A United Arab Emirates (UAE) court on Tuesday gave sentences of up to 15 years in prison to 69 out of 94 people on trial for planning an Islamist coup. The group of defendants includes unnamed doctors, academics, lawyers and other professionals arrested over the past year for allegedly forming a secret network with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood [official website; JURIST news archive]. The court found that the defendants planned to raise money to stage a coup against the Emirati ruling families. Most of the defendants are members of the conservative Reform and Social Guidance Association (al-Islah) [advocacy website, in Arabic], a nonviolent Islamist political association advocating greater adherence to Islamic precepts. According to media sources eight suspects received prison terms [AP report] of 15 years after being tried in absentia. The court gave 10-year sentences to 56 of the suspects, seven-year terms to five others and acquitted 25. The trial began [JURIST report] in March. The UAE tolerates no political opposition within its borders.
UAE authorities began arresting al-Islah members last March, when security forces arrested Ahmed al-Zaabi, a former judge, and Ahmed Ghaith al-Suwaidi together at a Dubai gas station. They detained the chairman of al-Islah, Sheikh Sultan Bin Kayed al-Qasimi, on April 20. In late April rights groups called on the UAE to stop the recent crackdown on political activists [JURIST report] by ending arrests and releasing those already in custody, expressing concern that the UAE is threatening to revoke prisoners' citizenship as a way of punishing them for expressing public dissent, an action that the advocacy groups contend violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [text]. In July prominent human rights lawyer and al-Islah member Mohammed al-Roken, along with his son and son-in-law, were all detained [JURIST report] just a few days after the arrest of another prominent human rights lawyer, Mohammed Mansoori. A month later Al-Roken and Mansoori began a hunger strike [JURIST report] to protest their detentions. Both lawyers are reportedly among the 94 defendants.