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Rights groups criticize UAE trial of pro-democracy activists

A trial observer appointed by a coalition of human rights groups said Thursday that the trial of five pro-democracy activists charged with publicly insulting United Arab Emirates (UAE) leaders has been "grossly unfair" [press release] and "has no basis in international law as it violates their freedom of expression." The five men, who have been detained since April, were charged in June under § 176 of the UAE Penal Code [text] for publicly insulting UAE president Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed and other government officials. Two of the five men are alleged to have used or incited violence on UAE Hewar [official website, in Arabic], an online political forum. Blogger Ahmed Mansoor, one of the five, was also charged with inciting others to break the law, demonstrating and calling for an election boycott. The trial observer stated that "UAE authorities should show a basic commitment to international legal standards, by releasing these men without delay and initiating an independent review of why and how they've been prosecuted on these transparently politicized charges." The trial observer alleges that the defendants have been unable to see all the charges levied against them and have been denied full access to the evidence to be used against them, submissions from the defense are ignored and the prosecution was permitted to give closing arguments despite the fact that the defense had yet to present its entire case and was not allowed to recall prosecution witnesses for cross-examination. Rights courts previously called for the trial to end [JURIST report] in July, but the UAE has nonetheless proceeded with the charges.

Rights groups have criticized the UAE recently for its conduct in the wake of calls for political reform. HRW urged the government of the UAE in April to reverse its decision to dissolve [JURIST report] the board of directors of the Jurist Association, a prominent civil rights group. HRW was critical of the UAE government [press release] when it arrested Mansoor in April for calling for democratic reform. HRW also urged international public institutions [HRW press release] that have a presence in the country, such as the Guggenheim, New York University and the Agence France Museum [official websites], to publicly condemn the UAE government's detention of rights activists. HRW has continued to monitor the UAE's compliance with international human rights standards following a 2010 report [HRW report] suggesting the human rights climate in the UAE has worsened. HRW has been particularly concerned about torture, the deterioration of conditions for migrant workers, restrictions on freedoms of expression and association, and violations of women's rights. In October 2010, HRW condemned [JURIST report] a ruling by the UAE Federal Supreme Court affirming a "husband['s] right to discipline his wife" as a violation of UAE treaty obligations.

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