x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Security court resumes trial of five activists

Judicial panel hears evidence in public for the first time.

ABU DHABI // The State Security Court sat yesterday to hear the case of five men accused of insulting the ruling families and threatening national security.

The five men did not appear in court because, their lawyers said, they had been denied basic requests such as access to their own court documents.

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. They deny the charges.

The prosecution opened the hearing yesterday with a video slideshow, set to music, about Sheikh Zayed, the country's founder.

Prosecutors said the five men had enjoyed the UAE's generosity, and unjustly sought to incite a revolution similar to that in Egypt, and encouraged a boycott of the FNC elections.

The court was told all evidence showed Mr Mansour was the owner and main administrator of the website uaehewar.net, where the insulting comments were posted, and he could therefore have deleted them.

Prosecutors also said their evidence showed the other men had posted the comments, and had confessed to doing so.

Mohamed Al Ghanim, head of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), was questioned about the website by both prosecution and defence.

He said the domain name had been registered with a US company, Hostrocket, and the first the TRA heard of any alleged illegality on the site was when prosecutors contacted the agency about the five men. He said the TRA had been unable to determine who owned the domain.

Mr Al Ghanim also said Mr Mansour had helped users to get around TRA blocking. "Ahmed Mansour published ways to allow visitors in the UAE to see the uaehewar website, at a time when access to the site was blocked," he said.

Judge Ahmad Abdulhameed, head of the judicial panel, halted the defence lawyers' cross examination of Mr Al Ghanim and refused them permission to call two witnesses next week - one from the National Media Council, the other the editor of a digital magazine.

The defence lawyers continued to complain about how they and their clients were being treated. They said the five men were kept in solitary confinement when they made complaints.

"Everyone is equal in front of the law, but here they were not equal in the way they were treated in prison or by public opinion or in the trial," Abdul Hameed Al Kumaiti, a defence lawyer, told the judge.

"They filed requests and the reason for them not attending is that they were not responded to." Only one request, to have the case heard in public, has been granted.

Mr Al Kumaiti said his clients were being overtly threatened but nothing was being done. "They have been facing threats night and day and we know who threatened them … Ahmed Mansour received a murder threat in Dubai. Dubai's prosecution decided not to pursue the complaint because it is connected with a case in Abu Dhabi courts."

The trial was open for the first time yesterday, and was attended by media, representatives from several human-rights organisations, and others.

The case was adjourned until Sunday when lawyers representing the accused will begin presenting the defence case. Bail was refused and the five men remain in custody.

hdajani@thenational.ae