The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi on Sunday sentenced five pro-democracy activists to prison for participating in a campaign seeking political liberties. One activist was sentenced to three years in prison while the others were sentenced to two years in prison by the three-judge panel. The activists will not be able to appeal the convictions [AP report] and prison sentences because the cases were heard in the country's highest court. The five 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 [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 men have been detained since they were arrested in April after signing an online petition demanding political reforms. Upon learning of the convictions, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] called on the UAE government to release the "prisoners of conscience" immediately [press release], saying the trials failed to meet the minimum standards under international law.
Rights groups have criticized the UAE recently for its conduct in the wake of calls for political reform. A trial observer appointed by a coalition of human rights groups said earlier this month that the trial of the five activists charged has been "grossly unfair" [JURIST report] and "has no basis in international law as it violates their freedom of expression." Rights groups called for the trial to end [JURIST report] in July, but the UAE nonetheless proceeded with the charges. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged [press release; JURIST report] the government of the UAE in April to reverse its decision to dissolve 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 (NYU), 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 [press release; 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.