UAE mass trial: Over 40 sentenced to life in prison for ‘terror’ links

A court in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) sentenced 43 Emiratis to life imprisonment for having links to a terrorist organisation, state media reported on Wednesday. The mass trial, which included critics of the government and human rights activist, has faced heavy criticism from UN experts and rights groups.
A total of 84 defendants appeared before the Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal, many of whom have been imprisoned since a previous trial of 94 people in 2013.
According to the official WAM news agency, the Abu Dhabi court convicted 43 individuals for “creating, establishing, and managing a terrorist organisation” tied to the banned Muslim Brotherhood. Ten additional defendants were sentenced to 10-15 years in prison, while one person was acquitted, and 24 cases were deemed inadmissible. The specifics of the remaining cases were not provided. Defendants still have the opportunity to appeal these verdicts before the Federal Supreme Court.
Human rights groups and United Nations experts condemned the trial, accusing the wealthy Gulf monarchy of repressing dissent. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International noted that many defendants have been in prison for over a decade since the “UAE 94” trial. However, UAE authorities argue that the new charges are distinct from those in 2013, emphasising that these involve accusations of financing a terrorist organisation.
Though the UAE has not disclosed the identities of the 84 defendants, the UK-based Emirates Detainees Advocacy Center has identified more than 70, most of whom are already incarcerated.
Joey Shea, HRW’s UAE researcher, commented on the verdict.
“The latest verdict makes a ‘mockery of justice’. It is ‘another nail in the coffin for the UAE’s nascent civil society.'”
Amnesty International also criticised the trial.
“Trying 84 Emiratis at once, including 26 prisoners of conscience and well-known human rights defenders, is a scarcely disguised exercise in punishing dissenters,” said Devin Kenney, Amnesty’s UAE Researcher.
The UAE government has denied any wrongdoing. According to WAM, the court ensured that all defendants’ rights were protected.
“The report said they were trying to ‘create and replicate violent events’ that would have left ‘dead and injured in the squares and streets.'”
The UAE, a federation of seven monarchies, has strict laws prohibiting criticism of its rulers and any speech seen as causing social unrest. Defamation, as well as verbal and written insults, whether public or private, are punishable offenses.
In 2012, following the Arab Spring uprisings, the UAE initiated arrests and prosecutions against numerous Emirati dissidents advocating for political reform. Roughly 60 individuals from the “UAE 94” trial remain incarcerated for alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
In a January letter to UAE authorities, independent UN experts expressed concern over the latest proceedings, citing a potential pattern of suppressing dissent and civil society in the UAE. They highlighted potential irregularities, such as “the use of torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment to extract forced confessions.”
Ben Saul, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, assessed the situation.
“The latest charges ‘relate to the same conduct for which many of these defendants were tried the first time around a decade ago.’ The trial was a ‘deeply regressive step’ and a ‘terrible example of the misuse of counter-terrorism measures against civil society.'”
Recently, HRW reported that many of the defendants had been kept incommunicado for at least a year and experienced abuses, including physical assault, forced nudity, lack of access to medication, and incessant loud music.
HRW urged the wealthy UAE’s international allies, including the United States, Britain, and the European Union, to criticise the trial.
“Emirati authorities have long used their country’s economic and security relationships to prevent criticism of its rights record, but rarely, if ever, has the silence from its allies been so deafening,” said HRW’s Shea.

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