The mass trial underway of 84 Emiratis, including prominent human rights defenders, flagrantly violates the defendants’ fair trial rights and disregards fundamental legal principle by re-trying some defendants for the same charges they were convicted of a decade ago, Amnesty International said ahead of a hearing in the case on 7 February.
At least 65 of the known defendants are already arbitrarily held – at least 62 of them since their previous mass trial in 2012-2013, the “UAE-94” case. Dozens continue to be held even though they have already completed their sentences in the UAE-94 case. Authorities accuse the defendants of establishing a “clandestine organization” for “terrorism”.
There have been multiple gross violations of the defendants’ fair trial rights, including authorities evidently directing witness testimony, the failure to disclose key details such as the exact charges or what articles of the law are being used to bring the charges, restrictions on lawyers sharing documents relating to the case with the defendants and their families, and barring family members from attending hearings during the trial, which began on 7 December 2023.
The UAE is making a mockery of justice by trying scores of defendants on undefined charges under an indictment that has so far been kept secret. The UAE did not even acknowledge the trial was taking place, despite the first hearing taking place during COP28 in an unabashed show of repression.
Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa
“It is ludicrous that UAE authorities are charging scores of defendants with the same acts they were already convicted of more than a decade ago. This is a flagrant violation of the fundamental legal principle barring repeated prosecution of the same person for the same crime.”
Among the defendants are well-known Emirati human rights activists Mohamed al-Mansoori, Mohamed al-Roken, and Ahmed Mansoor.
The authorities announced this trial on the official news agency WAM on 6 January – a month after the trial had already begun. Based on information from family members and the published WAM statement, the charges appear to be brought under the 2014 counterterrorism law and to be based on alleged membership in the Justice and Dignity Committee, a branch of the al-Islah movement, which is considered to be the Emirati version of the Muslim Brotherhood group. In the words of the 2013 indictment and judgment, the Committee “undertook to raise society’s awareness of its rights,” “published articles about those rights,” and “worked to communicate with international rights organizations”.
Any involvement by defendants with the Justice and Dignity Committee would have ceased when they were arrested in 2012-2013, before the 2014 counterterrorism law was enacted. As such, these charges violate the fundamental legal principle of no retroactive application of criminal punishments as well as the violation of the fundamental legal principle of individual determination of guilt that is inherent in mass trials.
“This trial appears to be a blatantly politically motivated attempt to intimidate people into silence and ensure dissidents remain in jail for the longest time possible so that they are not able to challenge the authorities or speak out about the dire human rights situation in the country,” said Aya Majzoub.
Defence lawyers in the case have been banned from sharing the details of the indictment even with their own clients.
“Nobody has read the court files. Nobody has seen them. We’re forbidden from attending. And the attorneys are under strict order not to cooperate with the prisoners or their families, and not to give them full, transparent information,” a family member of one of the defendants said.
“The proceedings have shown an outrageous disregard for fair trial rights,” said Aya Majzoub.
“In one case, at a hearing on 11 January, the authorities handed a prosecution witness a piece of paper which they proceeded to read from to answer the judge’s questions. This is a grotesque parody of justice in every possible way by a government that claims to represent international progress and development.”
Family members told Amnesty International they have been excluded from attending most sessions. In one session they said they were kept in a separate room to view a video transmission of the proceedings but without any audio. Some are banned from attending hearings because authorities refuse to renew their identification cards, which are necessary to attend.
One family who spoke with Amnesty International has so far spent over $10,000 on legal fees, despite the lawyer they have hired not sharing a single document from the case, nor informing them of what is happening at the hearings.