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In a widely condemned ruling, five activists from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been jailed for periods of up to three years on a number of charges including publicly insulting the country’s rulers, and disrupting public order.
Of the five, four of them (Nasser bin Ghaith, Fahad Salim Dalk, Hassan Ali al-Khamis and Ahmed Abdul Khaleq) were imprisoned for two years for criminal defamation. Ahmed Mansoor – the most prominent of the group according to news reports – was sentenced to three years. The group, which Amnesty International considers to be prisoners of conscience , has no recourse to appeal the rulings.
The case stems from April when in the midst of the Arab Spring the five activists had made calls, or signed an online petition as others report, for demonstrations to be staged against the leadership of the federation of seven emirates.
Following their arrest and trial in the immediate aftermath of their actions, a coalition of human rights organisations, including Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, denounced the trial as “grossly unfair” from the outset.
In the wake of the ruling being announced, Amnesty International released a statement criticising this “traversty of justice”.
“The defamation charges the UAE5 faced are not internationally recognisable criminal offences and the trial process has been grossly flawed from the outset. The men are imprisoned for nothing but criticizing the UAE President and other officials,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, a leading Amnesty International official. Sahraoui also called for UAE authorities to “end this travesty of justice without further delay by ordering the immediate release of these five activists and expunging any ‘criminal record’ as a result of this inexplicable verdict”.
The statement also detailed what it deemed as irregularities in the trials.
In the UAE the reaction to the ruling has not been as uniform. Some, including a relative of one of the prisoners, found the ruling to be “shocking and harsh,” and begged for a pardon.
Others however felt that the “verdict in itself could be considered a pardon” saying that they had expected more, as “the acts of Mansoor and his collaborators” had threatened the country’s leaders and its security.
Samer Muscati of Human Rights Watch discusses UAE activists’ verdicts
In the hours since the story first broke, the president of the UAE has reportedly pardoned the five activists.
“An official has informed me that a presidential pardon has been issued to release them,” Mohammed al-Roken said a day after the five activists were sentenced by the Federal Supreme Court.
The order has been delivered to Al-Wathba prison and it is being processed to release them,” he said, adding that he hoped they would be freed by the end of the day.
Image: Amnesty International