[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International (AI), the Arabic Network For Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and Front Line Defenders (FLD) [advocacy websites] on Saturday urged [press release] United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities to end the trial of five pro-democracy activists charged with publicly insulting UAE leaders. 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 rights groups contend that the UAE government has failed to provide sufficient evidence to convict the activists. HRW Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson expressed disapproval for how the UAE and international community have handled the prosecution:
In this day and age, with all that is going on in the region, it is disturbing and absurd that the UAE is prosecuting activists simply because they spoke out for democracy. The international community should end its silence and condemn this mockery of justice; the government had no business arresting these men in the first place.
The trial is scheduled to reconvene on Monday before Abu Dhabi’s Supreme Court. If convicted, the activists face up to five years in prison.
Rights groups have criticized the UAE recently for its conduct in the wake of calls for political reform. HRW 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.