The Emirati Federal Supreme Court postponed on Tuesday the trial of 20 Egyptians and ten Emiratis accused of setting up a branch of an international organisation in the United Arab Emirates without a permit.
Emirati authorities began rounding up Egyptian expatriates living in the UAE, most of them affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, in November 2012. On 19 June, the Emirati public prosecution referred the 30 defendants to trial. Six of the Egyptian defendants are being tried in absentia.
Mohamed Shehata, from the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), said the defendants were charged with “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 in 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 added.
The trial was postponed until 12 November to hear the witnesses’ testimony, upon the request of the defendants’ lawyer, reported Emirati state-run news agency WAM.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Badr Abdelatty said the Egyptian embassy in the UAE is following up with the case while respecting the law. He said they are providing humanitarian and consular assistance.
The court delegated a medical tripartite committee to examine some defendants, WAM reported. Abdelatty stated that the embassy visits the defendants to ensure they are treated well and helps provide means of contact between them and their families.
The international human rights organisation Human Rights Watch reported that the 24 detained defendants claimed that they were subjected to torture in detention and denied access to legal assistance for several months. The organisation voiced its concern regarding the outcome of the trial in a statement released on Monday.
Human Rights Watch highlighted a different trial of 69 people who were convicted on 5 July of similar charges. Shehata said that some of the 10 Emirati defendants were already convicted in the 5 July verdict.
“The verdict … calls into question the ability of the country’s judicial system to uphold basic rights of free speech and peaceful association,” Human Rights Watch said in the statement. It added that those convicted seemed to be “exercising their legitimate rights to free expression and association”.
Human Rights Watch stated that the only solid evidence upon which the verdict was based was a confession by one of the defendants, Ahmed Al-Suweidi. The organisation doubted the validity of Al-Suweidi’s confession, saying that he denied all the charges when in court.
The watchdog organisation, which reviewed a translation of the judgment, said the verdict on the defendants declared that they “established and administered the organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UAE, calling for actions opposing … [its] basic principles … with the aim of toppling the regime and seizing power.” Human Rights Watch said that aside from Al-Suweidi’s “disputed” confession, all evidence suggests the convicted were only expressing their opinions within an organisation whose goal was political reform.
“This judgment sends a message to Emirati citizens that engaging in free-thinking political debate and criticising their government are treasonous acts,” said Joe Stork, Human Rights Watch deputy Middle East director. “In the current repressive climate the best way for Emiratis to stay out of jail is for them to exercise their right to remain silent.”
Eleven Egyptians were arrested in the UAE simultaneously starting November 2012, initially accused of leading a Muslim Brotherhood cell and conspiring to incite a Brotherhood-backed revolt against the Emirati government.
The detainees confirmed their affiliation with the Brotherhood, but denied their involvement in any political activity.
Additional reporting by Joel Gulhane