SIXTY-one suspects accused of plotting an Islamist coup in the United Arab Emirates have received jail terms of up to ten years after a trial that targeted Islamists and underscored the widening crackdowns on perceived Arab Spring-inspired dissent across the Gulf Arab region.
Among those sentenced yesterday were academics, lawyers and members of prominent UAE families, including a cousin of the ruler of one of the seven emirates in the oil-rich federation, a long-time foe of Islamist groups seeking a role in politics.
The government said the sentences could not be appealed.
Eight men were sentenced in absentia by the Federal Supreme Court to 15 years in prison, in a judgement that rights groups said showed growing intolerance in the US-allied country.
Nicholas McGeehan, at Human Rights Watch, said: “These verdicts cement the UAE’s reputation as a serious abuser of basic human rights.”
Alkarama, a Swiss-based Arab human rights group, called the verdicts politically driven and said they should be overturned.
State news agency WAM said that apart from those sentenced in absentia, 56 were jailed for ten years and five for seven years, while 25 were acquitted, including all 13 women accused.
Dozens of suspected Islamists have been detained in the past year, amid government worries about a spillover of Arab unrest. The trial was widely seen as an attempt to tackle what the UAE sees as a threat from the banned Muslim Brotherhood.
Many of the 94 defendants belong to al-Islah (“Reform”), a group which the UAE says has links to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Islah denies this, but says it shares some of the Brotherhood’s ideology. One of those convicted yesterday was Sheikh Sultan bin Kayed al-Qasimi, who was head of al-Islah. He is a cousin of the ruler in Ras al-Khaimah, the northernmost of the UAE’s seven emirates.
The defendants were accused of “belonging to an illegal, secret organisation … that aims to counter the foundations of this state in order to seize power and of contacting foreign entities and groups to implement this plan”.
The defendants had denied the charges. Some also said they had been abused in detention, an accusation the state denied.
International media were barred from attending the court hearings, which began in March.
Family members gathered nearby said they had expected tough verdicts, but were disappointed that the court had not examined allegations of torture and procedural flaws.
A British lawyer, Melanie Gingell, mandated by several human rights groups to attend the hearing, was informed at the last minute that she could not do so, the groups said in a statement.
Attorney General Salem Saeed Kubaish had said in January that the defendants had sought to infiltrate state institutions, including schools, universities and ministries. He said the accused, all UAE nationals, had invested money from Muslim Brotherhood membership fees and charity funds to set up commercial enterprises held in their own names to conceal their activities from the state.
A government statement after the verdict said the court had been transparent, fair and independent, with more than 500 observers at each hearing, including relatives of the defendants, local media and a state-linked rights group.
One of the region’s most politically stable nations, the UAE has seen none of the violent turmoil that has shaken other parts of the Middle East and North Africa in the past two years.
But some UAE Islamists, inspired by their brethren’s gains in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia, have become more active, angering the authorities in a state that brooks no opposition.