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Rights Groups call out Sorbonne on UAE trial
Human Rights Watch urges Sorbonne University to break its silence about the trial of a lecturer at its Abu Dhabi branch, facing trial for insulting UAE leaders through his calls for democratic reform.
October 15, 2011 4:25 by Reuters
Nasser bin Ghaith published an article this year criticising what he called Gulf states’ attempt to avoid political reform by buying off their populations with generous government spending programmes.
Cecile Laborde, spokeswoman for the Sorbonne University in Paris, was not immediately available to comment.
Bin Ghaith is now one of five UAE nationals on trial for incitement and insulting the leadership of the UAE, a Gulf state that has been virtually untouched by protests that have swept through the Arab world this year.
The UAE is a close US ally in the Middle East and the world’s number three oil exporter.
“Despite mounting pressure from international rights groups and students at Paris Sorbonne University to speak up, Sorbonne has not only refused to criticize the UAE authorities but has also attempted to distance itself from bin Ghaith,” the New York-based rights group said in a statement late on Thursday.
Bin Ghaith, a 42-year-old former air pilot, has taught international trade law at the Abu Dhabi Sorbonne since 2009. The university was set up in 2006, part of a wave of prestigious foreign universities opening up branches in the affluent Gulf Arab countries.
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 Federal National Council, an advisory body, be granted greater powers.
Twelve percent of around 1 million UAE nationals were selected to vote in elections for the Federal National Council last month. A quarter of that number turned out to vote for the advisory body, which is only its second ever elections.
The UAE increased the number of eligible voters in a partial concession this year but former FNC members have called on the government to grant the assembly, half of whose seats are appointed, more powers and have the entire council elected.
Human Rights Watch quoted an October 1 statement it said it received from bin Ghaith inside prison saying he was not sure of the exact charges against him.
Bin Ghaith’s lawyer has said he was mistreated in prison, at one point being chained in solitary confinement. The defendants have pleaded not guilty and the security court’s rulings cannot be appealed.
The trial was opened to media and rights groups this month for the first time since it started in June. (Dubai newsroom)