Reporters Without Borders hails the decision by the president of the United Arab Emirates today to pardon blogger Ahmed Mansoor and four other pro-democracy activists a day after they were convicted of insulting the country’s leaders. All were expected to be released later in the day.
After an unfair trial, the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi sentenced Mansoor to three years’ imprisonment for insulting the leaders of the UAE and calling for anti-government demonstrations.
Each of his four co-accused, lecturer Nasser bin Ghaith, and activists Farhad Salem Hassan, Ali Al-Khamis and Ahmed Abdul Khaleq, was also convicted under the criminal code of insulting the leadership and received a two-year prison sentence.
The UAE legal system treated the case as a matter of state security so there was no appeal against the verdict and the only hope of the accused was a pardon from President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
“This is excellent news for Ahmed Mansoor and the four activists who will finally be released after eight months in prison. The perseverance of their families and all those who supported them in their campaign deserves our praise,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“The verdict of the court handed down on 27 November is nonetheless shocking and illustrates the repressive security policy carried out by the government since the uprisings began in the Arab world.
“We should like to recall that no tangible proof was presented against Mansoor during the trial, which ended, however, with an extremely harsh sentence. He is innocent and his only crime is having encouraged the government to undertake democratic reforms,” the press freedom organization added.
“We urge the authorities to investigate the ill-treatment suffered by Mansoor and his co-accused in prison, as well as the threats received by his family. The UAE authorities have a duty to do all they can to protect all their citizens and guarantee their security.”
The blogger and human rights activist was arrested on 8 April and charged in his capacity as administrator of the democracy discussion forum Al-Hewar (“dialog”), on which he and the four other activists – nicknamed “the UAE Five” – were accused of posting messages between July and October last year criticising the government’s policies.
From 2 October this year, the five refused to attend hearings in protest against a trial they said was unfair and politically motivated, and was marred by numerous irregularities. They had been on hunger strike since 13 November. During the trial, the five were denied access to their lawyers who were prevented from interviewing prosecution witnesses.
After their arrest, the UAE Five were the targets of a smear campaign launched on the Internet and carried by some local media outlets. Their critics, who accused them of treason, organised demonstrations outside the Abu Dhabi court and did not baulk at threatening the families of the accused.
In a joint statement issued on 10 November the five accused the websites Lethal Character and Proud Emirati of being behind the campaign and of fanning a climate of hostility towards them and their families.
In a statement issued on 9 November, Mansoor’s family said the campaign had intensified on the Internet, on television and in newspapers.
At a trial hearing on 23 October, an audio recording of someone making death threats and calling for a demonstration against Mansoor was played in court. The blogger’s family issued a complaint against the person behind the recording, identified as the poet Saïd Bakhit Al-Kutubi, but so far no legal proceedings have been taken as a result.
A relative of Nasser bin Ghaith was struck by a demonstrator outside the courtroom yesterday. The assailant was arrested.
Reporters Without Borders strongly condemns this campaign and regrets that no action has been taken against those orchestrating it.
The organization calls on the UAE authorities to follow up the defence complaints and open an investigation, so that those behind the intimidation campaign are brought to justice. They must remain conscious of the duty to protect the safety of the five activists after their release.
The UAE is among the countries under surveillance in the list of Internet enemies compiled by Reporters Without Borders in March this year. In recent months, the government has stepped up its pressure on netizens.
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