Rights groups urge public access to UAE dissidents' trial

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 03, 2013 12:38 PM
Rights groups urge public access to UAE dissidents' trial

DUBAI (Reuters) - Human rights groups urged United Arab Emirates authorities on Wednesday to grant full public access to the trial of 94 people accused of plotting to seize power in the Gulf Arab state.

But a source close to the UAE government said the trial, which began in Abu Dhabi last month, was taking place in a "very transparent manner".

More than 60 people have been detained in a crackdown on Islamists in the past year amid heightened worries among officials about a spillover from unrest in other Arab countries.

The trial is seen as an attempt by the Gulf Arab state to address what it says is a security threat from the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), which along with other rights groups has questioned the fairness of the detentions and the legal proceedings, raised concerns about the arrest of Abdulla al-Hadidi, the son of one of the 94 defendants.

The group said Abdulla al-Hadidi had been arrested on March 21 on charges of publishing in bad faith false details of a public trial session on the Internet. Hadidi had attended four court sessions and written about them on social media websites.

Human Rights Watch said that, a day before his arrest, officials from the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi had informed Hadidi and several other relatives of the defendants that the authorities would no longer allow family members to attend the trial.

"Preventing independent monitors and family members from entering the court only increases the suspicions as to why the authorities need to hide what is being said and done inside," Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

"If the UAE authorities can present admissible and credible evidence that these defendants have committed crimes, why would they shroud the proceedings in secrecy?" she said.

The statement on Wednesday was signed by a coalition of rights groups including Amnesty International, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and the International Federation for Human Rights.

A source close to the UAE government said that details emerging from the hearings showed that UAE's security and stability were being threatened.

"The trial has taken place in a very transparent manner and in the presence of the media and civil society groups that have reported on all the details of this trial," the source told Reuters.

According to the UAE laws and court rules, only UAE media and civil society organizations are allowed to attend court hearings.

The state news agency WAM in January quoted the attorney general, Salem Saeed Kubaish, as saying that members of the group had sought to penetrate institutions of the state, including schools, universities and ministries.

Dubai police chief Dhahi Khalfan told Reuters in an interview published on Wednesday that the defendants, who include lawyers, teachers, judges and a member of the ruling family of one of the emirates, had reached an advanced state in their alleged conspiracy.

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UAE newspapers have said the defendants belong to al-Islah, a local Islamist group which says it wants peaceful reform and has no direct links to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

The statement said the serious violations of due process in the pre-trial period included holding at least 64 of the detainees at undisclosed locations for periods of up to a year before the trial. It said many detainees did not have access to legal assistance until late February.

"When they did finally meet with their lawyers, a representative of the state security prosecutor was in the room and within earshot, in violation of the requirement under international law for confidentiality in conversations between lawyers and clients," the statement said.

It added that the rights groups had documented "credible allegations of torture at UAE state security facilities for many years" and urged authorities to provide independent forensic medical examinations to defendants who say they have been tortured. The UAE denies the use of torture.

(Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Jon Hemming)