|The wife of Nasser bin Ghaith said the hunger strike was to 'get their voices through' to the UAE president[Reuters]
Five activists, facing trial in the United Arab Emirates for allegedly insulting senior officials, have begun a hunger strike to pressure authorities to release them, the wife of one of them has said.
In a joint statement on Friday, the activists said that "we find ourselves compelled to declare an open-ended hunger strike starting on November 13".
Speaking on Sunday, Wedad al-Muhairi, the wife of one of the detainees, Nasser bin Gaith, said: "They began a hunger strike to get their voices through to UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and not to challenge authorities."
They said their decision came "after all our efforts have been thwarted, after we have knocked on every door and exhausted all possible means of redress, after we have lost all hope of a fair trial and even civilised, humane treatment ... And after we were illegally targeted in prison by both guards and prisoners".
The activists said they and their families had faced "injustices" for seven months, as well as "violation and abuse of our most basic rights upheld by the constitution and law".
They said they were the victims of a "smear campaign ... characterised by lies, threats, and accusations of treason, and the pressure and mobilisation of public opinion to ensure our conviction for a crime that we have not been proven to have committed."
"Every month that these men remain locked up on absurd charges of insulting UAE rulers further undermines the government's claim that this is an open and tolerant country"
- Joe Stork,
HRW deputy Middle East director
Muhairi told the AFP news agency she feared for her husband's health, which was already deteriorating in prison.
"Nasser's brother visited him yesterday and he looked very tired. It seems like his health is deteriorating and I'm worried of the consequences the hunger strike might have on his health," Muhairi said.
"Our household is living in tragedy. I'm so worried," a tearful Muhairi said, adding her husband already suffers from hypertension.
Ahmed Mansoor and bin Gaith, who lectures at the Abu Dhabi branch of the Sorbonne University, were detained in April along with activists Fahid Salim Dalk, Hassan Ali Khamis and Ahmed Abdul Khaleq.
They are accused of using the internet to insult UAE leaders, call for a boycott of September's Federal National Council elections and for anti-government demonstrations.
The Federal Supreme Court said it would announce its verdict, which the activists cannot appeal, on November 27.
The defendants, alleging mistreatment, had repeatedly refused to attend the hearings, saying the outcome has been decided in advance.
"Every month that these men remain locked up on absurd charges of insulting UAE rulers further undermines the government's claim that this is an open and tolerant country," Joe Stork, Human Right Watch's deputy Middle East director, said.
"This trial is all about zero tolerance for political dissent and has nothing to do with justice or security," he added.