[JURIST] The United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Monday began the trial of 94 people charged [press release] with plotting to overthrow the government. The group of defendants includes unnamed doctors, academics, lawyers and other professionals [Guardian report] arrested over the past year and accused of forming a secret network with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood [official website; JURIST news archive] and designs to raise money in a plotted coup against the Emirati ruling families. International human rights groups such as Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website; press release] and Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website; press release] have criticized the charges and raised concerns regarding the transparency and fairness of the trial. Most of the defendants are members of the conservative Reform and Social Guidance Association (al-Islah) [advocacy website, in Arabic], a nonviolent Islamist political association advocating greater adherence to Islamic precepts. While approximately 200 relatives were bussed to the court in Abu Dhabi for the hearing, it was amid tight security and authorities barred international media and rights groups from attending. Even the road leading to the court was closed. Some of the defendants have been in detention for nearly a year but most were arrested in July and August. Rights groups, relatives of the detainees and the defendants themselves have made claims of mistreatment and torture [BBC report] of some individuals while in custody. The UAE tolerates no political opposition within its borders.
UAE authorities began arresting al-Islah members last March, when security forces arrested Ahmed al-Zaabi, a former judge, and Ahmed Ghaith al-Suwaidi together at a Dubai gas station. They detained the chairman of al-Islah, Sheikh Sultan Bin Kayed al-Qasimi, on April 20. In late April AI and HRW called on the UAE to stop the recent crackdown on political activists [JURIST report] by ending arrests and releasing those already in custody, expressing concern that the UAE is threatening to revoke prisoners’ citizenship as a way of punishing them for expressing public dissent, an action that the advocacy groups contend violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [text]. In July prominent human rights lawyer and al-Islah member Mohammed al-Roken, along with his son and son-in-law, were all detained [JURIST report] just a few days after the arrest of another prominent human rights lawyer, Mohammed Mansoori. A month later Al-Roken and Mansoori began a hunger strike [JURIST report] to protest their detentions. Both lawyers are reportedly among the 94 defendants now on trial.