Rights groups call activists' trial "grossly unfair"

Story highlights

  • The men are on trial for their alleged Internet postings
  • The UAE says the men insulted top officials
  • Rights groups say the activists should be released and the charges dropped
The trial of five activists in the United Arab Emirates is "grossly unfair" and "has no basis in international law," an observer appointed by a coalition of international human rights groups said Thursday.
The coalition, which includes Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and four other groups, is calling "for all five to be released immediately and unconditionally and the charges dropped."
The five activists were arrested in April and charged with publicly insulting top United Arab Emirates officials, committing acts that pose a threat to state security, undermining public order, opposing the government system and instigating others to break laws, according to a statement previously released by UAE's attorney general.
Their trial began in June.
"This case has been riddled with legal and procedural flaws right from the beginning, which have made it grossly unfair in favor of the prosecution," said civil liberties lawyer Jennie Pasquarella in a statement released by Amnesty International.
Pasquarella was appointed by the human rights groups to observe the trial. She monitored the sessions in September and attended the prosecution's closing arguments October 2.
She said the case also violates the defendants' freedom of expression.
Rights groups have named the five activists as 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. All five have boycotted the trial since it was opened to media and rights observers in early October.
The men were charged "under articles 176 and 178 of the UAE penal code, which makes it a crime to publicly insult the country's top officials, after they posted statements on the internet forum UAEHewar. None of the messages allegedly posted by the accused to the banned site did more than criticize government policy or political leaders, said the seven human rights groups that have reviewed the posts," the Amnesty statement said.
The trial is being heard in Abu Dhabi's Federal Supreme Court. The defendants will not be able to appeal the verdict, which is expected November 27.
"UAE authorities should show a basic commitment to international legal standards, by releasing these men without delay and initiating an independent review of why and how they've been prosecuted on these transparently politicized charges," Pasquarella said, according to the Amnesty International statement.
The UAE attorney general has not offered specific details about the alleged crimes, and United Arab Emirates officials have repeatedly declined requests from CNN for comment about the case.
At the trial's last session October 23, defense lawyers presented their closing arguments. Defense attorney Mohammed Al Rukun argued that the defendants did not commit any crime that puts state security at risk.
As in other sessions of the trial, a group of pro-government demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse, chanting slogans and holding up placards and signs in support of their government and against the activists on trial.