x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Activists make first appearance in court

Men deny charges during appearance at State Security Court

ABU DHABI // Five activists accused of insulting members of the ruling families and posing a threat to state security denied the charges at their first court appearance yesterday.

Ahmed Mansour Ali Abdullah al Abd al Shehi, Nasser Ahmed Khalfan bin Gaith, Fahad Salim Mohammed Salim Dalk, Hassan Ali al Khamis and Ahmed Abdul Khaleq appeared at a closed hearing of the State Security Court.

They are being investigated for "crimes of instigation, breaking laws and perpetrating acts that pose a threat to state security, undermining public order, opposing the government system and insulting the President, the Vice President and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi", said the Attorney General, Salim Saeed Kubaish.

The five men were arrested in April.

Prosecutors and defence lawyers presented requests to the court on which the judge will rule today, and witnesses including internet forensics experts will be called at the next hearing on July 18, one of the men's lawyers said.

About 100 people began gathering outside the courthouse as early as 6am to show their support for the nation's leaders and voice their disagreement with the activists.

"Don't defend the traitors, those agents for Iran," the crowd shouted as the activists' lawyers, Abdul Hamid al Kumaiti and Mohammed al Roken, made their way up the stairs to enter the Federal Supreme Court building.

Mr al Kumaiti, who is representing all five activists, said he had received five death threats. The activists, particularly Mr Mansour, had also received threats, he said.

Many in the crowd of demonstrators wore Emirati kaffiyehs with pictures of the Rulers and vests reading: "We are all Khalifa."

The words were repeated in occasional chants, as well as: "With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice for Khalifa."

One of the demonstrators, Abdulla al Ahbabi, a former contestant in the popular TV show Million's Poet, said: "We want to say we are different from those [activists]; we chose our presidents. We love our leaders and we grow up knowing them as our fathers. You don't find this in other Arab countries."

The demonstration, which was organised by word of mouth and social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger, did not have an official permit, said Brig Gen Faris al Faresi, the general director of guarding and special tasks at Abu Dhabi Police.

"We were surprised to find them there," Brig Gen al Faresi said. "So we gave them water and drinks and shade. We set a barrier in front of the court's entrance, which no one tried to cross."

Plans for a counter-demonstration supporting the activists were also circulated on Twitter and Facebook, but no gathering materialised.

Those who took part in yesterday's demonstration signed a sheet with their names and phone numbers as they joined, in case the authorities asked for the names later.

Not all the demonstrators were Emirati. "I had a lot of errands to run today, including an appointment to renew licences and residency visas, but I came to express my opinion," said Heba Mohammed, a 50-year-old beauty salon owner from Syria who was there with her 13-year-old daughter.

"In the UAE, one can live secure and happy, especially for nationals, which is not found in any other country.

"So it upsets me to see someone criticise it while in other countries, where people live in much harsher conditions, they are supporting their rulers."