The Emirati Union Supreme Court irreversibly sentenced on Tuesday 20 Egyptians and 10 Emiratis to up to five years in prison for charges relating to their alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Emirati authorities began arresting Egyptian expatriates living in the United Arab Emirates, most of them affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, in November 2012. On 19 June, 2013, the Emirati public prosecution referred the 30 defendants to trial in connection to charges linking them to the “Muslim Brotherhood International Organisation.”
Human rights watchdog Amnesty International described the trial as “marred by a catalogue of human rights violations.”
The 20 Egyptians were sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison, and are to be deported as soon as they serve their time. Six of the Egyptian defendants are being tried in absentia.
Mohamed Shehata from the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) said the six defendants managed to flee the Arab state before being arrested.
Nine of the 10 Emiratis were sentenced to a year and three months in prison. The tenth, Sheikh Saleh Al-Dhufairi, was sentenced to four years and three months in prison.
Amnesty International described Al-Dhufairi, alongside Emirati detainees Mohamed Al-Mansoori and Hussein Alhammadi, as “prisoners of conscience held solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association” and called for their “immediate and unconditional” release.
Twenty-one of the defendants were fined AED 3,000 each. The court also ordered the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood organisation in the UAE and the confiscation of all its assets.
The official charges leveled against the 30 defendants include establishing and managing a banned organisation affiliated with the International Muslim Brotherhood Organisation in Egypt. They are also accused of attempting to “recruit” new members into the organisation, raising funds for it in the UAE, and receiving “financial support from a secret organisation which aims to assume power in the UAE”, Shehata said. Their first trial session was on 5 November.
Amnesty International warned in a statement released on Monday of “wrongfully convicting” the defendants. Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of the organisation’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, described the charges as “vague”, adding that they fail to “constitute internationally recognisable criminal offences.”
Amnesty listed a series of violations practiced against the defendants since their arrest over a year ago. Violations ranged from arrests without judicial warrants to secret detention, solitary confinement with no access to lawyers, and alleged torture in custody. The organisation said that the defendants’ fundamental rights were “completely disregarded”.
The defendants’ legal team did not show up to court on Tuesday due to their belief that the “verdict will be politicised in light of the Emirati State Security’s control over the case and exploitation of the judiciary to serve the ruling regime’s gains,” ANHRI said in a statement condemning the verdict on Tuesday.
ANHRI’s Shehata said that the violations resumed until the trial’s final session on Tuesday, when only 11 of the 24 jailed defendants were brought to court.
“The court overlooked several other violations during the five sessions of the trial,” Shehata said.
He said that the defendants were forced to sign documents they had not read while kept in secret detention. They were also denied access to the document detailing their court case until Sunday night. The defendants’ lawyer Abdel Hameed Al-Komeiti was denied a visit to his clients in December 2013 despite the judge’s order allowing the visit.
Among the Egyptians sentenced on Tuesday is Mohamed Mahmoud, a doctor detained since 30 November 2012 who was on Tuesday served six months in jail. Mahmoud’s wife, Hoda Abdel Ghany, said that though her husband has already served more than two times his sentence, it remains unclear whether the Emirati authorities will keep him in prison for six more months.
“My husband called me right after the trial,” Abdel Ghany said. “Even he doesn’t yet know whether he shall remain in prison.”
Many of the defendants claimed to have been subjected to torture while in custody. During the trial, they asked to be checked up by a medical delegation. Abdel Ghany said the defendants’ lawyer Al-Komeiti confirmed they were indeed subjected to torture.
“The ill-treatment they received had its toll on their psychological and physical well-being,” Abdel Ghany said, noting that they remained in solitary confinement for “eight months”.
Both Amnesty International and ANHRI condemned recent Emirati verdicts; Amnesty called for an end to the “downward cycle of unfair political trials in the UAE” and the introduction of “the right to appeal to cases heard under state security rule.”
The Union Supreme Court, mostly concerned with cases which involve national security, does not allow for the appealing of sentences. Amnesty noted that this goes against the UAE’s obligations under international law.
In July 2013, 69 people were also found guilty of committing similar charges and attempting to overthrow the government, including the 10 the Emirati defendants who were found guilty during Tuesday’s trial.
On 25 December, 2013, Egypt’s interim Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi’s cabinet listed the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation. Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the cabinet’s decision to Arab countries which have signed the 1998 Arab Convention on Suppression of Terrorism.
The convention, signed by 17 Arab states, mandates that all signatory states engage in preventive measures, measures of suppression, exchange of information and expertise and investigation in order to combat terrorism in the Arab world.