ABU DHABI // Sixty-nine of 94 Emiratis on trial for sedition were found guilty today and sentenced to jail terms of up to 15 years.
Judge Falah Al Hajeri acquitted 25 accused, including all 13 women. Eight men tried in their absence were sentenced to 15 years in prison. Of the others, 56 were jailed for 10 years to be followed by three years' probation and five men were jailed for seven years.
State Security officials were ordered to seize financial assets from some of the guilty men, including Dh1.1 million from a front company used by the group, and a farm and two buildings.
The judge also ordered the closure of three educational centres run by the group and five websites, including that of Al Islah.
The State Security Court was packed with relatives, human-rights organisations, media and bailiffs awaiting the verdict.
The hearing began at 10.07am, and was over within 20 minutes, with the judge first reciting a Quranic verse: "Indeed, we have revealed to you, the book in truth so you may judge between the people by that which Allah has shown you."
He said the ultimate goal of the judicial system was to "endorse truth and dispel falsehood, taking into account the constitutional legitimacy of the laws and regulations . as well as the religious and moral customs and principles that are the bedrock of civic life in Arab Gulf society at large, and Emirati society in particular."
He said the trial had been held in accordance with the Constitution, and defendants and lawyers had been able to make requests to the court, provide witnesses and evidence "in all transparency" and give evidence orally.
The 94 were accused of being members of a secret political organisation whose goal was to undermine the nation's rulers and ultimately lead to the downfall of the Government. The organisation was said to be linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.
All 94 - most of whom were former teachers, professors, lawyers, judges and writers - had denied the charges. Some had admitted affiliation to the organisation, but insisted it was not linked to the Brotherhood and sought nothing more than "reform".
"I think the UAE judicial system is independent and has integrity. Defendants, in addition to their lawyers, got the chance to defend themselves," Mohammad Al Hammadi, editor-in-chief of Al Ittihad, Arabic-language sister newspaper of The National, said after the verdict.
"The UAE cannot tolerate such secret organisations, even if the defendants and the organisation do not accept the verdict. It is in the country's benefit today to turn this page which almost caused a fissure in Emirati society."
Sultan Souud Al Qassemi, a commentator on Arab affairs, said the case had taken the public "out of their comfort zone".
"The reaction is definitely relief as they can now go back to live their lives," he said. "The sentence is a major blow to the Brotherhood at this critical time when they are losing their foothold in Egypt - not only for the group members and affiliates in the UAE but on a regional level since the UAE is an important banking and business centre they could have exploited."
Professor of political science Dr Abdulkhaleq Abdulla said the community's overriding emotions were of relief. "I think this was, for this country, the trial of the century," he said. "Overall, we are relieved the trial was as transparent as possible and that the verdict was not severe, it is balanced."
The UAE Journalists Association cautioned Emirati youth "against destructive thoughts and trends promoted by outlawed malicious groups that disrespect the achievements of the UAE, and are masked by religion or politics."
"Freedom enjoys a space as widely open as the desert and the sea of the UAE," the association said, "guaranteed by the constitution and the inherited customs at the majlises of our rulers."