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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Executive

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading and innovative con...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue