UAE Court Sentences 43 to Life in Prison in Widely Criticized Trial

July 11, 2024 by No Comments

A UAE court sentenced 43 individuals to life in prison on Wednesday, while others received lengthy prison terms in a case that has drawn international criticism. The Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal handed down the sentences in a case the UAE government describes as involving the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization labeled as a terrorist group by the Emirates. However, activists contend that the trial targeted dissidents, sparking protests and raising concerns at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai in November.

The state-run WAM news agency reported the verdicts following reports from activists. Five defendants were sentenced to 15 years, five others to 10 years, and 24 were acquitted, according to WAM. The court ruled that those convicted “have worked to create and replicate violent events in the country, similar to what has occurred in other Arab states — including protests and clashes between the security forces and protesting crowds — that led to deaths and injuries and to the destruction of facilities, as well as the consequent spread of panic and terror among people,” WAM said.

The agency did not specify any evidence cited by the court linking those convicted to violence or the Brotherhood. The verdict, which can be appealed to the UAE’s Federal Supreme Court, immediately faced international condemnation. “These over-the-top long sentences make a mockery of justice and are another nail in the coffin for the UAE’s nascent civil society,” said Joey Shea, a Human Rights Watch researcher focusing on the UAE. “The UAE has dragged scores of its most dedicated human rights defenders and civil society members through a shamelessly unfair trial riddled with due process violations and torture allegations.”

The Emirates Detainees Advocacy Center, an advocacy group in exile, also reported on the sentences. “Regrettably, these sentences were entirely foreseeable,” said center director Mohamed al-Zaabi. “From the outset, it was clear that this trial was merely a facade designed to perpetuate the detention of prisoners of conscience even after their sentences had been served.”

Amnesty International echoed the criticism, stating that the defendants had “been held in prolonged solitary confinement, deprived of contact with their families and lawyers and subjected to sleep deprivation through continuous exposure to loud music.” They were also “forbidden from receiving the most basic court documents,” the organization said. “The trial has been a shameless parody of justice and violated multiple fundamental principles of law, including the principle that you cannot try the same person twice for the same crime, and the principle that you cannot punish people retroactively under laws that didn’t exist at the time of the alleged offense,” said Devin Kenney, an Amnesty International researcher.

Kenney described some of those tried as “prisoners of conscience and well-known human rights defenders.”

WAM did not identify those sentenced. However, Shea confirmed that activist Nasser bin Ghaith, an academic detained since August 2015 for his social media posts, was among those given life sentences. He was among dozens sentenced following a crackdown in the UAE triggered by the Arab Spring uprisings. These demonstrations saw Islamists, including Brotherhood member Mohammed Morsi in Egypt, assume power in several Middle Eastern nations.

The Gulf Arab states, which did not experience any regime changes, responded by suppressing demonstrations and perceived dissidents.

Ahmed Mansoor, recipient of the 2015 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, was also likely among those sentenced on Wednesday. Mansoor repeatedly criticized UAE authorities by advocating for press freedom and democratic rights in the federation of seven sheikhdoms.

In 2016, Mansoor was targeted with Israeli spyware on his iPhone, likely deployed by the Emirati government, ahead of his 2017 arrest and sentencing to 10 years in prison for his activism. During COP28, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch organized a demonstration displaying Mansoor’s face within the U.N.-administered Blue Zone of the summit, a protest closely monitored by Emirati officials.

The UAE, despite its social liberalism compared to some Middle Eastern neighbors, enforces strict laws on expression, prohibiting political parties and labor unions. This was evident at COP28, where the absence of typical protests outside the venue reflected activists’ concerns about the country’s extensive surveillance network.