x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UAE sedition trial: defendants deny group was part of Muslim Brotherhood

Twenty of the 94 defendants being tried for sedition take the stand insisting on their innocence, while some sought to defend their organisation and their works.

ABU DHABI // Twenty of the 94 defendants being tried for sedition took the stand yesterday insisting on their innocence, while some sought to defend their organisation and their works.

Several acknowledged their membership in the Islamist group known as Al Islah, but denied the group was part of the Muslim Brotherhood, insisting it was a "harmless" community group "working for the good of the country".

"Calling Al Islah part of the Muslim Brotherhood is not what we are after. Al Islah is a stable organisation in its administration, goals and loyalty to this country and its leadership," said MM, one of the 20 defendants and the author of the organisation's first book.

"We have duties towards our country and that is to advise and preserve it, and to develop it, not to overtake it," he continued.

Another defendant, HO, a former teacher, said he had taught his students, who, he said, he treated like his children, to respect and love their country.

"How can I go against what I have taught for years?" he asked, adding: "We believe our country is strong and solid, and society will not become better by imprisoning these teachers and intellectuals."

A female defendant, JS, said she was neither a member of the Muslim Brotherhood nor Al Islah.

"I am a proud advocate to Allah. I give educational lectures, is that a crime?" she asked. "The history of my achievements attest to me, and I do not accept the accusations against me."

O H, who was accused of being in charge of Al Islah's media and social media committee, admitted having a Twitter account and a blog, but said he used these only to post his personal thoughts.

AZ, who also helped in writing an Al Islah book, denied having any intention of sedition and said his public writings proved this.

"We should be criminalised for our actions, and not our thoughts, opinions or education," he said.

NH, another female defendant, denied ever having been a member of Al Islah, claiming she had been mistaken for another woman who had a similar first name.

She said the mix-up had been discovered during her interrogation and that she was told she was free to leave.

"Yet, I am still here and the prosecutors have said that I have confessed to being a member of the organisation," she said. "I feel I am accused without charge."

AK, a freelance businessman whose company was included on a list of Al Islah's assets, said the prosecution's case rested on just a few unreliable witnesses.

"They said I was a part of an investment committee that I did not know of, and I repeatedly said that throughout my questioning," he said, denying a claim that his company owned 16 per cent of another company. "The company is solely mine, and it does not own another."

FS, who was accused of managing one of Al Islah's women's committees since 1998, said that she had been in the United States at the time, accompanying her husband who was completing his master's degree. She said she did not return to the UAE until early in 2000.

AH, accused of being one of Al Islah's founders in 1974, said: "I am sure of my innocence, and I reject the insanity of the accusations. The prosecutors have accused me of speaking about those who have had their citizenship revoked and the Arab Spring on a TV show," he said. "The show aired in May 2010, before the events occurred."

The court will hear from 20 other defendants today. Defence lawyers will give their final presentations next week.

aalkhoori@thenational.ae