Dozens of people have been sentenced to life in prison in a mass trial in the UAE, activists say

Dozens of people have been sentenced to life in prison in a mass trial in the UAE, activists say


Dozens of people have been sentenced to life in prison in a mass trial in the UAE, activists say

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A mass trial in the United Arab Emirates of dissidents that has faced widespread criticism abroad ended Wednesday with dozens of people sentenced to life in prison, activists said.

The UAE did not immediately acknowledge the sentences and government officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, sentences had been expected to be issued in court on Wednesday in a case that drew attention and protests at the United Nations COP28 climate talks in Dubai in November, activists said.

Human Rights Watch said at least 40 of the over 80 defendants received life sentences. Four others received shorter prison terms. It did not know the sentences of all of the prisoners.

“These over-the-top long sentences make a mockery of justice and are another nail in the coffin for the UAE’s nascent civil society,” said Joey Shea, a researcher focusing on the UAE for Human Rights Watch. “The UAE has dragged scores of its most dedicated human rights defenders and civil society members through a shamelessly unfair trial riddled with due process violations and torture allegations.”

The Emirates Detainees Advocacy Center, a group run by an Emirati who lives in exile in Istanbul, said sentences had been handed down. Amnesty International also criticized the sentences.

Among those who received life sentences is activist Nasser bin Ghaith, an academic held since August 2015 over his social media posts, Shea said. He was among dozens of people sentenced in the wake of a wide-ranging crackdown in the UAE following the 2011 Arab Spring protests. Those demonstrations saw Islamists rise to power in several Mideast nations, though the Gulf Arab states did not experience any popular overthrow of their governments.

Also among those who were likely sentenced Wednesday in the case is Ahmed Mansoor, the recipient of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2015. Mansoor repeatedly drew the ire of authorities in the UAE by calling for a free press and democratic freedoms in the federation of seven sheikhdoms.

Mansoor was targeted with Israeli spyware on his iPhone in 2016 likely deployed by the Emirati government ahead of his 2017 arrest and sentencing to 10 years in prison over his activism.

During COP28, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch held a demonstration in which they displayed Mansoor’s face in the U.N.-administered Blue Zone at the summit in a protest carefully watched by Emirati officials.

The UAE, while socially liberal in many regards compared with its Middle Eastern neighbors, has strict laws governing expression and bans political parties and labor unions. That was seen at COP28, where there were none of the typical protests outside of the venue as activists worried about the country’s vast network of surveillance cameras.