UAE activists plead not guilty to incitement, insulting ruler
Among the defendants is Ahmed Mansoor, an outspoken rights activist who joined several dissidents this year to start an online petition demanding the UAE's quasi-parliamentary body, the Federal National Council, receive greater powers.
July 19, 2011 9:45 by Eva Fernandes
*Image from TIME
Five activists from the UAE pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges of incitement and insulting the Gulf country’s leadership, their lawyer said.
The political activists and intellectuals were arrested in April, and the attorney general told state news agency WAM the men were suspected of inciting “acts that threaten state security and public order”, and “insulting the president, vice president and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.”
The trial was adjourned for a second hearing next Monday.
The UAE, the world’s third-largest oil exporter, has been spared political unrest even as mass protests hit its borders in neighbouring Oman and Yemen earlier this year.
Among the defendants is Ahmed Mansoor, an outspoken rights activist who joined several dissidents this year to start an online petition demanding the country’s quasi-parliamentary body, the Federal National Council, receive greater powers.
The petition also called for the right to vote for all Emiratis. The government expanded the number of voters from 7,000 to 80,000 this year, about a tenth of the UAE’s estimated 1 million citizens.
UAE officials have said the government will roll out democratic reforms gradually in order to maintain stability in the Gulf Arab state.
Another defendant, Nasser bin Ghaith, a lecturer at the Abu Dhabi branch of France’s Sorbonne University, published an article that questioned the Gulf states’ recent motives for investment into the commercial and financial interests of its populace. The government has put together spending programmes in the UAE recently. The country currently has a per capita income of $47,000.
Outside the UAE’s Federal Supreme Court, where a three-hour hearing for prosecution witnesses was held on Monday, hundreds gathered in support and a few in protest at the trial.
Some 300 people waved UAE flags distributed to them and said they had come to show support to President Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan. A group of men in traditional white robes shouted “(Insult) anyone but Khalifa.”
Inside the courthouse lobby, 30-year-old Nour Mubarak was among a minority who had come to support the men. “We have basic things like housing and for me that’s not enough, I want to have the right to express myself, they should be able to express themselves,” the woman, swathed in a black veil, told reporters. “We want a parliament that expresses our wishes and has a role in this country.” (Additional reporting by Isabel Coles; Writing by Erika Solomon)