Ninety-four Emirati citizens, said to be members of an Islamist organization, were put on trial Monday on charges of plotting against the United Arab Emirates government.
The detainees, whose arrests were announced last July, include two prominent human rights lawyers, as well as judges, teachers and student leaders.
If convicted, the group, which reportedly include 12 women, faces up to 15 years in jail, with no right of appeal.
The Gulf state alleges that they were planning to overthrow the government by colluding with the Muslim Brotherhood, a foreign Islamist organization.
UAE Attorney General Salem Saeed Kubaish released a statement Jan. 27 alleging that the accused “launched, established, and ran an organization seeking to oppose the basic principles of the UAE system of governance and to seize power.”
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The attorney general said they had created or invested in real estate companies to finance their organization and had been in contact with individuals and organizations abroad, including the Brotherhood.
Most of those arrested belong to the conservative religious society al Islah, according to a BBC report.
Critics say al Islah intends to replace the Emirati government with a strict Islamist regime based on Sharia, a charge human rights activists have challenged, the BBC report stated.
Rights groups raised concerns over the trial that withholds key documents concerning the charges and evidence against the accused and permits the defendants only a limited access to lawyers.
“Defense lawyers cannot possibly defend their clients adequately without seeing the documents setting out the evidence against them,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement published on their website. “It appears that UAE authorities will drag scores of citizens through a shamelessly unfair judicial process that makes a mockery of justice.”
Local activists in contact with the family members of the detainees told HRW that authorities allowed some defendants to meet separately with defense lawyers on selected dates between Feb. 20 and 27.
The meetings took place at the office of the state security prosecutor in Abu Dhabi with a representative of the prosecutor’s office listening in to the conversations, violating the confidentiality of conversations between lawyers and their clients, HRW stated citing the defendants’ families.
The defendants, in previous court appearances extending their detention, said they were being held in solitary confinement under strong lights 24X7 and that when they left their cells they were blindfolded.
Family members of the detainees told HRW that the government froze all bank accounts and assets of detainees following their arrest, as well as accounts and assets of their spouses and underage children, in many cases leaving them under serious financial stress.