[This report was originally published by Alkarama on 13 March 2013.]
UAE: Concerns for Safety of `UAE 94` Confirmed as International Observers Prevented from Attending Second Hearing
The first and second hearings in the trial of the UAE 94 were held on 4 and 11 March, respectively, with international observers prevented access. Reports from the trial have raised alarm bells that the UAE has still not respected the norms of a fair trial. The UAE should allow international legal experts to monitor the trial of the UAE 94 and investigate the defendants` allegations of torture and mistreatment.
On Monday, 11 March 2013, the second hearing of the UAE 94 trial was held at the Supreme Federal Court, in Abu Dhabi. Once again, international observers were denied entry to the court despite following the procedures set out by the authorities. This confirms the UAE authorities` desire to prevent independent organizations from reporting on this highly-sensitive case, especially regarding the acts of torture and mistreatment reported by the defendants and other potential flaws in the trial. The trial was adjourned to 18 and 19 March. Witnesses – allegedly members of the state security services – will be produced by the State Security Prosecution at the third hearing.
In light of this situation, today Alkarama submitted an urgent appeal to the UN Special Procedures to ask them to intervene urgently in this matter. Of particular and urgent nature is the treatment which one of the defendants, Ahmed Al Suweidi, may be exposed to, as he is the only person who remains detained in secret and one of three on whose `confessions` the prosecution`s case rests, and is being presented as the main witness.
Opening Hearing - Defendants plead not guilty to false charges
The first hearing of the ninety-four activists` trial opened on Monday 4 March 2013 at the Federal Supreme Court of Abu Dhabi, under heavy guard. The courtroom, a brand new 600-seat facility, was filled with around 150 relatives, eighty-four defendants and forty members of the security services. The trial is headed by presiding judge Falah Al Hajiri and two foreign judges Mohamed Abdulqader and Abdulrasool Tantawy.
Eighty-four of the ninety-four accused, including thirteen women, were brought to the court to enter their pleas – the rest, presented as `absconders` by the authorities, were tried in absentia. All pled not guilty to the charges, which appear mostly based on false confessions extracted from three of the accused under torture. Ahmed Al Ghaith Al Suweidi, one of the two who was severely tortured, made a surprise declaration: "I know that what I`m 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".
Sources confirm that the defendants were subjected to abuse and torture while in detention, including solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, beatings, being hooded to make phone calls and go to the bathroom, very cold temperatures in cells, nail -pulling, and beatings with electric cords. At least eight defendants reported the torture to the court, which did not appear to take it into consideration or order an investigation into the facts.
Mohamed Al Sadiq - one of the UAE 7 whose citizenship was withdrawn for his activism last year - reported to the court that he had been severely tortured by someone he described as being like a wrestler , strong and heavy-breathing. "I was told I would meet with senior officials but in fact, I was taken somewhere and beaten. I was beaten on my palms, my neck, my shoulders - he kept beating me. He told me `you don`t deserve to live in this country. You are the dregs of society – next time we meet I will put my shoe in your month and trample on your stomach.`" Hassan Al Jabiri, another of the UAE 7, was prevented from sleeping and interrogated over three days by various interrogators.
Abdallah Al Hajiri, the son-in-law of Dr. Al Roken and Rashid Al Roken, had been disappeared for more than five months before being allowed to call his family. He also reported having been severely beaten, as well as having his beard and chest hair pulled out.
A relative of one detainee reports: "When they complain, they are given pills. They don`t even know what these pills contain. They do not want them to feel anything."
During the hearing, Dr. Al Roken pointed out that the public prosecutor was a former student of his and proceeded to speak for himself and his co-detainees. When the presiding judge stopped him, saying the defendants had not given him the power of attorney, a chorus of "we have" rose up from all the defendants.
He first asked for several defendants who suffer medical issues to be allowed to see doctors and psychologists, including intensive therapy sessions for Ahmed Al Suwaidi, adding "this is not the Ahmed Ghaith I know." He then requested that the defendants be bailed out as the female defendants had been.
Reminiscent of a 1980s Egyptian Play
When speaking about the first hearing, the brother of one of the detainees said: "In the 1980s, there was an Egyptian play mocking the Egyptian judicial system: a witness who didn`t witness anything. On Monday, I saw what it is like in reality".
It appears that the head judge is not aware of the details of the case. "He cannot read names properly. He asked the acting prosecutor why there were two women with the same name," added the relative.
Half of the defendants suffering from problems with their vision have been prevented from wearing their glasses for months. One of them, Ibrahim Al Marzooqi, asked the judge: "Which side should I face - because I cannot see without my glasses." His defense lawyer added sarcastically: "Your Excellency, half of the defendants here cannot see clearly. How can they possibly prepare a coup to overthrow the government?"
Some individuals have not yet been interrogated by the prosecution. The presiding judge, seemingly surprised at this, asked: "Why are they here? Were they presented to the Prosecutor?" When the Prosecutor replied to the contrary, the judge asked "Why do you bring them here then?" One person present during the hearing commented that "They were brought to the court after the legal pre-detention period of forty-eight hours but without being presented to the prosecutor. Their names appear on the indictment act, though. They were clearly presented to the court illegally."
Second hearing– Human Rights Trial Disguised as a State Security Issue by the Authorities
The second session of the UAE 94 trial was held yesterday in the absence of international observers who were once again prevented from entering the court by state security services. Several relatives of the defendants were also denied access.
According to an official press release from the Ministry of Justice, the total of 180 people attended, as well as eighty-five defendants, six representatives of local civil society organizations, and twenty-one journalists from media organizations. Those civil society organizations permitted to attend the trial are close to government authorities, and the media present has participated in smear campaigns against the defendants. International media was once again prevented from attending.
Recently-arrested detainees – described as `absconders` in the indictment – were presented to the court, on the same charges as the others, which, like those before them, they denied. All of them emphasized that they could not possibly be "absconders," as they were regularly going to work until their arrests. Khalil Fadel, for example, denied he had fled, as he had been going to work every day, and used his office`s fingerprint system, proving his daily attendance. Another, Ismail Al Hosani, stated: "How possibly can I be an absconder as I received an award from the Ministry of Education a week before I was arrested?"
Several detainees appeared at the court in a wretched state, confirming what they had told their families between the first and the second hearings. Issa Al Sari appeared in a delirious state, talking to himself and lacking focus. According to witnesses, he might have been under the effects of medication. Ahmed Ghaith Al Suwaidi was also in a miserable condition, much like the first hearing. Throughout the hearing, he kept his head down and remained mute, regularly shaking his head.
He was taken along with Dr Ahmed Al Zaabi, Ahmed Al Nuaimi, Salim Sahoo, and Salim Al Tuniji to a private hearing for close to two hours. This parallel session was only attended by lawyers and prosecutors. The Ministry of Justice, in an official statement, confirmed this "private meeting" with six defendants held "at their request." The prosecutor reportedly tried to convince Al Suwaidi to withdraw his denial of the charges, which he refused to do.
"Whoever believes that this is a state security trial is being mislead. This is purely a human rights issue,"stated Dr. Mohamed Al Roken. He said that the charges he was accused of were strictly related to his activities as a human rights lawyer.
A few days before the second hearing, following more than one year of detention for some, the detainees were transferred to regular detention centers. Most of them were transferred to Al-Razeen prison; six defendants, including prominent human rights defenders Dr. Mohamed Al Roken and Dr. Al Mansoori, to Al Wathba prison.
Only one defendant – Ahmed Al Suwaidi – remains in an unknown location in solitary confinement. Alkarama expresses its extreme concern for his current situation, given that the prosecution`s case relies most heavily on his "confessions," and that he is already under pressure to withdraw the denial he made during the first hearing. He should be immediately be provided medical and psychological treatment, and transferred to a normal prison where his co-defendants are being detained; his visitation rights should be respected. Furthermore, as per domestic and international law, the torture allegations made by the defendants should be investigated by the court, those found responsible sanctioned, and any declarations found to have been made as a result of coercion excluded from the proceedings.
The Emirati constitution bans torture under article 26. According to article 28, the accused must also be protected from moral harm. By ratifying the International Convention against Torture in July last year, the Emirates seemingly demonstrated its will to eliminate torture on its territory. But until now, not much has changed, as demonstrated by this case. A key provision of this convention is the obligation to exclude all declarations made as a result of torture or other cruel, inhumain and degrading treatment or punishment, which we call on the Emirati authorities to respect. They should also allow the defendants access to legal counsel, families, and medical care as required.
Finally, we call on the authorities to ensure the respect of all other domestic and international fair trial norms of all those accused in this case, and to demonstrate its willingness to do so by allowing international monitors to attend future hearings of this trial.