The family of a jailed blogger on trial for advocating political change in the United Arab Emirates said Tuesday he is a victim of an organized smear campaign, which has called for his execution.
The trial of Ahmed Mansour and four other activists before Abu Dhabi's Federal Supreme Court has become emblematic of the crackdown on dissidents launched by the UAE in the wake of uprisings across the Arab world.
Both the prosecution and the vilification of the defendants are likely to have a chilling effect on any further criticism of UAE's political system.
Mansour and the others are charged with insulting the UAE's rulers and endangering national security. The five activists, including an economics professor who has lectured at the Abu Dhabi branch of Paris' Sorbonne University, were arrested in April after they signed an internet petition calling for reform in the oil-rich Gulf federation.
Regime supporters regularly rally outside sessions of Mansour's trial, calling him a traitor and demanding the death penalty. His family say they fear the campaign may predetermine the verdict, which is expected later this month.
"Ahmed Mansour is innocent and has not been convicted of any crime," the family said in a statement, adding they feared the campaign's "impact on public opinion and the course of justice."
Since Mansour's arrest on April 8, his wife, his four young children and his elderly parents have been "terrorized by insults" and "alarmed by threats" that are posted on social networking sites, Tuesday's statement said. It said the campaign against Mansour is also waged in the local media and by phone.
The family urged authorities to "stop the continued abuse against our son."
Political activity is severely restricted in the UAE, an alliance of seven semiautonomous states including oil-rich Abu Dhabi and glitzy Dubai, each ruled by a sheik who inherits the post. There are no official opposition groups in the country, and political parties are banned.
The UAE has not had street protests like those that erupted this year elsewhere in 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.
In an unprecedented move for the politically quiescent country, 130 people in March signed a petition demanding constitutional and parliamentary changes, free elections and a more equitable distribution of the country's oil wealth.
The five activists in custody were among the signatories of the petition.
Last week, a coalition of international human rights organizations accused the UAE of violating international legal standards by prosecuting the five jailed campaigners.
The statement by the seven-member alliance that includes Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch urged authorities to release the activists. It said that legal proceedings against them at the Federal Supreme Court, which normally tries those suspected of terrorism or other anti-state crimes, have been "grossly unfair."
A verdict in the case is expected Nov. 27. The defendants have no right to appeal. If convicted on all charges, the activists face decades in prison.
Along with Mansour, the five on trial include three internet activists and Nasser bin Ghaith, the economics professor, who served as a legal adviser to the UAE armed forces until his arrest in April.
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