x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Trial of activists continues in open court

The defence offers its first witness and is asked to present its case. The trial has been adjourned until October 23.

ABU DHABI // The trial of five activists charged with committing acts that pose a threat to state security resumed today in open court with defence lawyers presenting a witness and lawyers for a civil case launched against the activists presenting arguments.

The hearing today was the second open session since the trial began this summer.

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 - four of them Emirati, the other without nationality documents - are accused 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 defendants have denied the charges. They did not appear in court for a second time, citing what they say is unfair treatment.

The defence lawyers, Abdul Hameed Al Kumaiti and Mohammed Al Rukun, asked to question their witness, Ahmad Abdullah, the editor of the online magazine Hatta and the first defence witness in the trial, and the motion was granted after an initial objection.

Mr Abdullah said that uaehewar.net, where the comments that resulted in the charges were posted, had been blocked starting on February 2010, but the judge would not allow him to say when it had been unblocked. He also testified that with certain software, the block could be circumvented.

Responding to a question from Judge Ahmad Abdulhameed, he said he had never seen insults to the country or ruling family on the site. He said he had only seen "constructive criticism", and that even in those cases, ellipses were used instead of the names of those being criticised.

He testified that he saw a comment asking, "what is the use of the FNC?" but did not find it insulting.

Lawyers representing Emiratis who claimed to have suffered emotional damage from the five activists' comments — whose lawsuit had initially been dismissed — were allowed to argue their case before the judge today as well. After reciting poetry about Sheikh Zayed, they asked Mr Abdullah whether he had a licence to be a magazine editor, and he replied that he did not need one.

They then asked whether he had ever been sued for comments he published, and he responded that he had.

The lawyers asked the judge to remove Mr Abdullah as a witness, but he did not rule on the request. One of their clients in the lawsuit had sued Mr Abdullah previously.

Judge Abdulhameed then asked the defence lawyers to present their case, but they said they needed more time. They said they wanted to present more witnesses, saying they had only been allowed one witness, whereas prosecutors had been allowed seven.

They asked to be able to cross-examine the prosecution's witnesses, to which prosecutors objected. The judge did not rule on the request.

The defence asked for a month to fully prepare their case. The next hearing will be October 23.

hdajani@thenational.ae