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UAE political activists sentenced to years in prison

From Aroub Abdelhaq, CNN
updated 7:11 AM EST, Sun November 27, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Five activists are sentenced to two to three years in prison
  • They are accused of publicly insulting officials and opposing the government system
  • Rights activist: "This is a complete mockery of justice ... and it doesn't end here"
  • Pro-government demonstrator: "There are limits to how you (say) your opinion"

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (CNN) -- The supreme court in the United Arab Emirates sentenced democracy activist Ahmed Mansour to three years in prison on Sunday.

Four other defendants -- Nasser Bin Ghaith, Fahad Salim Dalk, Ahmed Abdul Khaleq and Hassan Ali Al Khamis -- were each sentenced to two years.

The five men, whom police detained in April, faced charges of public insult against the president of the UAE and other top officials, according to human rights groups. They were also charged with undermining the public order and opposing the government system.

"This is a complete mockery of justice. It's political theater, and it doesn't end here," Samer Muscati of Human Rights Watch said Sunday. "We'll do everything we can to stop not only (this) ridiculous trial that's happened and the unfair verdict, but also the campaign of intimidation that continues to happen."

United Arab Emirates officials have repeatedly declined requests from CNN for comment about the case.

But pro-government demonstrators outside the courthouse Sunday voiced their support for the verdict.

"I'm happy that this situation is finished," Abelkarim Maatouq said. "Maybe it will be (that) everybody knows that in the future, there is a limit to the opinions ... there are limits to how you (say) your opinion."

Munira Al Rawahi said the whole ordeal was unnecessary.

"We have everything, so for what, all this?" Al Rawahi asked. "Because we see the other people, they fight in their countries, we want to make it the same here? Just like that? Or just (because) we want to show ourselves that we can talk, we can say? For what?"

Outside the courthouse, a nephew of Bin Ghaith was struck in the face and told, "You are garbage!"

Earlier this year, Amnesty International, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Front Line Defenders and Human Rights Watch all called for the activists' charges to be dropped.

In a joint statement, the group accused UAE authorities of misusing the defamation charges "as a pretext" to punish the activists for peacefully expressing their opinions.

According to a statement from Amnesty International, the men 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," according to seven human rights groups that have reviewed the posts, Amnesty said.

Mansour is a "leading human rights activist who had publicly called for political freedoms and an elected parliament," Human Rights Watch has said. Mansour has served as a member of Human Rights Watch's Middle East advisory committee.

CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom contributed to this report.

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