On 27 November, a final verdict will be issued in the case of five activists known as the “UAE Five”, who have been detained since April for posts made on the internet forum UAE Hewar. A coalition of seven international human rights group, including Index on Censorship, today call on the United Arab Emirates to “launch an independent judicial inquiry into the decision to prosecute the men” in order to ensure a fair trial for the men.
The five activists are blogger and engineer Ahmed Mansoor, Nasser bin Ghaith, an economist and lecturer at Sorbonne, and online activists Fahad Salim Dalk, Ahmed Abdul Khaleq, and Hassan Ali-al-Khamis. They were all charged in June under articles 176 and 8 of the the UAE’s penal code, which rule that any individual that publicly insulting “the president of the state, its flag, or its national emblem” is punishable by a prison. Al Karama (Dignity), Amnesty International, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Frontline Defenders, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, and Index on Censorship, have all reviewed the messages allegedly posted on the now banned UAE Hewar, and determined the messages only criticise political leaders or government policy. This would not violate the law in question, suggesting that the UAE 5 are being targeted for political reasons.
The activists have refused to recognise the courts jurisdiction after been subjected to four secret trials, on one occasion the UAE 5 stormed out of the court, after demands for a fair trial were repeatedly denied. Following the incident, they have protested by refusing to attend any further hearings. In a letter written by the activists in August, they expressed certainty that they would not have a fair trial, “which every defendant deserves.” State security agents were the only ones allowed to attend and take notes during the secret trials. While the court eventually allowed for public hearings, reports show that the trial has been unfair and full of inconsistencies.
According to a report by Jennie Pasquarella a civil liberties lawyer following the trials, said that the “case has been riddled with legal and procedural flaws from the beginning,” making the trial “grossly unfair in favour of the prosecution.”
During the 2 October hearing, the court heard closing arguments from the prosecution without giving the opportunity to the defence to present their case, and according to Christoph Wilcke, a representative for Human Rights Watch, the defense was kept from cross-examining witnesses and discussing accusations with clients beforehand. According to the coalition, the defendents also have not had access to all evidence used against them in the case. The activists will remain in custody until a final verdict is issued.
Sara Yasin is an editorial assistant at Index on Censorship