Activists on trial for insulting UAE president

Story highlights

  • The trial of five Emirati activists is open to human rights observers for the first time
  • The activists are charged with publicly insulting the UAE president and other top officials
  • A human rights observer says the trial is a 'sham' and 'political theater'
  • Some Emiratis say the government has a right to expect no negative criticism
The trial of five Emirati activists charged with publicly insulting the UAE president and other top officials resumed Sunday without the defendants, but with the courtroom open to media and representatives from human rights groups for the first time in the trial's five sessions, which began on June 14. A police officer told the Federal Supreme Court judge that the defendants refused to come to court as the state prosecution presented its case.
Amnesty International, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Front Line Defenders, and Human Rights Watch released a joint statement Sunday saying the activists' trial has been marked by procedural flaws and has violated the defendants' most basic defense rights.
The statement details a litany of grievances, alleging that: at the start of the last hearing, on September 26, four of the defendants walked out after the panel of judges again refused to address any of their due process requests, including releasing them on bail; the court has not allowed the defendants to review the evidence and charges against them, including evidence collected by the state security prosecution during the investigative period; and the court did not allow defense lawyers to cross-examine one prosecution witness and has not allowed sufficient time to cross-examine others.
Human Rights observer Jennie Pasquarella was in court Sunday. What she witnessed confirmed her belief that the trial's result is preordained.
"We saw for ourselves exactly what we have thought about this case from the beginning -- that it's a sham trial, that this is really political theater. The defendants have not had an opportunity to present their case. They haven't had any of their demands addressed by the court and as we saw today, their demands continue to be put off and put off and not ruled on," Pasquarella said.
The human rights groups named the five activists, who were arrested in April: Ahmed Mansoor, an engineer and blogger; Nasser bin Ghaith, an economist and university lecturer at Sorbonne Abu Dhabi and advocate for political reform; and online activists Fahad Salim Dalk, Ahmed Abdul-Khaleq and Hassan Ali al-Khamis.
Bin Ghaith's wife, Wedad Al-Muheiry, says she has been devastated by the situation.
"Six months I've been quiet. I cried and nobody knew. I have a phobia and I can't sleep because I was shocked to find out that the successful person who I built my life with is in prison with shackles on his feet and hands," she told CNN. "I am sure that our leaders do not know of the violations my husband is facing. Because we know this country is a good country, with good people and they don't accept that. I ask the government and Sheikh Khalifa and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed to release my husband as soon as possible."
Attorney Mohammed al-Roken, who represents two of the five defendants, told the courts the accused have been treated worse than convicts, and have been forced to constantly wear handcuffs.
"How can they pray or eat or go to use the bathroom with handcuffs on?" al-Roken asked.
The human rights groups say freedom of speech is guaranteed under the UAE's constitution and is well-established under international human rights law, barring special circumstances, such as slander or libel, or speech that threatens national security.
But some Emiratis support the government and feel the activists are getting what they deserve. Lawyer Faiza Mousa pointed out that the defendants have a debt to the UAE's rulers.
"All of them, they are using this country. They are living here. They take the education free. They finish their master degree and some they have their Ph.D. From where? From their pocket money? No, from this country's money. They are living now in their houses -- from their money? No. From this country 's money. So they got everything free," she said.
Poet Abdul-Kareem Al-Marzooqi added that there are some basic differences between Emirati culture and European culture.
"We can not talk badly or joke against your father, against your mother, against your brother, against your neighbor also," Al-Marzooqi said. "You must be polite and talk politely. How with the ruler? The ruler is more important . For that, we care about people. Please stop. This is [a] red line."
The defendants face up to five years in prison if convicted, according to the human rights groups' statement.