Lawyer: UAE political activists mistreated in prison

ABU DHABI – Five political activists being tried in the United Arab Emirates on charges of insulting the country's leaders refused to attend a court hearing Sunday, protesting against alleged mistreatment, a defense attorney said.

"Why did the defendants not attend?" asked Mohammed al-Roken, a lawyer for two of the five political activists and bloggers who were arrested in April. "Because their rights are violated, they are treated worse than convicts even though they are defendants. These are the sons of this country."

The hearing was made public for the media and representatives of rights groups for the first time since the trial began in June.

The state prosecution, presenting their case Sunday, said one of the activists published a petition that called for boycotting the UAE's elections, held last month to select half of a 40-seat consultative council.

Asked by Reuters to comment on the allegations of mistreatment, the state prosecutor said: "We can't comment on a case while it's being looked at by the court."

On their arrest, the attorney general said 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."

"How can a person pray, eat or go the use the restroom with handcuffs?" Roken said. Wedad al-Muhairi, the wife of Nasser bin Ghaith, one of the defendants, broke into tears as the lawyer spoke with a raised voice.

Roken and al-Muhairi say bin Ghaith suffered leg injuries from chains.

Roken asked the judge to release the defendants on bail, adding that he had submitted four similar requests in the past.

Abdulhamid al-Kumaity, the main defense lawyer, accused security forces of harassing his staff.

"I demand that the security personnel take their hands off my practice as a lawyer," al-Kumaity told the court, adding that security services deported two of his staff members involved in the case.

The five pleaded not guilty in July during a hearing at the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi, whose verdicts cannot be appealed.

Among the defendants is Ahmed Manos, an outspoken rights activist who joined several dissidents this year to start an online petition demanding the country's Federal National Council, a toothless assembly, receive greater powers.

The petition also called for the right to vote for all citizens. The government expanded the number of handpicked eligible voters to 129,000 in the Gulf state's second election on 24 September, about 12 percent of nationals in the world's number three oil exporter. Just 7,000 were chosen for the elections 2006.

Bin Ghaith, a lecturer at the Abu Dhabi branch of France's Sorbonne University, published an article criticizing what he called Gulf states' attempt to avoid political reform by buying off their citizens with generous government spending programs.

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