By Abdullah Rasheed and Mariam Al Serkal
Abu Dhabi: The State Security Court on Tuesday convicted 69 out of the 94 Emirati suspects accused of plotting to overthrow the government. Presiding Judge Falah Al Hajiri said 25 of the suspects, mostly women, were acquitted of all charges. Fifty-six people were sentenced to 10 years in jail, eight people were sentenced in absentia to 15 years and five were handed a prison sentence between three to seven years.
Shaikh Sultan Bin Kayed Al Qasimi, head of the now disbanded Al Islah Society, and other leaders of the group were sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. The court ordered the seizure of some of the suspects’ money, buildings and property used to establish and finance the organisation.
The accused were charged with being members of or having links with the banned Al Islah Society that is affiliated to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and plotting to overthrow the government.
The Ministry of Justice reaffirmed in a statement it respects the judgement and said freedom of expression and setting up of associations are part of principles in the UAE constitution.
The UAE does not mind political criticism, but is strict against threats to national security, the statement said. Essam Eisa Al Humaidan, Dubai’s Attorney-General, told Gulf News the fact that the rulings varied between acquittals and different imprisonments strengthens the legal system’s fairness and independence.
“Many were surprised by the openness with which the court and its chief judge, Falah Al Hajiri, handled the proceedings and particularly how the trial was covered by the media,” he said.
Mixed emotions in the courtroom
Prior to the session, which started at 10.05am, the male suspects seemed in higher spirits than their relatives who remained seated with sombre expressions. With high hopes that the verdict would go in their favour, several of the suspects held up placards with words written in the colours of the UAE flag – red, green and black. They held the placards up high. The words read: “Our Ramadan will be spent with you.” Others had an optimistic opinion of the verdict and their political messages read, “Communism case in Egypt, 1998: Not Guilty”, “Shia case in Bahrain, 2012: Not Guilty” and “Al Islah organisation, 2013: ??” Judge Al Hajiri asked his secretary at the beginning of hearing whether all the suspects were present at the hearing. All of them were present except for two — Fatima Al Za’abi, who was abroad for treatment, and Najiba Al Hashimi. The hearing, which lasted almost 35 minutes, started with the judge reciting a phrase from the Quran that spoke about delivering justice. For the next 15 minutes, Judge Al Hajiri stated the case was handled with complete objectivity. He explained that trial procedures were carried out through the appropriate mechanism of the judicial system and the fairness of the law, which is guaranteed by the UAE constitution. “All the procedures and steps carried out during the trial were transparent and clear. We allowed for all the suspects to defend themselves, either directly or through their lawyers. The court also confronted the suspects with all the evidence provided by the Public Prosecution. The court allowed everyone to defend themselves against each piece of evidence,” said Judge Al Hajiri. He said the verdict handed out in the Security Court reflects the fairness of the country’s justice system. The trial was over a period of 13 hearings over three months. The suspects were referred to the Federal Supreme Court last January. Once the verdict was announced, the four defence lawyers present at the hearing left the courthouse immediately. According to Abu Dhabi TV, the lawyer for the accused has appealed to President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan to pardon the convicted men. Abu Dhabi TV quoted him as saying: "This sentence is accepted by everyone as final and we need to move as a unified nation for the next chapter. For the families and beloved of the accused, we hope the President will consider this appeal."
Since March, the State Security Court has been hearing both sides of the trial from prosecutors and the defence team who have been involved in the trial.
The prosecution had argued that one of the main goals of the organisation “was to infiltrate the country’s educational and social institutions”.
On the eve of the verdict, Dr Hadef Al Daheri, Minister of Justice told Gulf News that the UAE’s justice system “ensures that defendants are guaranteed fair trial without any interference by other authorities, respect of their human rights and the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty.”
The Emirates Human Rights Association reiterated its confidence in the fairness and justice of UAE judiciary after the the verdict issued by the Federal Supreme Court on the secret organisation case.
“We believe that trials of the members of the secret organisation members took place in an atmosphere of transparency, clarity and openness,” the association said in a statement.
The defendants during the trial days were allowed to defend themselves individually and by lawyers assigned by the accused or their families, it added.
The association said the court and its judges showed great open-mindedness in listening to the defence and the testimonies of suspects, in an impressive manner, placing the Federal Supreme Court among highly reputed courts in the world, the statement said.
“Since there is no authority over judges, the Emirates Human Rights Association is confident that the conscience and impartiality of judges as well as their commitment to Justice were mainly considered by the judges before issuing these rulings.