Rights coalition denounces UAE activist trial

November 3, 2011 - 4:25 AM

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A coalition of international human rights organizations on Thursday accused the United Arab Emirates of violating international legal standards by prosecuting five jailed activists who have campaigned for political reforms in the oil-rich Gulf country.

The activists, including a prominent blogger and an economics professor who has lectured at the Abu Dhabi branch of Paris' Sorbonne university, were charged with anti-state crimes after signing an Internet petition calling for constitutional changes and free elections.

The UAE has not seen street protests and uprisings that erupted this year across the Middle East, including in neighboring Bahrain. Authorities moved aggressively to keep demands for political change, inspired by the Arab Spring revolts, out of the Gulf federation that includes the glitzy city-state Dubai.

The five activists were arrested in April and charged with insulting the UAE's rulers and endangering the country's security. If convicted on all charges, they could face decades in prison.

A verdict in the case is expected Nov. 27. The defendants have no right to appeal.

The coalition of rights groups that includes Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said the legal proceedings at Abu Dhabi's Federal Supreme Court have been "grossly unfair" and that the case against the activists has "no basis in international law."

"UAE authorities should show a basic commitment to international legal standards by releasing these men without delay and initiating an independent review of why and how they've been prosecuted on these transparently politicized charges," said Jennie Pasquarella, an American lawyer.

Pasquarella monitored the trial since September and attended an Oct. 2 hearing after authorities opened the proceedings to the public.

The first four sessions of the trial, which started in June, were held in secret, with only security agents allowed to attend and take notes on the trial, the rights groups' statement also said.

Political activity is severely restricted in the UAE, an alliance of seven semiautonomous states, each ruled by a sheik who inherits the post. There are no official opposition groups in the country and political parties are banned.

In an unprecedented move for the politically quiescent country, 130 people in March signed a petition demanding parliamentary changes and a more equitable distribution of the country's oil wealth.

Along with the prominent blogger, Ahmed Mansour, the five on trial also include three internet activists and Nasser bin Ghaith, the economics professor, who has lectured on international trade law at Abu Dhabi's Sorbonne and has served as a legal adviser to the UAE armed forces until his arrest in April.