x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

UAE sedition trial hears first evidence for prosecution

Investigators giving evidence at the State Security Court said they had listened in as a group of Emiratis plotted to undermine and overthrow the country's leadership.

ABU DHABI // Prosecutors began unveiling their case yesterday against 94 Emiratis accused of sedition with details of a lengthy investigation into a secretive group with a clear power structure and hierarchy.

Investigators giving evidence at the State Security Court said they had listened in as a group of Emiratis plotted to undermine and overthrow the country's leadership, and that they tracked the group's financial and social activities.

The presiding judge Falah Al Hajiri ordered that the names of the witnesses and those on trial not be published.

One investigator told the court the group, most of whom are accused of belonging to an organisation linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, had been "showing signs of activity" as the Arab Spring began, and were overheard at secret meetings planning to seize power.

Electronic surveillance of some of these meetings allowed investigators to piece together information about the history of the group, and its hierarchy and structures, the court was told.

A second investigator described the financial resources the group had at its disposal, and said it had control of stocks, property and commercial companies. Investigators found those wishing to join the group paid membership fees, and several owned companies that helped to develop and grow the organisation.

A third investigator said the group also owned educational centres for both adults and children, which were used to encourage people to join their cause, as well as to train them. These centres, he said, were in communication with other groups across the region and elsewhere.

Defence lawyers cross-examining the investigators asked if all the members were aware of the group's ultimate goal. One investigator replied that most would have understood this through their regular meetings and dealings with the leaders of the group.

After several hours of testimony, the accused were allowed to present special requests to the bench. TM, who is accused of starting one of the organisation's front companies, said he had nothing to do with the company and there had been a mistake in the investigation. He requested bail and was told the judge would give him an answer today.

Another accused said they had been transparent about their identities online and had clearly said they wanted to avoid any suggestion that they sought to topple the government.

A third accused, MR, said he had not been allowed visitors for 10 days. "I cannot see my family, neither my mother nor my wife. You cannot feel my misery," he said.

Court bailiffs allowed him and some of his co-accused to make brief contact with their relatives in the courtroom.

Another accused, HM, asked that all defendants be allowed to meet their lawyers. Judge Falah said they were permitted to see their lawyers, but the large number of defendants was complicating the process.

It was confirmed yesterday that 94 Emiratis are on trial, despite report from last week's hearing that a further 12 people had been accused.

The trial continues today.