David Hearst writes: A strange trial has opened in Abu Dhabi. For most of the past seven months, up to 70 of the 94 activists accused of plotting to overthrow the government of the United Arab Emirates have been held in secret detention.
It was only after their families threatened a sit-in that their relatives were brought to the court blindfolded, some showing obvious signs of torture, malnutrition and mistreatment. Some pleaded with their jailers to “give them the tablets”. All were terrified to speak.
The evidence against them is also a mystery. The state prosecutor’s file, which was only sent to the court a few days before the trial began, relies heavily on the forced confessions of two of the accused. On the first day, one of them, Ahmed Ghaith al-Suwaidi, had a dramatic change of heart. Denying the charges, he pleaded with the court to protect his family: “I know that what I am going to say may cost me my life, but I deny the charges and I ask the court to protect my life and the life of my family,” he said, according to witnesses.
The accused come from all walks of Emirati life. The leader of the alleged plot, Sheikh Sultan bin Kayed al-Qassimi, is the cousin of the ruler and a member of one of the UAE’s seven ruling families. There are three judges, two human rights defenders, lawyers, teachers, academics as well as students. The social spread of the group is at least consistent with the sweeping nature of the charge. The state hopes to convince the court that the members of the group were plotting to form nothing less than a parallel government. [Continue reading…]