Abu Dhabi bars foreign observers from court as trial of 94 'coup-plotters' begins

Defendants allege mistreatment but human rights groups are
turned away

Abu Dhabi

Even by United Arab Emirates standards, the security arrangements for the largest political trial in its history were draconian. In a packed hearing at Abu Dhabi's Federal Supreme Court yesterday, 94 defendants – all members of a local Islamist group, Al Islah – were charged with belonging to a secret organisation and attempting to overthrow the state. Representatives of two human rights groups, including Amnesty International, were turned back at the airport while international media and foreign observers were barred.

During the Arab Spring the UAE became increasingly concerned that Al Islah – which it claims is closely linked to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and is the closest thing the country has to any organised political opposition – would become emboldened by the Islamist ideologies gaining ascendancy across the region.

The defendants have been rounded up in a series of arrests over the past year, and several reportedly told the court yesterday that they had been mistreated in custody. The accused include judges, lawyers and teachers. The group's chairman is Sheikh Sultan bin Kayed al-Qassimi, a member of the royal family in Ras al Khaimah, one of the UAE's seven emirates.

The men, dressed in blue overalls and plastic slippers, were brought in from a secret location where they claim to have been held in solitary confinement, some for up to seven months. Thirteen women who are also facing trial have been allowed bail, while 10 defendants are being tried in absentia. All face sentences of up to 15 years and have no right of appeal.

"It was very emotional in the courtroom," said one attendee whose mother and father are on trial. "It was first time the detainees had met each other for months, so they were all hugging and crying. There's a relief that it's got to court but it's [also] upsetting to hear how they were treated."

According to sources allowed access to legal documents, the charges are based on an alleged confession by one of the defendants, Ahmed Ghaith al-Suwaidi. Yesterday he pleaded not guilty and asked the court for protection for his family and himself. At least two defendants told the court they had been beaten, while others said bright lights were left on in their cells around the clock. The court was adjourned until 11 March and the judge ordered the detainees to be transferred to an official prison. An Abu Dhabi government official said he couldn't comment on the allegations of mistreatment while court proceedings were still active.

To avoid any mass gathering outside the court, lawyers, family members and local journalists allowed to attend were bussed in from separate locations. The Independent was tailed by state security forces after speaking to some of the 150 family members waiting in the car park of the Federal National Council, away from the court building. Three teenage relatives of the accused were briefly detained after being found in possession of a poster defending the accused.

"It's just shocking," said Bushra al-Rokken, a 26-year-old whose husband, brother and father - a lawyer who has defended political detainees in the past - are among the detainees. Like most Al Islah members she claims the movement is "home-grown" and has no loyalties abroad.

US Secretary of State John Kerry was due to arrive in the UAE last night as he nears the end of his Middle East tour. Human Rights Watch called on him to raise concerns about the trial during his visit.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
tech

Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Sport
Joel jumps over the board...and into a giant hole
footballFrom joy to despair in a matter of seconds
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Life and Style
i100

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HR Advisor - HR Officer - Employment Law - East London - £25000

£25000 per annum + 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: *** HR Advisor - HR Office...

ENGLISH TEACHER, FULL TIME SUPPLY ROLE, DOVER SCHOOL

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: TEACHER OF ENGLISH NEEDED for lo...

Nursery assistants required in Cambridgeshire

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified and unquali...

PE TEACHER, FULL TIME SUPPLY VACANCY, FOLKESTONE SCHOOL

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: The Job We are currently recruit...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week