x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

UAE sedition trial: Images, videos and messages among evidence on laptops

Court hears how 94 Emiratis accused of sedition were tracked by investigators via Facebook and Twitter and by their BlackBerry's.

ABU DHABI // Police electronics experts told a court yesterday how they obtained evidence from equipment belonging to 94 Emiratis accused of sedition.

The State Security Court heard from six officers from Abu Dhabi Police whose task was to extract information from laptops and mobile phones seized from the group.

The officers analysed the memories and hard drives of the devices and said they found incriminating images, video, text messages and conversations. They also retrieved bank statements and meeting agendas in the form of Word Documents, Excel spreadsheets and PDF files.

The officers, who began their investigations last July, were also able to view messages sent via the accuseds' BlackBerrys and keep track of their conversations on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The content of the allegedly incriminating images, videos and messages was provided to prosecutors as evidence.

The defence lawyer Abdulhameed Al Kumaiti, who is representing most of the accused, asked the officers if there was any possibility the evidence had been contaminated during the investigation as police retrieved the hard drives from the devices. The officers replied that the devices they used to extract the hard drives were protected by hardware that ensured this could not happen.

At the end of the hearing, Judge Falah Al Hajiri agreed to hear requests from some of the accused.

There were moments of levity. One accused, E?M, asked for longer visits from relatives. "In solitary confinement, we were given 15 minutes and now we have five only," he said. "Do I call my mother, my first wife or my second?"

Another defendant asked to be allowed to wear traditional Emirati clothing to the court, and also asked that the accused be allowed to meet each other to discuss their defence strategy.

The judge said such procedures were out of his hands, but that the court would discuss the matter.

Before the hearing began, court bailiffs told family members they would be allowed to provide up to Dh1,000 in cash to each accused. They said the cash should be sealed inside an envelope with the recipient's name written clearly on the front.

The Ministry of Justice issued a statement saying that one female defendant did not appear in court due to the death of her mother, according to state news agency, Wam.

The hearing was also attended by 15 members of the media, four representatives from civil society organisations, six defence lawyers, five people from the prosecution, six prosecution witnesses, as well as 124 relatives of the defendants, said Wam.

The case was adjourned to March 26.