x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Guilty verdict in activists' trial

Men jailed for threatening state security by criticising the Government on a discussion website.

ABU DHABI // The Federal Supreme Court yesterday found five activists guilty of threatening state security for posts made on the internet.

Ahmed Mansour Ali Abdullah Al Abd Al Shehi was sentenced to three years for making unlawful comments on a website, and Nasser Ahmed Khalfan bin Gaith, Fahad Salim Mohammed Salim Dalk, Hassan Ali Al Khamis and Ahmed Abdul Khaleq were sentenced to two years each.

All five men were convicted of instigation to break laws, committing 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. The panel of judges at the State Security Court also ruled that the website uaehewar.net, on which the men posted their comments, be closed down. The men’s laptops and other materials seized in the investigation will also remain in government hands.

Four of the men are Emirati and the fifth man is without national documents.

None of the men were in court yesterday to hear the sentence, citing unfair treatment in detention.

The verdict is not subject to appeal, but the activists have already served eight months in Al Wathba prison, which will apply to their sentence. The remaining option is a presidential pardon.

The case centred on a series of comments the men made on uaehewar.net around the time that protests began erupting across the region. The Attorney General, Salim Saeed Kubaish, said in April that the five were being investigated for “crimes of instigation, breaking laws and perpetrating acts that pose threat to state security, undermining the public order, opposing the government system, and insulting the President, the Vice President and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi”. The five were specifically charged with calling for a boycott of FNC elections in September and inciting demonstrations.

Article 176 of the Federal Penal Code allows up to five years in jail for anyone who publicly insults – in any way – the President, its flag or its national emblem.

Defence lawyers argued that under UAE law insults must be made in a public place to be considered criminal, but the site had been blocked starting from February, months before the alleged comments — and was therefore not public.

Even if the men did make the comments in question, they argued, they were not illegal because they were not inciting violence.

They also argued that confessions signed by the men were made under duress, as many of them were held for up to 48 hours after their arrest without a chance to pray or use the bathroom.

Emotions outside the Supreme Court ran high during the hearing, as hundreds of people gathered across the street, reciting poetry and reading patriotic statements over a loudspeaker.

hdajani@thenational.ae