Inside the UAE’s biggest court case: How I covered sedition trial
Ayesha Al Khoori | March 14, 2013
Luckily, despite having moved to the motoring department, I still get to cover what is arguably one of the biggest court cases in the history of the UAE – the trial of a 100-strong group of people who have been accused of sedition.
Covering such a trial is a great honour, as cases such as this come around rarely. It’s exciting to be trusted with covering such a high-profile case, but it’s a job that is not without pressure.
The magnitude of the case is reflected in the security measures surrounding the hearing.
First of all, only those media representatives who can prove they are Emirati are allowed into the trial, which is being held at the State Security Court.
Before attending the court, we must send copies of our ID cards to the authorities so that access cards can be made for us. We are then required to meet in a pre-arranged location and are taken to the courtroom via a designated bus.
Once in court, our bags, phones and notepads are taken away, and we are issued pens and paper from the court itself, so that we can carry out our job of reporting.
We – the media – are required to sit on the left side of the room. Family members sit in the middle and the defendants appear behind a glass barrier on the right of the room.
The rest of the room slowly fills with police officers, military men and women. Lawyers and prosecutors come in later, and after them the judge arrives. When the judge enters the room, the hearing begins.
This was a great responsibility for me and to have to cover this case all alone with no-one to help me made me nervous. I was scared because I feared I wouldn’t be able to do the job properly, that I would surely mess the assignment up.
During the hearing, I wrote down everything; names, dates, the course of events, everything that was being said and who was saying it.
It was a long day – we had to stay in the courtroom for 7 hours, with only two 15 minute breaks throughout the hearing. Long though that was, that’s only half the job.
Afterwards, I had to rush to call my editors to let them know what happened, so they can decide on how many words they want and the bigwigs can discuss where they want to place it in the following day’s edition.
In a case as big as this, I had a feeling I knew where they’d want it, and they proved me correct – it was to go on the next edition’s front page!
It’s not all so serious working at a newspaper though. It can also be embarrassing and hilarious – as my birthday proved. As I turned 22 this week, two colleagues very kindly brought me cakes.
Zaineb Al Hassani left a delicious chocolate creation on my desk that I vowed to save for my family. I couldn’t help but steal a few bites though, as I can’t say no to chocolate.
I also can’t say no to colleagues hellbent on embarrassing me. Enter Haneen Dajani, from stage left, wearing a “My Little Pony” party hat and carrying another giant cake, decorated in the colours of the rainbow and topped with ponies, care bears, lollipops and stars.
Definitely not my kind of decoration – I’m more Rambo than rainbow – but it was cute and very yummy. Haneen asked the baker to add custard rather than cream, making it her own “invention”, as she put it.
Haneen also arranged Tinkerbell tiaras for some of my female colleagues to wear while they sang ‘happy birthday’ to me in the middle of the office. Of course, I begged them to stop immediately. Instead, they forced me to wear a flowery necklace and carry a see-through umbrella so that they could take plenty of photographs and Haneen could have material “to blackmail” me with.
After my future as a public figure had been suitably compromised we got back to work, though Haneen, wanting to keep the party alive, insisted I continue to wear the giant necklace for the rest of the day. Given any dignity I may have once possessed had long since disappeared, I figured it made no difference.