mass trial in the United Arab Emirates of dissidents that has faced widespread criticism abroad ended with dozens of people sentenced to life in prison, activists said. File | Photo Credit: AP

A court in the United Arab Emirates has handed life sentences to 43 Emiratis for "terrorist" links, state media said July 10, after a mass trial heavily criticised by U.N. experts and rights groups.

Government critics and human rights activists were among the 84 defendants brought before the Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal, most of whom have been in jail since a similar trial of 94 people in 2013, according to rights groups.

The Abu Dhabi court "sentenced 43 defendants to life imprisonment for the crime of creating, establishing, and managing a terrorist organisation" linked to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, the official WAM news agency said.

Ten others were jailed for 10-15 years, WAM said, with one defendant acquitted and 24 cases ruled inadmissible. It did not give details of the remaining cases.

Defendants can still appeal the verdicts before the Federal Supreme Court.

The trial, which kicked off in December, has been condemned by rights groups and United Nations experts who accuse the oil-rich Gulf monarchy of cracking down on dissent.

Most of the defendants have already been in prison for more than a decade since the "UAE 94" trial 11 years ago, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International.

But UAE authorities say the latest charges are "materially distinct" from those brought in 2013, which did not include accusations of financing a "terrorist organisation".

'Violent events'

The UAE has not named the 84 defendants but the Emirates Detainees Advocacy Center, a U.K.-based watchdog, has identified more than 70 people, most of them already imprisoned.

The latest verdict makes a "mockery of justice", said Joey Shea, HRW's UAE researcher, calling it "another nail in the coffin for the UAE's nascent civil society".

Among those sentenced to life in prison is Emirati academic Nasser bin Ghaith who has been held since August 2015 over social media posts, according to Ms. Shea.

Renowned human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor who has been held since 2017 is also likely among thos convicted, though the details of his sentence remain unclear, Ms. Shea said.

Amnesty International called it a "shameless parody of justice," alleging fair trial violations.

"Trying 84 Emiratis at once, including 26 prisoners of conscience and well-known human rights defenders is a scarcely disguised exercise in punishing dissenters," said Devin Kenney, Amnesty's UAE Researcher.

The UAE has denied any wrongdoing.

WAM said the court had "guaranteed the defendants all their rights".

The report said they were trying to "create and replicate violent events" that would have left "dead and injured in the squares and streets".

‘Deeply regressive’

The UAE, a federation of seven absolute monarchies, prohibits criticism of its rulers and any speech that is deemed to create or encourage social unrest.

Defamation as well as verbal and written insults, whether published or made privately, are crimes punishable by fines and imprisonment.

In 2012, in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring revolts across the Middle East, the UAE launched a spate of arrests and prosecutions targeting dozens of Emirati dissidents who demanded political reform.

About 60 of the "UAE 94" put on trial then remain behind bars for alleged links to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement that is outlawed in the Gulf state.

In a letter sent to UAE authorities in January, independent U.N. experts said they were concerned that the latest proceedings against the 84 defendants reflect "a broader pattern of suppression of dissent and civil society in the UAE".

They questioned "alleged irregularities" such as "the use of torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment to extract forced confessions".

Ben Saul, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, said the latest charges "relate to the same conduct for which many of these defendants were tried the first time around a decade ago".

The trial was a "deeply regressive step" and a "terrible example of the misuse of counter-terrorism measures against civil society", he told an expert panel hosted by the Geneva Press Club in March.

Last week, HRW said many of the defendants have been kept incommunicado for at least a year and have reported abuses including physical assault, lack of access to medicine, incessant loud music and forced nudity.

The wealthy country's allies, including the United States, Britain and the European Union, should speak out about the "unfair mass trial", HRW said.

"Emirati authorities have long used their country's economic and security relationships to prevent criticism of its rights record, but rarely, if ever, has the silence from its allies been so deafening," said HRW's Ms. Shea.

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