x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

UAE sedition trial timeline: key dates in the case

From initial investigations and the emergence of allegations to 69 of the 94 found guilty with compromising state security, the key dates in the UAE sedition case.

In the past few years, investigators have closely watched more than 300 people suspected of links to the Muslim Brotherhood.

All were said to be members of Al Islah, an organisation established in the 1980s and licensed by the Government to help reform the country by teaching the virtues of Islam according to Sharia. More than 90 of these Emiratis were arrested and charged with compromising state security.

Key dates:

August 5, 2012: Allegations emerge

Prosecutors say a group of people have established a secret organisation, are plotting to undermine the state and overthrow the Government and have ties with foreign organisations.

• January 27: Court referral

Ninety-four Emiratis are referred to the State Security Court for establishing and managing a secret political organisation, seeking to oppose the basic principles of the country.

• March 4: First hearing

The State Security Court begins hearing the case, with 84 accused in court, including 13 women. Two more accused were brought before the court later, and eight were tried in their absence. The group is accused of violating penal code 180 by establishing a secret political organisation. All deny the charges. Lawyers for the accused request copies of the case files and access to their clients, and for the accused to be granted access to specialised medical help.

March 11: Lawyers' and defendants' requests

One of the lawyers says he can no longer represent his clients for personal reasons. The other lawyers continue to request access to the accused and apply for bail. They ask for a court order banning publication of the defendants’ names. Six defendants ask for an in-camera session. A female defendant asks for permission to travel to the US for heart surgery. The judge replies that he needs medical proof of her illness.

March 18 & 19: Prosecution evidence heard

Investigators give the court detailed reports on their investigations. They describe the group’s financial resources and the companies aiding the organisation. They say they found educational centres for adults and children that were used as a cover for a communications centre by which the group kept in touch with similar organisations outside the country. Some investigators detail pictures, videos, chat conversations and documents they extracted from the defendants’ mobile phones and laptops. Details of the findings are given to the court in reports.

March 26: Prosecution case continues

A security official provides the court with recordings and videos of six secret meetings held by the group over the past two years. In the videos and recordings, which are shown in court, some of the accused discuss topics including the Arab Spring, the education system and the group’s finances. One of the accused defends the meetings, arguing that as intellectuals, it was important that they discuss such topics. He also said that such evidence did not prove they were undermining the country’s authority or its political system. The female defendant who asked to travel to the US for medical treatment provides medical proof of her condition.

April 16: Media criticised

Judge Falah Al Hajeri begins the hearing by criticising media organisations who implied the defendants’ guilt, and warns the madia against acting as judges. Several defendants claim the case files are riddled with mistakes and attribute to them statements they did not make. Others complain they have not been allowed access to the files. The judge accepts the female defendant’s request to travel to the US.

April 30: More from the prosecution; the defence begins

Forensics experts say they matched the voices of nine defendants to the videos and recordings provided in the previous hearing. All defendants deny the findings. Three defence witnesses say the defendants are all noble people who were merely trying to provide a good example to the community. Defendants continue to complain about not receiving case files, and some continue to complain that the files include forgeries.

May 6: Defence continues

Judge Falah Al Hajeri calls upon two more defendants whose voices were said to match the recordings of the secret meetings. One defendant denies his voice sample matches that of the meeting, while the other says he cannot recall attending the meeting. Some defendants continue to complain they have not received the case files. The judge calls two more defence witnesses who say the defendants are people of good will, who were trying only to “preserve” the country.

May 7: Final submissions from prosecution

Prosecutors give their two-hour long closing submission. They say the defendants aimed to undermine the Government and defame the rulers. They mention an email address they say was used to communicate with other organisations sharing their ideology. They say the defendants created committees to besmirch the country’s image and that in the wake of the Arab Spring they gave support to people who had their Emirati citizenship revoked. The prosecutors say the defendants were loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood and one of them travelled to Egypt to pledge his allegiance.

Thirteen defendants take to the stand to deny the charges. One says he was in prison at the time he was supposed to have attended one of the meetings. Another claims he had been living abroad for the previous few years. Most of the defendants say they are offended by the prosecutors’ allegations.

May 11: President sends defendant for treatment

The President, Sheikh Khalifa, allows the female defendant seeking treatment to travel to the US at the expense of the state.

May 13 & 14: Final defence submissions begin

Forty-five defendants deny the charges. They acknowledge membership of Al Islah, but deny having links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Some of the defendants mention their personal and professional achievements, and argue that these helped in the country’s development. Many ask the court for compensation for the trouble they have been put through. One defendant denies being aware of the existence of a committee he was alleged to have been part of. Another says that a recording of him speaking at a secret meeting showed only his personal opinions. One of the female defendants says she has not been in contact with the other accused women in years.

May 20 & 21: Defence submissions continue

Four defendants say they were not part of a secret organisation. One says it would be impossible to overthrow the country’s leadership because of the different governments in the seven emirates. Another argues the defendants are guilty only of being intellectuals.

Prosecutors reply, saying that while many defendants had significant personal achievements, they were ungrateful for the help the state had given them. They say the defendants pledged their loyalty to the country only to divert attention from their crimes.

Defendants reject the prosecutors’ argument and begin screaming.

Defence lawyers also address the court. One says the defendants are good people who pose no threat to the country. He says that media organisations pose a greater threat by stirring up tensions. Another lawyer asks the court to investigate the case files, pointing out that many defendants had complained the files had been tampered with. More than one complains the evidence is insufficient and the final lawyer called to the stand says prosecutors have done a sloppy job.

June 19

Thirty more people are referred to court on suspicion of establishing and managing a branch of an organisation linked to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. This new group – 14 Egyptians and 16 Emiratis – will be tried separately.

July 2: Verdict

Sixty-nine of the 94 are found guilty and sentenced to jail terms of between eight and 15 years, and a variety of assets are seized. All 13 women on trial are among the 25 acquitted.

* Ayesha Al Khoori