More than 40 activists in UAE sentenced to life for ‘terror’ crimes

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A court in the United Arab Emirates has sentenced 43 activists to life in prison after finding them guilty of terrorism offences.

According to state media, the Federal Court of Appeal in Abu Dhabi convicted the suspects of “setting up a terrorist organization”.

United Nations experts and human rights organizations have strongly criticized the mass trial.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), more than 80 human rights defenders and political dissidents – known as the “UAE 84” – have been tried.

Last January, the UAE Attorney General referred the suspects to the Federal Court of Appeal in Abu Dhabi on charges of “establishing another secret organization for the purpose of committing violent and terrorist acts on the territory of the UAE,” known as the “Committee for Justice and Dignity.”

He said most of the suspects were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement banned as a terrorist organisation in the UAE since 2014. Its local branch, the al-Islah party, is also banned.

According to the official news agency WAMOn Wednesday, the Federal Court of Appeal in Abu Dhabi “sentenced 43 defendants to life imprisonment for the crime of establishing, setting up and managing a terrorist organization”.

In addition to the 43 life sentences imposed, 10 other suspects were given prison sentences of 10 to 15 years for “collaboration with al-Islah” and money laundering, WAM said.

One suspect was acquitted and 24 cases were declared inadmissible, the court said.

According to HRW and Amnesty International, most of the suspects have been held for more than a decade, after being arrested in 2013 as part of the “UAE 94” trial.

Many had already served their sentences.

However, UAE authorities said the latest charges were “materially different” from those filed in 2013, which did not include allegations of financing a “terrorist organisation”, AFP news agency reported.

According to Amnesty International, the indictment, charges, defense lawyers and names of the suspects were “kept secret by the government.”

According to the organization, the details were only known through ‘leaks’.

HRW identified three of those sentenced to life in prison: Nasser bin Ghaith, Abdulsalam Darwish al-Marzouqi and Sultan Bin Kayed al-Qasimi. Prominent activist Ahmed Mansoor was among the suspects, it added.

Responding to the convictions, Amnesty International’s Devin Kenney urged the UAE to “urgently quash this unlawful sentence” and called on those convicted to be released.

“The trial was a blatant parody of justice and violated several fundamental principles of law, including the principle that you cannot try the same person twice for the same offense, and the principle that you cannot punish people retroactively under laws that did not exist at the time the alleged offense was committed.”

Khalid Ibrahim of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, where Ahmed Mansoor sits on the board, said: “It is an unmitigated tragedy that so many activists and human rights defenders remain in prison for decades, without the chance to see their children grow up, for no other reason than calling for a better future for the Emirates.”

Despite being one of the richest countries in the Middle East and promoting high-tech sectors and innovations, the UAE remains restrictive when it comes to political activities.

The federation of seven emirates, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai, has no official opposition and bans political parties.

In 2013, nearly 70 Islamists were sentenced to prison terms for an alleged plot to overthrow the government.

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